(This post is part of a multimodal argumentation unit for ENGL 3160: Professional Writing and Editing, and ENGL 3190: Composing Arguments)
(A Shadow of a Doubt: Joe Soloman)
theology of doubt(n):
1. the study of the nature of doubt
2. a system in which to care for a person struggling with doubts about their faith
I wish we had a theology of doubt.
I wish we had a theology of doubt, because I’ve been in that place one too many times. I want to believe in what I have always believed, but in those moments it is so hard. What makes things worse is the fear to ask for help, because those times came long after I had left the safety of my structured youth group. It is the fear of the the harsh tones and furrowed eyebrows that come when one asks an uncomfortable question that pushes my questions back into my mind.
But that’s the issue, isn’t it? Many churches, and maybe even the Church as a whole, does not have a solid system for how to deal with doubt.
And maybe it’s time that we did.
I started going to a small country church in the northeast corner of Shelby County with my parents when I was 10. It was about thirty minutes from my house, but my parents never had a problem with it. It was worth it to them, especially when I felt like I had found a place in the youth group to call home. I never had any doubts about my faith, but I knew that if I did, there would be someone to come alongside me and help me with my questions.
But I soon realized that I was one of the only ones that felt that way.
It is true that I personally never had any problems with asking questions when I was in youth group. I had a great youth pastor and a great community who cared about me. But this has not been the case for many people.
In his book entitled, You Lost Me, David Kinnaman says this: “The ages eighteen to twenty-nine are the black hole of church attendance; this age segment is “missing in action” from most congregations.” (Kinnaman, 22) This is echoed n a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center entitled, “Religion Among the Millennials.” PRC states, “In total, nearly one-in-five adults under age 30 (18%) say they were raised in a religion but are now unaffiliated with any particular faith.”
I have seen this pattern reflected in my home church. Right after my class left the youth group, a huge struggle began. Attendance dropped drastically and my youth pastor with all of her good efforts could not get a lot of people to show up. The answer seemed to be obvious. My church was and still is a congregation with less than 25% of the people under 60, but I felt that there was another issue at hand.
My youth pastor has a son that lives out in San Francisco. He’s been out on his own for a long time and stopped going to the church as soon as he had the option of doing so. I asked her if she had spoken to him about his faith and what he had said.
She responded like this: “It is true that my son left the church and never came back, and from some brief conversations with him about it, I get the sense that he just doesn’t believe it. He looks a lot at scientific facts concerning creation and on the other hand, I think he feels that the Christian belief system was always forced on him.”
I remember her telling us about him when we were still under her care in high school, but I never understood how someone could walk away and not come back. However, when I went to college I completely understood the struggle. I don’t think I would ever walk away, but I do get it. And I also felt like I couldn’t voice my doubts. And the stories similar to the story of my youth pastor’s son are becoming more and more frequent. In fact, there are so many people that fit into this category that they have been given their own name: the nones, or the religiously unaffiliated. Additionally, in another survey conducted by the PRC entitled, “‘Nones’ on the Rise,” reveals that 88% percent of the “nones” (particularly Americans) have no intention of returning to their former religion or finding another. (PRC)
I have also seen this phenomena occur in my inner circle. In a recent conversation with one of my close friends, she shared some of the struggles she is having with her faith.
“I really just don’t feel called to go [to church] anymore, and I’m not really sure about the whole thing anyway.”
I asked her why she felt this way, and she couldn’t really articulate an answer other than the fact that the tradition and some of her original reasoning behind attending church just didn’t seem real anymore.
These doubts to which she was alluding seemed so real to me. I myself have experienced them. So many people my age are currently wrestling with these things and trying to decide what to do about them. My first response and my best solution was to go and talk to someone within the church. After all, ministers speak frequently about addressing doubt.
When I asked both women about doubt and how its addressed in the church, I got two totally different answers. Katrina, my youth pastor, felt that my home church does a great job of dealing with doubt. “We love on [doubters] and encourage them. We let them know that they are not alone.” And I felt this to be true about my experiences as well.
But my friend had something different to say. “I feel like the church does say that it’s ok to doubt, but I’ve heard of anyone actually getting help from leadership. The church’s response to doubt is usually something along the lines of, ‘Oh, you’re doubting. Just get into the word some more’- when I feel like the response should be, ‘Oh, you’re doubting your faith, let’s talk about this.”
A subject in Kinnaman’s book, Kevin, said he was surprised with how the Church handled his doubt.”Or didn’t handle it.” But he then added, I kept my doubts to myself, because I didn’t think my leaders would want to know that I really didn’t believe. Maybe they could’ve helped me more, but I never believed they would be able to.” (Kinnaman, 192)
Kinnaman goes on to say that twenty-three percent (almost 1/4) of 18-29 year-old Christians who have had a background in the church “have significant intellectual doubts” about their faith. This isn’t a very large portion, but it is still important. This age group is the future of the church, and even twenty-three percent is a significant number.
If it is inconsistency that is reflected in the data and in these stories, then the solution may not be very difficult. Perhaps it is a mere change in perspective.
In an blog on Huffington Post, Christopher Lane, a professor at Northwestern University [The Age of Doubt: Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty] , “…those of us committed to religious inquiry must welcome the doubts that young Americans are expressing, in whatever form they occur. For too long, doubt has acquired the hallmark of paralysis and stagnation when, so much of the literature underscores, it is actually a catalyst for change and renewal.”
Perhaps the first step in composing a theology of doubt is changing the way the doubt is perceived. Doubt is only synonymous with paralysis when we try to pretend it’s not there. Perhaps, if we started seeing doubt as a step toward renewal, we would not be so guarded against it.
The story out of the John 20:24-29 comes to mind when I consider a new system.
After at least two people have returned from Jesus’ empty tomb (Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter), one of the disciples is still not convinced of Jesus resurrection. Thomas, the skeptic then says his famous words, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger in the place of his nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
A theology of doubt can simply mean that we create an open space with vulnerability and honesty. Then we look for people within the Scriptures who have struggled with the same things that we have. It is this minister’s opinion that if we welcome the skeptics and our own doubts, we could definitely shrink some of the figures in the previous paragraphs.
Jesus welcomed Doubting Thomas to come and touch his side. Let us be ones who do the same. Let us say, “Come. Put your hand at the Master’s side.”
“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)
Kinnaman, David, and Aly Hawkins. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church– and Rethinking Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. Print.
Lane, Christopher. “Losing Our Religion: Doubt By Numbers.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 4 Sept. 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.
Liu, Joseph. “Religion Among the Millennials.” Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 17 Feb. 2010. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
Liu, Joseph. ““Nones” on the Rise.” Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 09 Oct. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.
(Interviews: Allison Lemons, Katrina Donahue)