This is our truth, tell us yours
Talking with carter this week he drew my attention to the comments by Justin Welby about his doubts, and how the usual atheist suspects had leapt on them as if he had said something new, or unusual. It reminded me again how far most atheists are from having a clue about people of faith, preferring their invented bogeymen to how most people actually act or think. Faith necessitates doubt, for it is a way of thinking that comes from the emotions, and grows from that place where reason and feeling meet.
If like me you have sat through one of the awful alpha course videos you may have heard Nick Gumby go through his list of the proofs of Christ’s historical existence, they are all ontological in nature and frankly quite embarrassing, based on a if you are stupid this will work for you. He doesn’t mention that like all historical events interpretation is built into how we view them, and what matters is faith. C.S Lewis did a better job with similar arguments with his mad, bad or true essay. This is not a post about my problems with Alpha, which has at its heart a genuine belief that church needs to be done differently to reach out to those who it has sadly neglected. However the question of faith and doubt is one that it skips over, as if faith is something we acquire in one moment and then remains with us never changing.
A side note on theology here, Alpha is protestant, as am I. It is based around the idea we are saved by the blood of the lamb. (OK I just wanted one time to write that) We are saved by accepting Jesus died for our sins, a sacrifice needed because of the fallen nature of the world. In this theological view point it is accepting, and thus believing that he died for us, he is a personal saviour, that causes us to be Christians. What happens next is the area of more theological debates than angels can fit on the head of a pin. It is, apparently a one time deal, we cannot be unsaved, however acts clearly matter as the parable of the sheep and the goats makes clear. What is never said is that doubts will somehow place us among the goats. This is made most apparent in the meeting of Jesus and doubting Thomas.
Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
Doubt is introduced as a Christian reaction to the story of the resurrection and the idea of a living Christ from the very beginning. No one has ever said that to be a Christian means never doubting again. There are a few organisations like Westbroro baptist Church who demand unthinking loyalty to their beliefs . The important word is “their” they are an ideology just like ISIS or the various personality cults that littered the twentieth century. People of faith are used to doubt, its how they reach faith, by asking, questioning, staring at the ceiling at three am. This is not just confined to the religious either, say for example you believe in social justice, or that humanity is good. Then an event happens that causes you to despair, to wonder about that goodness. Do you give up campaigning for a better world? Do you say fuck it, humanity needs to burn, I will become a corporate banker? Hopefully the answer is no, you face the doubts and carry on,stronger because you allowed them to surface.
Faith cannot exist without doubt, Welby understood this, and thankfully expressed the reality of so many Christian lives instead of pretending to be someone above, and removed from the common masses.