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Faith and Doubt



I am reading a blog post on Patheos by an Evangelical author, Philip Yancey, called "A Time to Doubt" here. The post doesn't allow comments, which is not unexpected given the subject and some of the things he says. The comments section could easily get out of hand and really would serve no purpose, but I want to comment on the article on my own blog, so here goes:


One paragraph says



We are, after all, material beings relating to an invisible God who often seems silent, and deaf to our cries.  Instinctively we want God to micro-manage life on earth, by constantly performing miracles that alter the laws of nature.  The Bible describes such events, but as unusual pulses of God’s activity, followed by long years of what may seem like inattention.


"Often seems silent." I would have worded it this way, also, when I was a Christian. Jehovah often seems silent. But eventually I realized that those times he seems silent are the times I'm expecting an answer. All of the times I'm expecting an answer. The times you don't notice Jehovah's silence are the times you're not expecting anything. In other words, the reality is that there's never actually a word from Jehovah. When I was a believer I didn't actually go through many periods of doubt that Mr. Yancey is describing here, because I didn't actually need anything. And when I first deconverted, it had nothing to do with Jehovah's silence, but shortly afterward I realized the truth -- that (as Annie Laurie Gaylor says) nothing fails like prayer. As a Christian, convincing myself that "God's will is always done" was pretty easy, and so when any struggles didn't actually get resolved (simply delayed for later) I accepted the caveat that it wasn't the god's will, and that it would make me stronger, or more patient, or some such. Only afterward did I realize the obvious -- that nothing magical or supernatural ever actually happens. Life is just life.


Yancey writes about the Jews who had escaped from Egypt:



Doubt has a stubborn power, as the Bible itself reveals.  During their wilderness wanderings, the Israelites had clear proofs of God: a pillar of fire leading them, daily provisions of manna, God’s own presence with Moses on Mt. Sinai and in the Tent of Meeting.  Yet we look on that time as an example of unfaithfulness.  The very people liberated from slavery by the Ten Plagues, who had manna digesting in their stomachs, whined about missing the pleasures of Egypt and fashioned pagan idols to worship.


Of course, the author of the books of Exodus and Numbers are writing many years later of the legends passed down to them, not about current events. For the most part, historians doubt that the descendants of Jacob were even in Egypt. But even if they were, go back and read the accounts in the Bible! The Bible says these people doubted even though they'd seen obvious signs of Jehovah helping them. I can't help but think that this is the author's perspective, passed down to him through many generations, and specifically related to him by a believing elderly relative. The more likely conclusion is that the people who doubted never actually saw any evidence. If anything like the events recorded as the Exodus actually happened, the people caught up in it very likely saw nothing that made them think this god of theirs was real.

Further in the article, Yancey says


John the Baptist, who had seen the Spirit descend like a dove and had heard God’s own voice of approval at Jesus’ baptism, later sat forlorn in a prison and sent a messenger to ask if Jesus was really the promised one. 


Again -- proof within the Bible itself that the evidence isn't actually there, and wasn't there during the time the events were supposedly happening.


And there's the real evidence against there being any such being as Jehovah. The people alive at the time weren't convinced. The writers who came along later claim that the evidence should have been enough to convince anyone alive, yet they admit that those living at the time didn't actually find it to be convincing! It's only by asserting, after the fact when no actual witnesses to the time are alive, that all of the miracles happened, that people can be convinced. The people who were alive at the time saw only life as usual with nothing supernatural going on.


Yancey makes the typical objection that we were all taught to make as Christians:


God has no need to “prove himself” by impressing us with supernatural reality. 

It's nothing but a "get out of jail free" card for Jehovah. The truth is that the Bible makes specific promises about what this god will do. When those things don't happen, Christianity has evolved the mechanism of accusing the accuser -- of saying "you have no right to 'test' God". That came along early, too -- before Christianity even -- in the book of Job, where the god basically tells Job he's just a stupid human and has no right to question the god.


A paragraph further on, in his outline of an article, is entitled


3. Doubt and faith coexist. Indeed, certainty, not doubt, is faith’s opposite.


Now here, Yancey is correct! The famous statement in Hebrews about faith ("faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen") makes it clear, if you pay attention to what the author is actually saying, that faith is a substitute for substance and evidence. As a Christian, I'm not sure I ever had faith. I was most certainly a believer -- a true Christian! But I thought there was evidence for my beliefs. Faith is what happens when you just assume something to be true without evidence. It's belief for no reason other than that someone told you so or you read it.


Yancey then makes a blatantly false assertion:



“Doubt is can’t believe; unbelief is won’t believe.  Doubt is honesty; unbelief is obstinacy.  Doubt is looking for light; unbelief is content with darkness.”


No. "Unbelief" is honesty. "Doubt" is the path to unbelief and honesty, but that path is often not traveled due to the fear instilled by the religion itself. The meme of Christianity has evolved to continue to exist by overtly stating that doubt is caused by external, evil forces -- by a powerful being (somehow not credited as being an evil god) who has the power to literally plant thoughts in people's heads. "Reason" is of the Devil, Christianity asserts. The moment you start to wonder whether the god is real, your Christian indoctrination makes you think that doubt has been implanted in your head by the evil god Satan.


But that's not what's happening. The god Satan isn't real. The gods Jehovah and Jesus aren't real. You're doubting because you can plainly see that the claims of the Bible about Jehovah and Jesus are simply untrue.


Yancey then talks about Mother Teresa:


Ten years after her death, Mother Teresa of Calcutta made the news again when a book recording her doubts was published, against her wishes.  In it, she spoke of the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she had undergone.  “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss—of God not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not really existing.”  Amazingly, apart from a few brief remissions she lived in this state of darkness for sixty years, the entire time she was serving the poor and dying.


She knew! She knew it wasn't real! She knew Jehovah wasn't there, doing anything at all on the Earth.


Yancey goes on:


Some believers were shocked by her doubts, while others saw them as the “dark night of the soul” common to saints who, like the military’s special forces, take on extreme tasks.  I was most struck by the way Mother Teresa conducted her life despite her doubts. 


She conducted her life in order to help people, "despite her doubts". I would say, "despite her eventual coming to terms with the fact that her faith was baseless". In the end, she was good without god, as we all are, really. People are generally good -- no gods required.

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“No. "Unbelief" is honesty. "Doubt" is the path to unbelief and honesty, but that path is often not traveled due to the fear instilled by the religion itself. The meme of Christianity has evolved to continue to exist by overtly stating that doubt is caused by external, evil forces...”


My period of doubt ended after I read a passage in a book that convincingly made the case that the world works exactly as it would if there were no benevolent deity overseeing and intervening.  This realization turned my doubt into unbelief.   Being honest with myself required it.  At a certain point, the only reasons to shrink back from unbelief are  emotional ones: finding continued theism to be so reassuring or the prospect of non-theism to be so fearsome.  

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"Being honest with myself" is such an important thing to grasp and practice. I used to rely heavily on the opinions of others. I used to accept stuff without much questioning because I had been convinced by 'people who know better' that god is real, jesus is real and so on and so on. I preached this stuff because I believed it. Then I woke up and had to come to terms with my previous nonsense. I had to work at 'being honest with myself'. That is what brought joy and a sense of freedom.


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On 1/12/2020 at 4:19 AM, nontheistpilgrim said:

That is what brought joy and a sense of freedom.



Yes! I never felt any sense of loss! There's a lot of stress involved due to family and societal expectations, but realizing it wasn't real was such a relief! I never felt like I had lost anything at all!

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