Is Doubt to Be Celebrated?
By Ken K. Gourdin
A few months ago, I posted the following at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board [sic] regarding the contention that doubt, in itself, is a thing to be celebrated:
I’ve said this here, or something similar, before. I don’t really have many questions about the foundational events of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think, perhaps, there could be some fascinating firesides held, say, during the Millennium, with such titles as, “Brother Joseph, What Were You Thinking?“, “Brother Brigham, What Were You Thinking?“, and so on. I think, if one is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has a halfway-functioning brain, that questions are inevitable. Questions notwithstanding, however, still, doubt and faith are choices.
I posted this on a similar thread back in May of 2018:
We’re all our own triers of fact when it comes to faith claims: We determine what evidence we will admit when it comes to considering faith claims, what evidence we will exclude, how much weight we will give to any piece of evidence we choose to admit, how we will evaluate the evidence we choose to admit, and so on.
Is there evidence which, accorded a certain amount of weight and considered from one or more particular perspectives, militates against belief? Of course. I have such evidence in my own life. I have seriously considered seeing how much gently-used law degrees from third-tier law schools are going for on e-Bay these days, this, after receiving what I thought was a clear impression to pursue the degree (and persisting in doing so despite considerable difficulty).
I don’t know if I’ll ever secure law-related employment, let alone ever practice law. The only thing I knew for certain when I finally bit the bullet and decided to apply to law school is that I didn’t want to answer phones for the rest of my life. I still don’t. Still, I wasn’t sure about the gargantuan commitment which law school and attempting to embark upon the practice of law entailed, so I got cold feet, withdrew before receiving any credit, and got a job. Doing what, you ask? Why, answering phones, of course! So, I swallowed my fear and my pride, went back, and eventually (after more than a few more fits, starts, and missteps) graduated against all odds. I was denied admission on character and fitness grounds, based largely (if not entirely, at the risk of oversimplifying) based on a complicated behavioral health history.
So, what am I doing now? Why, answering phones, of course! C’est la vie! The only thing I’m sure of? “No, Ken, you didn’t have to stick it out in law school … as long as you didn’t mind answering phones all day, every day, for the rest of your working life.” To my dying breath, I’ll continue to aver that I’m actually good for something else. Whether I’ll ever be able to convince anyone else of that strongly enough that they’ll actually hire me to do anything else, still, is an open question.
Yes, I’ve heard people argue that the evidence against belief is so strong that they had no choice in the matter, but I’m skeptical of that contention. Despite the fact that I’m a believer, I’m equally skeptical that God compels belief. To do either would be to abridge agency. In order for belief to be most meaningful, it has to be freely chosen. Do I have questions? I don’t know how one could have a halfway functional brain and not have questions: “Lord, why has Thou thus dealt with me?” But as Peter told Christ when the latter asked the former (rather plaintively, perhaps), “Will ye also go away?”, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (see John 6).
Sure, I could say, “You know what? This isn’t what I signed up for.” No, I don’t want to spend the next 5, or 10, or 20, or 30 years answering phones. Candidly, there’s a certain appeal to me to using my current station in life as a splendid excuse to chuck it all. Whatever the next life might leave to be desired for me, a part of me is tempted to say, “So what? It’s gotta be better than this!” But to borrow and slightly alter something once said by M*A*S*H‘s inimitable Major Frank Burns, “I believe in the sanctity of human life, no matter how ugly or disgusting it gets.” (He was talking about marriage.) As Elder Banks, the African-American missionary in the film God’s Army put it, “It’s like God gives you a hundred reasons to believe … and one or two not to, just so you can choose.”
Notwithstanding any of the reasons I have for saying, “Forget it. Just chuck it all. This isn’t what I signed up for” (the evidence I have that militates against belief), I choose, nonetheless, to believe. If nothing else, the next life, even at its worst, still is going to be orders of magnitude better than this one. But if I give that hope up, what else do I have? Questions are inevitable; struggle is inevitable. But doubt and faith are choices.