Saturday, October 26, 2013

Can You Sincerely Believe In Something If You Have Never Doubted or Questioned It?

It’s a question I have been asking myself ever since a recent conversation over at the site of Christian blogger Kansas City Bob. KC Bob was talking about a book called Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty. 

It encouraged Christians to not be afraid to question and doubt, and said that modern Christian culture has created an “Idol of Certainty”, and is more concerned with being certain/dogmatic about what they believe, than being willing to explore, question, and even doubt at time what they believe.

This was my response (in part) to the post:

My feeling is that no one can truly say that they sincerely believe what they believe, whether it be religious or political views, unless at some time in their life, they have seriously questioned or doubted it at some point.

Otherwise, it's just what they believe because that's the way they were raised, or that's they way they always have viewed the world. It can't truly be their beliefs, a powerful representation of who they are, unless they have explored it, questioned it, and come to their own conclusions.


As you know, I went from being a fundamentalist Christian (along with the far-right political beliefs that come with that), to an agnostic with left wing views after a long time of questioning, exploring, and doubting everything. I had to re-examine everything I was taught, question it, and decide whether or not it was still what I believed, (most of it didn’t make the cut).

I wonder if it’s possible for someone to truly believe what they believe, whether it be related to religion/views on god, or politics, if they have never at some time, done the exact same thing, be willing to question it all, re examine it.

If they don’t, to me, it just seems like that’s what they say they believe because of external factors, like they way they were raised as children, the culture they have lived in, etc. I can’t really see how it can be anything more than just an external identity instead of a deeply held personal belief. How can you truly know what believe unless you have doubted it at some point, and come close to giving it up? 

34 comments:

  1. Like you said, it is tough to imagine that someone could truly believe in something about which they have never thought deeply and critically. I suppose some people do believe in this unquestioning way, but I'd have to question the maturity of such a belief system.

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  2. Not only question the maturity of it, but the strength of it? How strong can someone's beliefs be when held up to questioning and opposition if someone has never questioned and tested it?

    I think that was kind of a fatal flaw of the current fundamentalist system. Fundies like to blame secular colleges for their kids leaving the faith, as though professors are actively trying to de-convert students (you of all people would know that's the farthest from the truth), but it's not the colleges that are leading to the de conversions, it's being allowed to experience the outside world for the first time, being exposed to all varieties of people, and realizing that the world doesn't fit in a nice little fundamentalist box, and that some people aren't as bad as they were lead to think.Their faith is being confronted with reality, and it has never been questioned by reality before. They've never asked the hard questions about their faith, because they haven't been outside of fundie land, and never been faced with questions before.

    I think the forced isolation is not only destructive, but counter productive to the efforts of thew parents to keep their children in the faith. Because their faith has never had to face the hard questions of life before, you end up with young students that know their faith well, and can repeat all the lines and canned arguments, but their faith has never been hardened by being exposed to outsiders, and facing the hard questions that facing reality will bring about.

    They have never had to ask "Is this truly what I believe?" because they have never had to make the choice to believe.

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    1. Headless Unicorn GuyOctober 30, 2013 at 10:49 AM

      "Because their faith has never had to face the hard questions of life before, you end up with young students that know their faith well, and can repeat all the lines and canned arguments...."

      doubleplusduckspeak: Reciting the Party Line without engaging any neuron above the brainstem. It's almost a distinguishing characteristic of Fundies. Just their duckspeak is Bible verses instead of Inevitable Marxist-Leninist Dialectic of History or Atlas Shrugged.

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    2. Ha! doubleplusduckspeak! Another George Orwell fan in the house! (high five)

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    3. Headless Unicorn GuyOctober 31, 2013 at 10:10 AM

      If the term fits...

      There are a LOT of preachers and churches and Christians out there who act straight out of the INGSOC playbook. There seems to be this dark undercurrent of control-freak in Christianese culture where "Praise the LORD" becomes NewNewspeak for "Long Live Big Brother".

      Somebody in local fandom definied heresy as "criminal misrepresentation of God", and if God/Christ is NOT a Cosmic-level Big Brother in the INGSOC sense, that's what's taking place.

      An analogy in Bronydom is the various fan works regarding Princess Celestia, the My Little Pony world's benevolent, approachable, and even playful god-figure. For every fanfic lament of how Celestia would like to just roll in the grass being a pony or walk among her little ponies incognito as another pony (without having them bow and scrape on their bellies before her), there are grimdarks and crapsacks about her as Trollestia (where her sense of humor becomes dark and cruel), Molestia (a divine sexual predator), or Tyrantlestia the Impaler (self-descriptive, hiding behind a mask of benevolence).

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    4. So Unicorn Guy is a brony? Interesting.... ;)

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  3. Very good post Sheldon.
    I am having a debate with someone now where I can see they are not questioning anything but just listening to the people they want to believe in. It takes me 1minute on a google search to see that his arguments are flawed,which leads me to believe that he has never questioned his beliefs. If he had he would not be proposing such ludicrous ideas that have been shown to be wrong over and over again. So I can say there is no sincere belief in this case.

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    1. They are probably just rehashing arguments from their favorite ministers/theologians. I've heard of people trying to debate types like that, and searching the text of what they are saying on Google, and they are actually copying verbatim from people like William Lane Craig, John Piper, etc, without attributing the source.

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  4. I don't think you can truly believe what you haven't questioned, Sheldon. But that is exactly what Christianity does. It encourages and rewards the sicknesses and weaknesses that we should try to overcome. It persuades us to rest content in our weakness rather than to try to grow strong. Because the Christian "instinct" has grown so powerful, they see this mediocrity as a goal worth pursuing.
    But it's just a way to easily control people, isn't it?

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    1. Christian fundamentalism teaches that we are nothing without god, we are worthless without him, and it's one of the most toxic teachings of that mentality in so many different ways. If you think you are nothing, worthless, and that only god knows better, than it can lead you to think that something is wrong with you if you start questioning.

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    2. Headless Unicorn GuyOctober 31, 2013 at 10:16 AM

      I've had experience with such Worm Theology. Paradoxically, it comes from a motive to glorify God; unfortunately, it can only glorify God by cutting down everything and everyone else in a Zero-Sum Game. "Since God had to have the greatest importance, nothing else could be allowed to have ANY importance." Never mind the theme throughout the Bible of Divine abundance -- "God Don' Play That Zero-Sum Game."

      The image such Zero-Sum Gaming brings to mind is Lord Farquar from Shrek (an achondrophlasic dwarf with severe Small Man Syndrome) decreeing that all his subjects shall have their legs amputated so nobody can stand taller than himself.

      And the effect on those who hold to Worm Theology: If you are nothing and worthless, why should you treat anyone else as if they were worth something?

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    3. Hadn't thought of it that way before, if you view yourself as worthless, then you start to treat other people the same way.

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  5. I guess it all boils down to faith. Is faith itself enough to hold on ?

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    1. I guess when faith runs out in a person who has never seriously questioned, then the foundation crumbles.

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    2. Headless Unicorn GuyOctober 30, 2013 at 10:51 AM

      Faith as in "The substance of things hoped for" or FAITH! as in "denial of all physical evidence not backing up Purity of Ideology 1000%"?

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  6. Thought that I might ad the response I gave on my blog ...

    I think experience can influence us in various ways. My first wife was healed of 3 years of blindness in a church in 1975. She died 19 years later in 1994. I often wonder if my faith would have survived if she had died a lot earlier. I think that I was a bit better off because I had somewhat of a spiritual foundation/maturity.

    That said, I have to admit that I have had to rethink my whole approach to the scriptures when my second wife was disabled in 2002 and wheelchaired in 2007. I found myself reading the scriptures with different eyes and interpreting what a read with a new perspective.

    You can catch more about my journey on my old post titled Confessions of a Charismatic Fundamentalist and Confessions of a Grieving Control Freak.

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    1. Great posts, I read both. So you were a fundamentalist Pentecostal? I've had experience with that world, My family was in Assembly of God churches until I was about 11/12 years old.

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    2. Been in A/G, Vineyard and independent Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. My attractions involved both my senses (i.e. feeling the presence of God) and my inclination to think in black and white terms. As I matured, and life happened, I began to evolve into a grayer thinker. While some threw faith away because of their black and white approach I allowed my thinking to evolve and become grayer. As a result I think that my faith is more vibrant and my readings of the scriptures more interesting.

      As far as fundamentalism goes I think many just flip the coin and become a left leaning fundamentalist instead of a right leaning one. For some it is simply easier to keep the narrow black and white thinking (albeit focused in another direction) than to embrace a grayer approach.

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    3. In what ways do you think that more liberal Christians act like fundamentalists?

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    4. I was not really speaking of liberal vs conservative Christians but about believers vs those who reject faith. Generally speaking, one group often finds a way to accept faith in grayer terms while the other (for whatever reason) cannot see gray. In a sense, some reject one form of fundamentalism (a narrow theology) for another fundamentalism (a narrow atheist ideology) and never really consider a grayer non-fundamentalist theology/ideology.

      Regarding your question, I think that the extremes on both (black and white) theological ends are intolerant of each other and act that way. IMO, you only find real love and acceptance in the grayer thinkers.

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    5. Obviously, I wouldn't agree with Christianity in any form theologically,but I like more liberal/moderate Christians, I have quite a few Christian bloggers in my blogroll here (you included). It's the fundamentalists I can't stand.

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    6. I get that Sheldon. My point is that there are fundamentalists/extremists on both sides of any ideology or theology. In my view atheism is a form of fundamentalism.

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    7. Headless Unicorn GuyOctober 30, 2013 at 10:55 AM

      "In what ways do you think that more liberal Christians act like fundamentalists?"

      Adherence to their Social Justice agenda du jour, just like Fundies adhere to their Personal Salvation agenda. Both involve trying to bend reality to agree with Ideological Dogma, with an "If you're not with Us, you're one of THEM!" tribal identity.

      And Jesus said He "came to set us free"? The Pharisee party of Rabbis of Jesus' time was adhering to Torah (and what later became Talmud & Mishnah) to the point of absurdity, oppression, and one-upmanship, and Jesus was constantly calling them on it.

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    8. @KC Bob, is that really any better in substance than the "atheism is a religion" argument? There are are some people in atheism that do go too far in their rhetoric, but in some cases, especially when it comes to extremist branches of Islam, they don't go far enough in my opinion.

      I do grow weary of the old "YOU'RE STUPID!!!!" shouting matches, they have no purpose, and accomplish nothing. I would much rather debate theology and philosophy, and out abusive groups that cause real world harm to people, either by their doctrines, or an abusive culture, full of pedophilia, encouraging spousal/child abuse, etc. Exposing and shaming groups like that is a worth while goal. There's an atheist blogger on Twitter that does the whole "you're stupid" routine constantly, and I'm probably going to unfollow her, I don't appreciate very much.

      As far as atheism being a religion, supposedly, all atheism is, is a lack of belief in a god. Nothing more, nothing less, it's the very antithesis of a religion, by definition. Some people have tried to make it more than that, and they have faced a massive backlash, and rightly so.

      There's more divisions in the atheist movement than most people think, both in the way they respond to religion, and in their political beliefs.

      Especially in politics, there's a lot of division, traditional American liberals, libertarians, ananrchists, socialists, and even a few conservative atheists, believe it or not (look up the blog Bitchspot).

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    9. @ Headless Unicorn Guy

      I understand what you mean, I wish I had time to expound more on what I was going to say about that, but I'm constantly getting interrupted right now.

      I think some people in the gun control movement (who hate me for my moderate views on that subject), and some asepcts of the feminist movement, prove your point quite well.

      Check out Freethought Blogs, especially PZ Myers, Greta Christina, Richard Carrier and "Surly Amy" as well as the Atheism + forums to see what I mean about more extreme aspects of feminism, feminism in and of itself, I don't take issue with.

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    10. @Headless Unicorn Guy

      You should start a blog, I'm surprised you haven't already, that would be a blog I would definitely follow.

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    11. My point in saying atheism is a form of fundamentalism was to say that it is a narrowly black and white ideology.

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  7. I agree completely with the post.

    "Moving from knowing to not knowing---this is Good
    Moving from not knowing to knowing---this is a sickness"
    -Tao te Ching (China)

    The best education is not one that teaches certainty---but one that helps embrace uncertainty.

    A good question to ask is what is "Faith"?
    Something you stubbornly believe in "just because"?, Something you have come to believe in because some coincidental occurrence made you associate it with a "miracle"?, Is it following tradition?, Is "Faith" blind belief that one simply has to "hold onto" despite all reasonable and logical arguments to the contrary? Is faith a set of absolute presumptions? (all these questions apply to some Atheists too---because they have "Faith" in their judgments)
    ...which brings up the definition of unbelief/non-faith---is it only the opposite of belief/faith?...is it a limited label that excludes or is it a catch-all label? is it inclusive.....?......

    CM

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    1. "The best education is not one that teaches certainty---but one that helps embrace uncertainty."

      Love it, CM the philosopher. :)

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  8. Agree. Most people don't question, which means they don't have a reason to believe what they do. But that said, even with all our questioning, we will never let go of the way our environment has shapped our thinking. As a perfect example, it's very rare to meet an atheists among animist people groups. Most atheists are from western cultures. Does that make the westerner more free, better able to think through? Does that make the eastern person more free because they didn't jump from 'oh, evil sucks, so nothing must exist'? All of us are kidding ourselves if we think we reached conclusions entirely on our own. We are aided by our environment, and in a different body and different origin, our entire beliefs would probably be different.

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    1. Western society is very much built on the thinkers of the Enlightenment, many of who were atheists, and in the US, you have the Founding Fathers, who at least half or more of them were deists. There's been a clash between Christianity and atheism/non-belief for about the last 300 years.

      You're right about culture determining what we believe, I might have become a Buddhist had I grew up in a place like Thailand, for instance.

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  9. I agree with you Sheldon. I don't think it counts as belief if you haven't seriously considered the possibility that it might not be true.

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    1. Questioning either leads to a loss of faith, or a much stronger faith, but I don't think it can be a genuine faith without it. Faith without questioning at some point becomes a mindless repetition of doctrines that have been taught to you. Thanks for stopping by, Jonny.

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  10. I was thinking about this a few years back and mentioned to some friends that, "If you have never truly questioned what you believe, I would question whether you truly believe it."

    There are so many arguments out there, and so many of them futile, because no one is listening to the other side. Pride leads a lot of people to refuse to listen to alternatives, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, because they fear that to do so is to concede defeat. A good debate isn't about winning, but leads to a deeper understanding for all parties.

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