The Good of Doubt

When I was in college, I felt compelled to find an answer to moral relativism and nihilism, a search which led me to Catholic faith and the moral philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and Alasdair MacIntyre. (With some over-zealous missteps thrown in too).

Later, another paradox imposed itself on my consciousness: I believe the Catholic faith is true. I also believe that my faith calls me to love all persons. Not everyone is a Catholic. How do I love and respect those who disagree?

After some soul searching and reading, the answer appears that we love a person precisely by respecting his or her autonomy and ability to reason and seek truth. We propose, but leave conversion to the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean we approve of all actions; it does mean that we love a person despite disapproving of some of his or her behavior. After all, all of us have areas of repeated error.

This process of questioning and reconciling two seemingly disparate truths goes on through out our entire lives, I think. At least it applies to the part of our lives where we think about things, which I hope will be most of my life.

Many if not most believers will go through a period (or periods) doubt throughout their life in the faith.

It isn’t bad or weird or wrong. It is an invitation to further study, to the potential deepening of faith. I believe that every person has his or her own set of essential questions: existential quandries that make or break the possibility of belief.

It is true that a person must honestly seek truth in order be capable of finding truth. Hence MacIntyre quotes John Henry Cardinal Newman as saying, “we have to become the kind of person who is open to just those arguments that direct us toward the truth.”

The quandries that present themselves to each person are different. Some people are intensely disturbed by certain moral questions, others by dark passages of the Bible, others by the philosophical basis for belief at all.

And this invitation, if taken up, will call on us to read intensely on the subject, speak with others, and possibly to reconcile two seemingly irreconcilable premises in our mind. This is how doctrine develops, precisely from these such inquiries.

The Catechism discusses voluntary and involuntary doubt, the later of which happens to most, if not all, of us and refers to “hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety arouses by its obscurity,” (2088).

In itself, this experience is pretty normal. The problem comes when obstinacy of heart comes in, which I understand as a refusal to be honest with oneself about lingering areas of trouble.

If we aim only to seek the truth, and leave the rest to God, we are doing the best possible. All truth comes from God in the Catholic view.

The questions that trouble you will likely be different from mine. And that is where each of us must delve, for in the honest search, the answer is found.

Question: what questions or paradoxes trouble you the most? What, if anything, have you tried to help resolve it?

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2 thoughts on “The Good of Doubt

  1. One such challenge that I have long considered is how to reconcile the instincts and knowledge of spiritual faith with the concrete realities of the physical world. Examples of that instinct might be knowing we are always alright even though we don’t know what will happen, or believing, as I do, that our existence is the manifestation of order and process that could be called God, or experiencing detachment from some common worldly ways. Some of the concrete realities that can be difficult to reconcile are numerous and easy to cite, such as violence, oppression, despair, and even simple human infractions like judgment and selfishness. It seems the most fundamental resolution for me has been what I call ‘facing the light’–a conscious stance towards fostering wellness and acceptance that while I will never truly know anything, I can do whatever I can to contribute to others and myself through practicing love. There may be better ways to express that. Naturally, I fail at this aspiration daily, yet I am committed to maintaining it as my reference point.

    • Thank you for this dad. In theology, I think this is often referred to as the problem of evil. But it tends to be considered more.abstractly. I appreciate your personal approach to the difficulty of living in what I might call a fallen but still good world where truth, beauty and goodness are still in abundance despite threats to them

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