Yesterday’s post on doubt may have gotten a little derailed during the writing process. The reason that post exists is because I read an article on CNN’s Belief Blog entitled “My Take: More doubts about God doesn’t mean religion is weakening.” I intended to re-blog that article and comment on it. . . right after I said some stuff about the apostle Thomas, and referenced my pastor’s sermon from last Sunday, and gave my own two cents about the place that doubt plays in God’s plan. And by the time I said all that stuff, I was over 1,000 words in, and it seemed a little late in the game to chime in with a re-blog of CNN. So, to closely paraphrase the words of the guys who decided to split up North andSouth Carolina, I said, “Screw it. I’ll just make two of ‘em.”
According to the article,
“a recent Pew Research Center survey sees doubt rising sharply inside the millennial generation. Between 2007 and 2012, this survey says, the portion of young Americans (those 30 and under) who say they never doubt the existence of God dropped sharply between 2007 and 2012, from 83% to 68%.”
Upon, reading this, my first thought was, “Wait a minute. Was there a time when 83% of interviewed human beings said that they had never doubted the existence of God? That’s just crazy talk.”
Then, my second thought was, “I bet there are some Atheists who are just shitting themselves in excitement right now. Their dream of a completely secular country must seem soooo close!”
“Not so fast, atheists,” says CNN blogger Stephen Prothero.
“Look carefully at the survey question. What this data is tracking is the percentage of young people for whom doubt has never creeped into their faith. I don’t know about you, but most of the religious people I know experience both doubt and faith over the course of their spiritual lives. So the fact that more than two-thirds of young people say they have never doubted God’s existence seems to me evidence of America’s extraordinary religiosity, not its disbelief.”
Well, yeah. I don’t really believe that 83% of people interviewed actually never doubted the existence of God. If I was to generously guess how many people I think never doubt the existence of God (ie, to pull a number out of my nether regions) I would say 3% of people are so blessed. To me, that implies that 80% of the folks taking this survey in 2007 were lying.
I can understand why people might lie about this, even to themselves. As I said in yesterday’s post, people have traditionally looked down on the apostle Thomas – a.k.a. “Doubting Thomas” – for his lack of faith regarding Jesus’ resurrection. He even – GASP! – refused to believe without seeing evidence firsthand. Jesus then (allegedly) scolded Thomas for his skepticism, and praised people who are able to believe without needing things like “proof.” It’s no wonder that for centuries, people didn’t want to be caught with their doubt showing – nobody wanted to be the next Thomas.
But as I wrote yesterday, I believe that doubt can be a good thing. Admitting your doubts – to your friends, to your family, to your pastor, to God – can be a freeing experience. It’s not unlike weeding your garden so that better plants can grow. . . you might not like having to do it, but once it’s done, you’ll probably be happier for the time you spent on your knees.
Maybe what we’re seeing in this Pew Research Center survey isn’t evidence that religion is failing inAmerica. Maybe, instead, we’re seeing that American believers are slowly becoming more honest, more fearless, in dealing with the doubts about God we all encounter from time to time.
One of our readers agrees. Rachel left a comment on yesterday’s doubt post, and this is part of what she had to say about her own experience, growing up a Christian who occasionally had to face her own doubts.
“There were so many factors in my youth that caused me to feel guilt ridden if i doubted one iota in my faith but as I’ve grown in age, healing and in Him…i’m finding that by embracing doubt when it arises brings…well, comfort. if i believe or am doubting…i bring it to Him regardless, and whether He answers me or not….the doubt….my heart…is still in His hands. and man, when He answers…it’s amazing and life changing.”
Just like Rachel’s view of her own doubts changed as she grew up and experienced God more, Prothero believes that the same can be said for the body of American believers.
“The fact that doubt is now a part of faith for a significant minority of American believers strikes me at least as a sign of faith’s maturity, not its demise. Perhaps, like the millennials themselves, American religion is growing up.”
I think he’s right. It’s not easy for us to admit our doubts about God, faith, miracles, or the church – but having the maturity and courage to do so helps us grow our faith. The great thing about truth, I have found, is that it does not depend on belief. Our doubts don’t make God disappear, but holding them inside of ourselves can certainly make it hard for us to see him.