Sunday, September 30, 2007

Doubt and Surrender (Rough Draft)

The psychological resonances of religion are often more complicated than many atheists acknowledge, in particular where doubt is concerned. Yes, there is in many religious people a sense of doubt as a sin (and a corresponding urge to denial of doubt), but in the brightest and most devout, there sometimes is an integration of their very doubts into their faith.

What the secular press missed in the case of Mother Theresa is the same lesson one finds in Therese of Liseux's Story of a Soul, a pattern that has been recognized among professed religious for centuries. One's very doubts of God's existence become an occasion for deeper surrender in faith; just as the religious would offer up their physical suffering as a gift to the Lord, Therese would cast herself as a little child, offering to her Father all that she had- her doubts and failures. Mother Theresa, likewise, threw herself into the business of love with greater abandon the more she was overwhelmed with doubt, and one hardly has to point out the epic results of this self-offering.

Those times when I myself followed this path were indeed the best of my Catholic life, the times when charity and beauty were very real things; and the times when I could not look at my doubts in a forgiving light led either to a self-absorbed despair or a vehement denial of those doubts. Or, at last, to apostasy.

Looking back, I cannot say that the offering up of doubts is any reliable means to the truth; and yet it is a means to much human good. Even atheists face a similar conundrum, when one comes to it: how can we behave as idealists in a world of brutal fact, or act incrementally for the good when one knows it won't cause all others to do the same, or sit in awe of beauty while aware that beauty exists only in the human mind? The oft-discussed "cheerful nihilism" can only exist, or so it seems, by a similar act of internal surrender, setting aside one's best awareness for the sake of what is good.

Pardon all of the above for being rhetorical, unsupported, and deeply flawed. I think that there is something very important within it, nonetheless.

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