Faith After Doubt:

By Samuel Cardillo
January 6, 2020

Today I’m feeling overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for a book that Debbie gave me. We generally don’t give each other Christmas gifts, but she gave me a book by Brian McLaren that is life-changing for me — Faith After Doubt” Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It.

I’ve only gotten through a few chapters and had to stop. It’s one of those books that arrests you in your tracks from the very first word… so that you need to savor it, little by little, digest it, ponder over it page by page… one of those books that are literally reading your mind word for word, one of those books that you sense, from the first page, will be life-changing.

Those of you who might have followed some of my Medium/Facebook posts might get the sense that I’ve been deeply troubled by the phenomenon of faith — specifically my own faith, or more to the point, my dying faith. If you’re not familiar with that feeling that comes with that sense of loss of faith, allow me to describe it — you feel an increasingly hopelessness and weariness about life. The loss of faith takes a toll on both your mind and body, it brings a sense of loss of a lifelong and stable community of like-minded believers, loss of a support group to help you through the endless days of agonizing over your condition, and perhaps most of all, a helpless feeling that you are slipping into an abyss of cynicism that makes you weary of life. You actually “feel” it in your bones. It’s tiresome in every way — spiritually, emotionally, physically.

The quick and instinctive response that you might get from your inner circle of friends and family who care about you is understandable — they want to “fix” you. After all, they care about you enough to feel your pain and want to walk with you through it. I’m truly grateful for friends and family who have expressed concern and care about my spiritual well-being. But the core problem isn’t resolved by an expression of care and the effort to help me walk through it. As much as my circle of loved ones would like to guide me through (and out of) this trial, in some way, it is my trial to walk through, from beginning to end. As I said in my book, it’s a journey, not an excursion; there’s no shortcut to getting through it, around it, or over it.

I’m often reminded these days of Lord of the Rings, in which Tolkein has weaved together a tale that in one big way speaks to my condition. For me at least, the key to understanding LOTR is to recognize that there are no shortcuts through life’s biggest challenges and trials. You simply have to walk through them, even if they take you into the deepest and loneliest depths of despair and hopelessness. In Tolkein’s world, you can’t just toss the ring (perhaps representing your life’s most oppressive burden) aside and hope that it goes away. It doesn’t leave you. You have to bring the ring to the only place where you can truly relieve yourself of its burden, the only place where the burden can be taken from you and destroyed… and leave it there. No shortcuts!

It’s hard to put into words adequately what I’m seeing in this book, so allow me to let McLaren speak on my behalf with just a few scattered quotes that hit me between the eyes as I started reading the book (By the way, I want to be clear that I don’t have anyone or any local church body in mind when I quote McLaren in what follows)…

“…when a Christian friend would ask ‘how are you’… if I said ‘I’m fine’ I felt like a liar. But if I said ‘to tell you the truth, I’m having serious questions about the Bible, about hell, and increasingly about the existence of God, and I’m in deep inner turmoil,’ I knew that [people] would be praying for me and ‘counseling’ me…”

“The origin of the word doubt helps name the pain. “Doubt” derives from the same roots as duo and double, suggesting that to doubt is to be in two minds, one that believes and one that doesn’t. The two minds wrestle and writhe in tension, pulling you in two directions, leaving you with double vision or internal division.”

“The loss of a religious worldview… threatens us with an even greater loss: The very loss of God or of God’s favor, love, and protection. What could be more terrifying for a sincere believer?”

“Some people don’t think much about their faith. For them it’s primarily a matter of belonging… They haven’t had an intellectual question or doubt about their faith… because for them, the conceptual side of faith simply isn’t that important…”

There is “a sense of threat to your safety as a member of a trusted herd, which will activate your danger reflexes, and your body will punish you with feelings of stress until you feel safe and at peace once again.”

“… that internal struggle often makes doubt even more difficult and costly.”

“In many religious contexts, the terms of belonging are different and more demanding. They depend on professed doctrinal or intellectual beliefs… and on relational or ethical beliefs… You can’t [feel] safe or secure in our belonging unless you conform, and if you don’t conform… And that’s where things get tricky, because in a real sense, you can’t choose your beliefs. Yes, you can choose to say you believe something, but whether you actually and authentically do believe it is less choose-able than it seems.”

McLaren talks about a “conspiracy of ambiguity” — the sense that some biblically-based ideas are better left unpackaged because “if the church became clear about what it was actually for and against, half of its members would leave in a huff…”

I’m obviously not attempting to resolve the problem of doubt in this post. I’m simply stating the problem… trying to think through the phenomena of doubt and faithlessness with the goal of working toward a posture of (as McLaren’s title says it) Faith After Doubt. Do I believe there’s a way through this “dark night” of doubt? I do. But an important lesson I’m learning from this journey is that you have to go through it. You have to face the problem of doubt head-on before you arrive at any kind of real and lasting resolution. We need to know (fully) what’s wrong before we can make it right. After all, isn’t that the pure and simple message of the Gospel of Grace?

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Author of the book: Between Faith and Doubt — An Evolving Faith Journey

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Samuel Cardillo

Samuel Cardillo

Author of the book: Between Faith and Doubt — An Evolving Faith Journey

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