Doubting

I am giving a FREE presentation at Utah Valley University in a few weeks, as part of an ongoing series of talks on Mormonism.  My talk will discuss Doubt.

What is it, anyway?  A state of mind?  Why then do we speak of it as something that comes upon us, that we fall into, that we have?  Or does doubt-as-mental-state reveal something about mind that is not like the ordinary sense of mind as something “in here,” and subject to me?

Why are there prescriptions given by authorities for alleviating it, for avoiding it, and so on?  How is it that one can do unto it, whatever it is?

Has doubt become essential to what is now called “faith,” so that I can “exercise faith” by participating in Mormon religion, despite having doubts?  Is this what a “mature” faith looks like?

If so, we can ask, “faith in what, exactly?”  Is Doubt here to stay, and so we ought to make a permanent habitation for it; or must we toss out traditions, histories, scriptures, rituals, and so on, which are now subject to doubting, in order to save The Church itself?

I probably won’t answer all these questions, and I’m not going to approach the topic of Doubt in a manner similar to discussions offered by any other Mormon.

I’m also soliciting honest reflections on doubt, provided by you guys.  I may use some or all of what you write in that talk, although no names will be attached to whatever you happen to write.  So, if you’d like to be subject potentially to anthropological analysis, please comment on Doubt below.

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Doubting

  1. DJL says:

    If we are going to look at a scriptural (specifically Book of Mormon) approach to “doubt,” then we should look at how it is juxtaposed with “belief” in the text.

    Mormon 9:25-26
    Whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth. And now, behold, who can stand against the works of the Lord? Who can deny his sayings? Who will rise up against the almighty power of the Lord? Who will despise the works of the Lord? Who will despise the children of Christ?

    The Lord is saying that we should doubt nothing in regards to something specific: his “name.” That is a pretty narrow subject… certainly not encompassing everything any GA ever said about anything.

    And apparently, lacking doubts in regards to his name (whatever that might be) will produce something tangible. You will get a confirmation of all his words. And not only that, it will lead you somewhere:

    Helaman 14:13
    And if ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits.

    So perhaps the belief and the doubt has to do with a receiving a remission of sins through his merits. As in “by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God…then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.”

    To make it easy:
    Doubt = denying the power of God to have your sins remitted, or not believing and simply accepting Christ’s word that you are forgiven (based on his “merits” alone)

    Perhaps he saying that we get so worked up about performances and rituals and penance and guilt that we “doubt” Christ would really re-deem lowlifes like ourselves.

    Enos illustrates the whole subject for us:

    “And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away. And I said: Lord, how is it done? And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. “

  2. Valerie says:

    I do not like to be labeled now as someone who has been “deceived”. Just because I now see things in a different light that causes me to have lost faith in some of the things that my loved ones still believe does NOT mean that I am somehow weaker or spiritually inferior than them. I am exhausted and disillusioned by feeling like this is the only way they can explain my conclusions that don’t match theirs. They know that my heart is still the same and that I have proven that I have no desire to change my lifestyle in any way from what it was before. My standards and values still remain very much in tact. I am not acting like someone who could be characterized as “having lost the spirit”. So it is very frustrating for them and for myself to know how then to proceed in explaining why good people can arrive at such different conclusions.

  3. Rob Nielsen says:

    Doubt is the absence of certainty or conviction
    Faith is confidence and trust

    Examples of reasons why people doubt:
    lack of evidence or necessary information
    significant evidence to the contrary
    unspecified, vague, or untestable premise
    skeptical perspective
    claims challenge current worldview or epistemology

    Examples of reasons why people have faith:
    willingness to test a claim before discarding or dismissing it
    history of source trustworthiness
    credulous perspective
    claims validate current worldview

    “Authorities” typically encourage a credulous perspective (“doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith”), especially for those who are currently unwilling or unable to effectively test claims for themselves. To those who are busy actually exercising their faith, however, this can come across as rather patronizing.

    Faith in God is exercised in a similar way to the scientific method, according to Alma 32:26-43 (a series of experiments that lead to fruits of knowledge and joy). Of course, if the experiments are not followed as prescribed, the results cannot be considered valid (verses 38-39).

    It is also worth noting that literalists are often disappointed in and confounded by esoteric teachings. (“What, you mean there’s no physical fruit I can eat? Then I’ll just find some fruit I like and believe that it is what I need!”)

    Must you be LDS to exercise faith? Of course not.
    Can you have faith in some things and doubt as to others? Of course.
    Can you change your mind as you go on experimenting? That’s what “repentance” (Greek: metanoia) is.

    Faith in what? The answer to this question will reveal allegiances. Is truth authority, or is authority truth? Can a mix of traditions and rituals and organizational affiliation relieve someone of the need to personally exercise their own faith to obtain knowledge and joy? Does faith require church membership (see Alma 32:10, 12)?

  4. Michael T. says:

    -1-

    “And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.” (Ether 3:19)

    Jared’s brother apparently had faith and doubt coexist within him. Knowledge on the other hand seems to imply moving beyond both faith and doubt. The Lord can appear to someone who possesses doubt and doesn’t understand have an accurate understanding of the Lord (“…I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood….”). Maybe the Lord cares less about doubt than we assume.

    Other scriptures do cast doubt in a more negative light (like some posted above). But that aspect seems absent from this little story.

    -2-

    Is doubt the same as unbelief? Unbelief seems like a pretty bad thing in most cases. Perhaps excluding the cry of the father in Mark 9: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Jesus heals the son anyway. So does Jesus care about unbelief or doubt? Maybe he cares more about whether we recognize unbelief and doubt in ourselves. Just like he wants us to recognize sin in ourselves, rather than be one of the “ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

    Maybe that’s what “acting no hypocrisy . . . before God” is about.

    -3-

    If I were to take a stab at it I’d guess doubt/unbelief encompass the mental aspect of our dissonance with God, like sin/transgression encompass the physical actions out of harmony. But that’s a guess and I don’t know shit.

    Tackling “doubt” as it’s defined in the lds church is a different beast. Because Jesus/Monson/Church/City-Creek/mormon.org/3-hour-block/white-shirts-n-skirts are all tied together like a seven headed beast, if should disagree with some aspect of lds-ism, you find yourself questioning/doubting the image of lds-Jesus. If that image is flawed, then that doubt is probably a good thing. I think the church can go one of two ways: (1) untie Jesus from the rest of the heads or (2) become more permitting of doubt in its congregations. #2 keeps people filling sabbath seats, so I think that’s the ultimate direction it’ll go. It won’t, however, fix the slow death of lds-ism.

  5. Chuck says:

    “Wherein do you doubt?”, “Doubt your doubts before doubting your faith!”, “Doubting nothing…”, “I doubt that.”, “Doubt and faith cannot exist in the same mind at the same time.”, …

    It seems we have here (yet) another common word whose meaning everyone thinks matches with everyone else’s meaning (I forget the technical term for it, so I will dub it ‘meaningless’), given the few comments already posted. Some of my random thoughts:

    1) ‘To doubt’ is transitive verb: X doubt(s) Y about Z (or whatever).

    2) ‘To have doubt’ is to render doubt as something that can be possessed (but how?) by the one expressing doubt above, as if by it’s possession it has become, incorrectly in my view, “the cause” or the reason one questions–therefore something “purge-able” by sheer will (kind of like the LDS notion of “testimony”).

    3) Things it seems possible to say you doubt (as commonly used) to any degree: anything “said” (reported) about anything else (e.g., the phrase “My wife’s name is Alice.” or “The earth is round.” or “You can doubt your doubts!”; so-called facts, declarations, revelations, descriptions, etc., etc.).

    4) Things it seems impossible to say you doubt: things in themselves (the “anything else” mentioned in 3) above (unless, of course “anything else” is itself something said), e.g., an act of performance or “play”, or perhaps also ‘Latourian Agents’ [see http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/137-YALE-TANNER.pdf%5D which are discursively created as a summary or shorthand way of speaking of or referring to [meaning, “by definition”] the list of their “attributes” or “networks”, their “behaviors minutely perceived” and “reliably re-produced” [to borrow words from pmccombs]).

    5) Once identified, agents mentioned in 4) can be given a sense of “being out there” (as “concepts,” “ideas,” “principles,” pick an abstract noun…) simply by categorizing them in a certain way, as if they exist independently of the circumstances and artificial conditions arranged (contrived) to make their attributes perceivable (independent of “time and space”, in other words). In this manner, they become the “cause” of those “effects”, thus rendering them subject to doubt, where initially no doubt was possible.

    6) Agents, must, therefore always be subject to scrutiny for their “networks.” They must always stand ready to “present their pedigree” so to speak, as they were once, long ago caused to come into existence by The Word (someone’s undoubtable words), and should never be accepted without their context (creds).

    7) “Chuck doubts his faith,” can make sense only when the word “faith” refers to something said about something. What in this case? “Fath” as an implicitly agreed upon set of doctrine, maybe? Likewise, one could, also, doubt “testimony” as something said by someone else, even if the dude was “God”.

    8) Doubt is said to paralyze (wait, from whence did this agentive being suddenly appear?!? Present your papers, sir!), but probably only by those who feel they already know everything there is to know, who believe in the “path” down which one may be said to “progress” (or not) as quickly as possible without careful regard. Hence the stated need for prescriptions, taboos, controls, etc.

    The preceding statements have never occurred to you before, Daymon. I (seriously) doubt that, but thanks for the opportunity for reflection.

    1. DJL says:

      Chuck, your very first words were an interesting juxtaposition. Pres. Uchtdorf says, “Doubt your doubts before your faith,” but Jesus says, “Believe in my name, doubting nothing.” So if we are doubting our doubts (of our doubts of our doubts….) then we are still doubting “something,” even if no one agrees on what “doubting” means. So here you have a blatant contradiction between a PSR and the Lord himself. Who am I to believe and who to doubt?

  6. yogalife24 says:

    I believe doubt is still belief filled . It is when one has reached the edge of reason. When you realize all you have is you to lean on. That moment when you still want to know but are ready to cross into denial, which is detrimental to progression. To throw away that moment of questioning and turn against the person experiencing doubt is like crushing the moment of creation. It is a moment when all can be lost or all can be gained. Doubt is powerful. It drives the strong mind to seek or the weak mind to give all up for comforting platitudes.

    Doubt generates questions one may never have asked. It generates bravery. Stepping forward when all we’ve done is cower behind vomiting leaders, afraid of the mess they’re making. But, it is a lonely place. Fear and guilt reside there.

    Doubt should not be feared. It should be embraced. It will make strong minded scientists of God.

  7. Dog Pface says:

    Doubt as related to my personal faith transition has a lot more to do with me doubting what I know (or thought I knew) as opposed to doubting some specific tenet of the church. This wholesale shift (rejecting Moroni’s epistemology) moved almost everything church related to the ‘unknown’ box rather than the ‘doubt’ box.

    Maybe it’s just semantics. If doubt simply a softer term for non-belief then the meaning is very similar. Doubt seems much less harsh than non-belief. After all, Thomas doubted. And doesn’t he remind you of that good-hearted but errant uncle of yours? Plus, believe your beliefs before you believe your unbelief isn’t quite as catchy.

  8. pmccombs says:

    While listening to a talk in sacrament meeting a few weeks ago, it struck me how we speak of things like “doubt” and “adversity” as if they were people. At least, they seem to be perceived as agents that have their own will and can operate on us. I learned how adversity “comes” and “strengthens” us and that God can control it, hold it back, or allow it to act on us “for our own good.”

    In the doubt-as-agent model, I try to imagine what it is that doubt “wants” from me, and it is easy to get caught up in narratives about Satan and unbelief and so forth. Doubt is bad, it wants me to let go of the “iron rod” and to wander through mists of darkness and to be “led” astray.

    My discourse with doubt can only be imaginary, I guess; which leads me to believe that something else might be going on, since this doubt never materializes to speak for itself outside of the tradition. So I think talking about doubt as an agentive power that operates on people is deceptive:

    Like an abusive husband, God hurts me because He loves me. And like some battered wife, I, the faithful LDS, only see how this abuse must be evidence of my own deficiency and of my abuser’s power and righteousness. I’m letting doubt get me down because I am weak, and adversity has been sent to strengthen me. God knows what I ought to be, what he wants me to be. He has paths and plans laid out for me, rewards and punishments in store. Obedience is called for, I must be strong. I weep with joy for the goodness of my abuser and his providential hand. Why would I ever leave such a relationship as that?

    What surprises me about this is how close to home it hits, and yet none can see who it is that stands at the head of the Corporation, speaking in Jesus’ name. I’ve been to testimony meeting; I know how easy it is to speak for Jesus– what outrageous things He is liable to say via his many, many mouthpieces.

    This way of talking about doubt and adversity, as if they are agents that act on us, indicates the continuing loss of the self. It is evidence for the opposite of salvation; we have splintered and bound ourselves through oaths and covenants as agents to some other external will. Doubt goes out of us like some half-baked offspring, and we turn our backs on it dutifully. It returns again as a malevolent power to afflict us and act upon us who are no longer self-agents. The Authority (the new soul) speaks to us what this doubt is, where it came from, and why we must pay it no heed.

    What if doubt is really me telling myself what is not worthy of my faith? I, an intelligence, can come to a point where I recognize for myself whether or not a thing is reliable, is trustworthy, is desirable, merits my devotion. What if the real discourse with doubt is a discourse with the self? What if that is a part of what free agency means? Having been turned away by doubt from my tradition, I ask myself, “do I yet live?” If I can answer in the affirmative, then perhaps doubt is a useful aspect of recognition for agents who still own their souls.

  9. day2mon says:

    These are really insightful comments, the sort of thing that would made most social scientists sit up and listen. And the brilliant, and happy thing, is that they are also coming from a position that doesn’t privilege doubt as the origin of knowledge, what might be called “skepticism” as an -ism, but are nonetheless capable of discussing how doubts as a discourse and parts of phrases work upon Mormons, “in Mormonism.” I could probably just read these comments and do a better job than what I had planned. But I have an obligation to speak from “here” as well, just as you guys have done.

  10. robmosis says:

    1. Defining terms can be important. At least then, people don’t assume definitions and fail to see that they have based their thinking on faulty assumptions.
    2. I think treating doubt like “a thing to act” or even “a thing to be acted upon” misses the point entirely.
    3. It is indeed regrettable that many cannot speak more than this. As you have aptly pointed out in multiple ways, when organizational behavior techniques and confirmation bias are taken for prophetic leadership and revelation, you get what you’ve got.
    4. When I say “I have faith”, I mean that I will proceed with confidence. When I say “I have doubts”, I mean that I cannot proceed with confidence.
    5. I see myself as a student in the school of the universe. Christ is the greatest teacher I have ever found. My trust in him and my confidence level that following his instructions will bring me knowledge and joy are both high. I do have my doubts about trusting other people, though – perhaps especially if they dress like lawyers, talk like salesmen, and “serve” for money. Of course, this applies as much (if not more) to politics as it does to priestcraft.

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