Follow up on Doubt ing

Picking up few threads from the comments on Doubt:

  1. What happens when Doubt is a Thing?  Like, I can assume everyone means the same thing when I read or hear that word?  And so, I can write a dictionary definition of “it” (and of its itness)…List its attributes, and contrast with another thingified word, like Faith, create flow charts, and so on…Am I really getting at thing I haven’t really created?  And then…
  2. What happens when Doubt is not only a Thing, but an Agentive Thing?  Like, it comes upon me (like a spirit!), and yet is also something I “have,” similar to, say, a disease?
  3. Do prescriptions for socially imagined, discursively created Agent-Things really work?  If not (and they don’t), then what?  Can we doubt everything said about doubts, faith, and so on, from a position that is other than “because I really feel it is so”?  Can we speak more than this?
  4. Step back from what you think Doubt and Faith “really mean,” stop looking for the heart of the matter; pause for a minute reciting some voice on their meaning, their goodness and wickedness, and look at how these words partially create You.  What do you mean to say, for instance, “I have faith” and “I have doubts”?  And don’t give me another voice as your reply.  I want to hear the voice of the being represented by these Big Words, reflecting upon actual, recalled usage.
  5. Now, please comment on how You see yourself, given the above questions that steer the discussion on Doubt toward the discourses on doubts, and their effects…Please.


  1. As with so many other abstract concepts delivered in the Book of Mormon and other scripture, I look at the usage of “doubt” as something explained to me by a Being who wants me to try it out. Therefore, while other definitions of the notion might compete for my brainwaves, it makes no sense to contaminate an experiment with outside tangents. I realize that it may take me out of offering any sort of explanation for the whole “Doubt your doubts” logic, but I don’t care much about that anyway. I’ll never be able to get “society” or “church” to agree what Doubt is anyway. I guess that’s why we have Elder’s Quorum and Sunday School, to come to some sort of agreement on these things, then stash them away until the next time we talk about it.

    Thankfully, the Book of Mormon gives a few examples of what happens when one doesn’t doubt “the power” or “the name” of Christ. In the case of Enos, Alma, King Lamoni, the Ammonites and others, they believed Christ, that he would forgive them. The result was that they became free of guilt, and thereby were free to act on their desire to serve others without hindrance.

    In discovering this “pattern” in their stories, I decided to see if it was really true. Could one simply take Jesus at face value, and believe that he would forgive without me having to do some sort of 10 step program, or seeking for authoritative approval, or cutting out a sacrificial pound of flesh?

    The answer is yes. And it has produced the same results as the others. While I still screw up all the time, there are no chains of remorse or self-flagellation rods to impede any good causes I might be anxiously engaged in. If Jesus says his grace is sufficient, that is good enough for me.

    And while we can dissect the word “doubt” ad nausium (like we can any word), in my mind, it just comes down to a personal relationship of trust. I have no reason to not believe that what he says is true, so why do I need to create this Thing? In my case, I did listen to the other voices who also tried out this experiment. I did not doubt them and their experience. And likewise, I hope that others will not doubt that what I say is real and true. But ultimately, I don’t hold anything but my own chains and my own keys to unlock them, which I have done. That would make me a free agent; as I have acted, and not been acted upon by some culturally and self-created prison warden called Doubt.

  2. Stating “I have…” is ownership. Identity. Ego. It makes us who we think we are. And keeps us where we think we want to stay.

    To step away from that phrase makes our thinking objective. Looking at faith or doubt as agents acting upon us to create moments of choice. So prescriptions for “cures” wouldn’t work because they exist as themselves. Faith as faith. Doubt as doubt. There is no cure and no need to cure, only a need to experience.

    Once we experience each ‘agent’, we can choose which we, as proto-gods, like best. Which electrical impulse we find more enjoyable.

  3. (1) There are maybe two or three Things called Doubt. The first Thing is a motion or a process more than it is a substance or a fact. The motion of “waltz” is left-foot, right-foot, thus, thus. The motion of doubt is resistance against some claim; internal process signified by dissent, whether it is performed or not. And if it is not performed, then perhaps doubt is the Abstract Thing or Idea of dissent (as motion), as the idea of waltz (as motion) is conceived before the motion itself is performed.

    The second Thing, doubt, is the impetus. It is conceived as fact or narrative or experience. It can be enumerated as “a lecherous man,” “church history,” or “the Holy Ghost.” These are Signs or Reasons, which I receive in some way (thus I “have” them because they can be recalled). People recognize or interpret signs, either mapping them onto culture or tradition, or by some internal process I like to think of as “Life,” which is a kind of origin-ality or play. This sets the stage for motion, which if it manifests as doubt, then the things enumerated– the impetuses– are doubts.

    I suppose it is by culture or language that we witness a degree of reliability in this, where I might recognize the impetus and motion of doubt in myself as something definite, and also to recognize it in others. Hence the definition, DOUBT, a shortcut for this impetus-motion. It is said that children do not doubt, yet there is still some experience that leads them to prefer one thing to another. For example, I may insist to a very small child that this broccoli is most delicious and be met with towering doubt as she refuses my offer and goes for the crackers instead.

    (2) Because signs (impetuses for doubt) are perceived as external things, it is assumed that they must have some external cause. It seems to be in our nature to assign some intent or will to those causes, because the signs have apparent meaning. Not only are the signs external, but the meanings too, it is thought. The meanings are apparently all intrinsic to the signs and must therefore be intentionally created by an external agent. Add to this the observation that many times our motions are more automatic than they are deliberate expressions of the self, and from there, it seems easy enough to imagine how we receive, or “have”, signs from agents, and those signs then “make us” perform certain motions (come upon us as a “spirit”). Now, if those motions are against the Elders and the Authorities, this tends toward the unraveling of the community, which allegedly can only be sustained by the Authority and not from its own internal vitality. The “will” behind the signs– the doubts– is therefore malevolent; we are getting the wrong histories, being told lies, listening to the wrong spirit. Doubt is Bad!

    This is what happens when doubt is perceived as an agentive power and also a pathogen: We no longer tell the story, the story tells us. The story is fixed or dead, and generation-after-generation of actors do what their fathers before them also did in their assigned roles.

    (3) Does this prescription “work?” I guess that depends on what you want. If I’m building a prison, I hope the foundation is dead– it better not get any ideas of its own.

    On the other hand, if I am growing a tree, I hope the roots can sense where the nutrients are and go there by themselves. In fact, the tree is really growing itself, I simply provide the nutrients. So, if we are hoping for a living society rather than a dead one, then the agent-pathogen prescription for doubt is pure poison. Probably all prescriptions are poison.

    Can we speak something other than, “…because I feel it is so?” Can doubt assume some other position? To whom do we speak? To ourselves? To strangers? To other people who say, “I feel it is so?” What is the point of the speaking?

    As I see it, the danger of “I feel it is so,” in Mormonism, is that this presumes certainty and
    makes faith to serve it. “I feel” means that God told me so (what greater witness can you have?), therefore there is no uncertainty at all, unless what “I feel” contradicts the official teaching, in which case it is only a feeling that I have. In this scheme, “faith” means loyalty to the teaching which has been made certain because I feel good about it. Doubt is simply an obstacle to this, a diminution of faith/loyalty.

    Only outside of that understanding does it make sense to speak of doubt from some other position. If the tradition is true simply because it is official, then to take up some other position where doubt is maybe not a satanic agent acting its will upon us would leave official things open to re-evaluation. That is forbidden territory.

    (4) What do I personally mean when I say, “I have faith,” and “I have doubts”? In both cases, I mean to say something very similar. I mean that I have witnessed and received a sign– A story, an event, some other experience. I have gone through some internal process of recognition. This is a connection of meanings, possibly a telic process that engages my imagination and may be informed by my language and culture. In the case of faith, I mean that I have recognized the sign or its meaning as something necessary to myself, reliable, trustworthy, hopeful, desirable. In the case of doubt, I have recognized the sign or its meaning as something detrimental to myself, malevolent, destructive, false, illusive. In my usage, faith and doubt are not agents outside of me. I am the agent, and faith and doubt are descriptive of my orientation to the signs.

    (5) How do I see myself? The truth is that I do not like to think of myself as “having doubts,” or “having faith.” Faith and doubt are not separate from each other; they are joined as taijitu, into a whole. I don’t like the faith/doubt dualism, especially as it sometimes suggests that one must be stronger than, defeat, or otherwise preclude the other. I like to think of myself as “in motion.” Faith and doubt are the recognition processes of living things that see signs and use them to preserve, express, and become themselves. If the self is the soul, then for it to be all that it is would encompass my idea of salvation.

    Sorry for the long comment, I hope it addresses the questions.

  4. I once found myself in a situation where I was able to stop a police chase through my neighborhood by throwing a campfire log at the car of the fleeing felon. Right up until doing so, my hope had been to slow the chase down, so that any children playing in the neighborhood might have a chance at safety from being hit by mad-men (and it’s usually men acting this way) overcome by adrenaline behind the wheels of high speed vehicles. Alas, the log I pitched did’t slow anyone down, but did, instead, inadvertently land in the middle of the lead vehicle’s windshield, punching a hole in it as it sped past me going probably 50 mph. The chase ended thankfully a hundred yards or so down the street. As I reviewed the damage I had done to the vehicle, the cops having secured the “bad guys”, I began to imagine the driver of the vehicle I had hit pressing charges. “What if,” I thought, “the cops come to arrest me for interfering in a very dangerous way, when they themselves showed restraint in not carelessly firing their weapons, though they had every right to (the fleeing person having run their car into the blockading police vehicles at one end of the street). I am going to go to jail,” I told myself. In that moment I was, for only the second time in my life, well and truly scared. [In the end, no charges were pressed; indeed, I was awarded an official “thank you” by the police departments involved, the suspect having no clue what had happened!]

    My point is to show the stark contrast between how sure I was of myself right up to tossing that log, to how unsure I was after I had seen what I had done. With no time to think things through except to tell myself that children’s safety was possibly at stake, I felt compelled to help by trying to slow things down. Then, with all the time in the world to think about the damage I had done, I could only imagine the worst. (One could probably offer all kinds of pop-psychological explanations around why I could only imagine bad things coming upon me, especially since it turned out nothing bad did happen to me, but that’s beside the point.) I have told this story many times in the intervening 15 years, and only once did someone speak of what I experienced afterwards as my having “doubted myself.” Okay, that didn’t seem strange to me. They could have used just about any other word, I suppose, either completely made up (“gavagai”), or not (“cowardice”), to the same effect.

    Seems, though, once a word has been attached to description, mischief can creep in. How? One can imagine that we now have this word “doubt”, a noun seemingly like all other nouns, which now appears to be floating around out there “representing” something, but not in context or attached to any story (a fault of English, at least, that it allows such unattached words to be spoken without any hint of there being a problem). It can be made to be something more than a word now…something like an abstract “principle” that can be used to judge the goodness (or more likely, badness) of the person who “displays” it (by their talking about things that sound like doubt when telling their stories, for example), usually by jerks always on the watch for signs of badness in people and things. Of course, doubt in this form becomes definable by whomever, once removed from story, having become associated with, or generative of, things said to be bad. Furthermore, it can be made to appear agentive (depending on how the noun is used grammatically), and can be contrasted to other invented agents (like “faith”) said to counter it. What is faith? Anything that isn’t doubt. So what’s doubt, again? Lack of faith, of course! If only. There are many who would take such words, and make them speak to goodness or badness, it seems, in an attempt to gain power over souls. And then perhaps someone comes along–someone already caught in the snare of abstract-noun-as-principle/agent, who detects a problem, yet who continues to buy into the magic of the twin existence of doubt / faith as things in themselves (instead of the effects of speech acts they actually are), who tries to dress them, strangely, in new clothes by re-imagining them as equal-but-separate things presented in “choice” to some poor, unsuspecting soul made to participate in a shocking lab experiment sponsored by what I assume is an ever-watchful, providential, psychopathic, sadist-god.

  5. (1)It’s my understanding that doubt is always a thing. I’m curious about your implication that there are times when it isn’t. What is doubt when it isn’t a thing? This idea is new to me and If anyone could offer information that would help me to understand this better I would appreciate your words. My knowledge of language (I’ll admit it’s hardly academic) is that it is meant to be used to be able to come to agreements and understandings, to effectively communicate ideas, by having a universal meaning that a word represents. I do believe that when a word is minutely scrutinized there will always be found minor differences in how individuals understand a word, but these seem to be imperceptible without that scrutiny. Therefore, a dictionary defining words (setting parameters) can exist, listing attributes, contrasting against other words, and perhaps even creating flow charts with, or for, the defined word (although I must admit that does sound a little silly to me, but maybe…). It seems to me that without a basic, or general, understanding of words, or if we took time to debate the miniscule nuances of words, there would be no communication achieved. I admit that I do see that there are words that can represent ideas that are more than what their definition may read as in a dictionary. As I’ve read through these questions it seems to me that the greater idea, not the parameter definition, is what you’re asking people to discuss. Or, perhaps to you, there isn’t a difference between the definition of such words and the ideas created by them. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a little confused by your ending question in the section. “Am I really getting [th]at thing I haven’t really created?” I’m not sure what exactly has been created. Are you referring to the meaning of the word? The word itself? I understand that language, as a whole (words, definitions, understandings, ideas represented, etc.) are such as they are due to a process of emergence, spanning the course of human development. Yes, we do have new words that occasionally are created, and yes, even how a word represents an idea can change. Words also fall out of use, which can lead to a word no longer being part of a language. This is a simple explanation of how I view language (so as to avoid being long-winded) and is what leads me to ask about what is supposed to have been created if the definition and associated ideas of a word emerged long before I did. Is the emergent understanding the “thing that I haven’t created?” If so, are you asking if I believe that I’m understanding the ideas represented by that word when you ask about “getting that thing?” While there may be a universal definition of a word, the ideas represented by that word vary from person to person according to, and created by, their experiences. But, even though there are these variances, because of the defined parameters of a word, even varying ideas can have general commonalities, making them, by that definition, the same thing. This leads me to conclude that everyone who has had experience with that thing “gets” that thing, even if their experiences, and the represented ideas created, have differences.

    (2)Well, what happens when doubt isn’t an agentive thing? Again there is implication that there are times that doubt is transformative. If there are times when it is a thing, even a specific thing, then there must also be times when it isn’t. My thoughts regarding having doubt “come upon me” are not as if a sentient being is in possession of my mind or body. When doubt comes to my mind it seems to be due to experiences that bring me to have a different understanding than what I currently believe, creating a discord in thoughts, morals, beliefs, etc. This doubt isn’t another being, it is me, my mind, my awareness. It is agentive to me because it does have the power to cause me to question how and what I have believed in, enough to potentially cause me to change myself, how I think, feel, and believe. The awareness of the need to question myself is, to me, how I understand this aspect of doubt as an agentive thing. Although it is a part of my own mind, it has the ability to work “upon” me. I don’t believe that doubt works like an infections disease, something external and substantial, that perhaps could be spread from one person to another. I understand the word “have” to be able to represent many types of things that are physical, psychological, emotional, etc. I have doubt, in fact I have, and have had, many doubts for many things. I don’t have them because they infected me like a disease, I have them, and have had them, because they are thoughts and feelings (which, to me, are things that can be had) that have been created through personal experiences.

    (3)I wonder why you have chosen to ask if “socially imagined, discursively created Agent-Things” really work when you’ve already concluded that they do not. If you’ve come to a certain conclusion on this matter, what is the point in asking? For me, doubt isn’t just connected to my thoughts, but also my emotions. Likewise, so is faith. (Although I’m not really sure what aspects you’re referring to when you say “and so on.” It seems like a very general statement open to quite a variety of related topics.) Yes, I do make decisions based on how I feel, even decisions regarding doubt and faith. In fact, I would say that my emotions are the driving force behind such actions and I don’t feel that’s a bad thing. Doubts and faith, to me, are very personal aspects (for most people it seems) and it would be impossible for me to remove emotions from them. In fact, I see that as we attempt to discuss doubt and faith (and so on) we can only relate them to others in a way that shows an emotional connection. However, just because I feel a certain way about a particular idea or subject, that isn’t to say I have the authority to expect that anyone else feels the same way. Likewise, no one else has the authority to expect me to feel the same way they do. I believe that “speaking more than this” isn’t in the removal of the emotional connection, but the realization and understanding that, in regards to these things, no one person has authority over another to expect sameness of thought, feeling, belief, action, etc.

    (4)I find it interesting that you ask me (meaning all who at least read this, as well as myself) to “step back from what I think doubt and faith really mean.” The only way I can understand what anything means is through what I think about it. It’s impossible for me to think about meanings in any other way than my own. I’m a little confused about what you mean when you say “stop looking for the heart of the matter.” What exactly are you referring to? I thought the reason behind these questions was to be able to allow different people to share how they understand the subject differently. Is this not the “heart of the matter.” If it is why would you want people to stop looking at it? Perhaps I’m missing a piece of the puzzle on this one. There is not one sentence in my explanations in which I have recited the voice of another. My thoughts and conclusions that I have shared here are all mine. I have never referred to their goodness or wickedness. I feel that for this particular subject I have no authority to make such a call for anyone but myself. I think I am, at least to some degree, in tune with how these words influence the way I think, how I feel, what I believe, etc. For me, saying “I have faith” is to express a hoped for outcome that is beyond my ability to create. My use of this particular phrase has become increasingly less over the years as I have had changes take place regarding my religious beliefs. This isn’t because I don’t believe in something people would call religion, but because of the implication that so much in life is beyond my control or ability to do something about. I also don’t care for the implication that so much of my life is up to Providence to decide to bless me with, so long as I have hope that He will. My faith, my hope, is reserved for matters that have a special, or deep, meaning to me. To have doubts (and I believe I’ve stated this in a similar way already) is, to me, to have experiences that cause me to reconsider my current beliefs. Experiences that create an unsettled feeling regarding an opposing idea that has merit of its own. You want to “hear the voice of the being?” What being are you referring to? Am I that “being?” Or is it God, The/a Church, a particular religious canon, etc? If I am that “being” that you want to hear represented, you’ve only had that.

    (5)I’m not sure how to address this one. What I’ve shared is how I see myself. It is how I understand doubt, even if it is very simplistic in form. I guess one more thought I could share, that I haven’t, is that I have no personal fear of doubt, or having doubt. By doubting I feel I have been lead to places where I can learn more about myself. Places in my life where I can deepen my own understandings about my life and how it intersects with others’ lives. Places where I can broaden my ability to appreciate other people, cultures, religions, etc. These, for me, are good things and have come about, in part, through doubting, and allowing that I might be wrong.

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