I've been thinking about the nature of doubt a lot recently, as it keeps coming up in all of the things I'm reading. The more I take in, the more I begin to see the discussion fall into a very simple patterns. Doubt seems to take one of two personas depending upon who is the descriptor: the ally and guide to knowledge, or the enemy and tool of the devil.
I consider doubt to be my primary guide in seeking new understanding and, more often than not, self correction. When a doubt arises, I consider it good cause to dive deeper into my beliefs and either replace my doubt with clarification or justify my earlier intuition of the belief's falsity. Doubt acts as a companion in this way, warning me away from falling easily into credulity.
This is not to say that doubt is omniscient or always legitimate. Doubt should be the nagging question not the final answer.
However, in my former community of believers doubt is an entirely different beast. Doubt is evil. Doubts are there to be combated and replaced with faith. Doubts are the devil's work.
Lest you think I exaggerate the position, allow me to furnish you with several examples from prominent believers.
Tim Keller directly describes how believers should approach doubt in his book "The Reason for God": doubt your doubts.
"The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true? It would be inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is frequently what happens. In fairness you must doubt your doubts. My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs – you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared."-Tim Keller, The Reason for God (pg. xix)Joyce Meyer writes in an article entitled "How to Defeat Your Doubts and Feed Your Faith":
I struggled with two things the devil often threw at me: doubt and unbelief.
Doubt and unbelief are big problems for Christians. They are negative and discouraging. They cause us to make poor choices, which make life difficult. They cause us to say things like, “I wish I could lose weight,” or “I wish my kids would behave,” or “I wish I could keep my house clean,” or “I wish I had better relationships.”
And doubt and unbelief interrupt faith.
Every day you need to say, “Something good is going to happen to me today. I can hardly wait to see what God is going to do in my life today!”
And you especially need to speak this when the devil is trying to flood your mind with doubts. The way you fight the devil is by opening your mouth and saying what God says. Don’t just let the devil use your mind as a garbage dump.
We can defeat doubt and unbelief if we know how to do it.Nowhere is the concept of doubt more corrosive to belief than in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Hence why President Dieter F. Uchtdorf felt the need to make this statement:
Refuse to be a lazy Christian and resist a passive, apathetic attitude. Be determined to do your part to build your faith. Never give up. And you will defeat doubt and unbelief!
It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.William Lane Craig takes a similar approach to doubt:
Craig suggests that since we know in a self authenticating manner "wholly apart from the evidence" that the witness of the holy spirit is accurate and true, that we should regard doubt.as a temporary setback caused by our lack of access to the full set of evidence for that obvious truth. The "shifting sands of evidence" are a poor basis for our beliefs, according to Craig. He also claims that doubt always has a spiritual component.
"There is an enemy of your souls, Satan, who hates you intensely, bent on your destruction who will do everything in his power to see that your faith is destroyed. And therefore when we have these intellectual doubts and problems we should never look at them as spiritually neutral or divorce them from the conflict that we are involved in. Rather we need to take those doubts to God in prayer...[that's how] you allow unanswered questions not to become destructive doubts."Let us leave aside the repeated claims are tools of Satan for the time being and consider how all of these leaders suggest approaching doubt. The common thread is to see doubt as something that must be defeated. Doubts are never even possibly correct. Doubts must be driven into the ground or taken to God because doubt is WRONG! Doubts are destructive and must never be heeded.
This crusade against doubt can rightly be called the armor of god. It is the first and last line of defense to inquiry and questioning. The vilification of doubt often makes believers ashamed of their questions and hesitant to voice them openly. It provides a deflector shield to questionable beliefs.
However, this view of doubt creates a downside from the religious perspective. It transforms a potentially malleable and adaptable worldview into a rigid structure of unquestionable dogma. In such a state the worldview is strengthened against critique, but when a weakness is found the entire lattice risks shattering. When your entire worldview is held above reproach, the admission of a single failing belief can lead to the decimation of the entire house of cards.
It should be no surprise then that many of the most enthusiastic atheist and freethinking activists came from such rigidly mind controlled backgrounds. Nor should we be surprised that the path from fundamentalism to non-belief is much more worn than that from fundamentalism to liberal theology (the latter route being taken often as a scenic tour to the former's destination).
No one better personifies and understands this risk than Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. He understands the importance of defending his worldview's weak spot: young earth creationism. Ham is often quite explicit that if Genesis is not inerrant and literally true, then the rest of the Bible quickly falls into doubt.
So to my believing audience, I make this suggestion: accept doubt into your heart. If your beliefs are true, they should fear nothing from scrutiny. Even if they are false, the willingness to adapt your views and unlearn errant teachings only makes your worldview stronger.
In either case, doubt should be nothing to fear.