OK, believers. It’s allright for the rest of you guys to step forth and admit those doubts that all of you have. CBS has reported that Mother Teresa has unwittingly led the way, thanks to the disclosure of tormented letters she wrote:
Shortly after beginning work in Calcutta’s slums, the spirit left Mother Teresa.
“Where is my faith?” she wrote. “Even deep down… there is nothing but emptiness and darkness… If there be God — please forgive me.”
Eight years later, she was still looking to reclaim her lost faith.
“Such deep longing for God… Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal,” she said.
As her fame increased, her faith refused to return. Her smile, she said, was a mask.
“What do I labor for?” she asked in one letter. “If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.”
According to her letters, Mother Teresa died with her doubts. She had even stopped praying, she once said.
That Mother Teresa had such doubts doesn’t surprise me at all. All honest Believers admit to having these doubts, at least when I discuss matters of faith with them one-on-one. If you listen to them at church, however, it’s a totally different story. In a church, when they are among other “Believers,” they suddenly become cocksure of their supernatural beliefs. I’ve seen this over and over–the doubt “vanishes” when it becomes socially inconvenient. This oscillation of Belief tells me that having a Belief is not about having any confidence that one’s most supernatural claims are true.
Over the years, at least four active priests have told me, one-on-one, that they have recurring doubts about the most basic aspects of their faith. Put them next to a pulpit on Sunday morning, though, and it’s time to rock and roll with doubtless expositions of supernatural claims. In church, there is no doubt that bread turns into flesh, that Mary actually levitated into heaven and that if people want to get to heaven, they have to get their by following the rules of a bureaucratic church.
The moral of this post? I know that you Believers all have deep and recurring doubts. Why can’t we start our conversations with that as the starting point? Why can’t we start our discussions of religion by acknowledging that you Believers don’t really know many of the things that you claim to know? This would be a healthier common ground for our conversations, scary as it is for you. Can’t we just admit that that all of us posit meaning in strange and ineffable ways, that this meaning is a rickety ephemeral scaffolding and that all of us are glaringly ignorant of the evidence we actually need to answer any of our “ultimate” questions?
The answer to religious strife is intellectual humility.
ps. I do hope that Mother Teresa hasn’t crossed the line into denying the Holy Spirit!