Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Religious Doubt

According to one article findings on religious doubt, health, and wellness are inconsistent. Some studies have found no relationship between religious doubt and psychological distress, and there is emerging evidences that would suggest that not all people experience the effects of religious doubt in the same way. For example, many older individuals do not experience the psychological distress that may accompany religious doubt as younger people do. Still there is information to suggest that doubt does lead to disturbances such as depression, shame, and guilt. Another point of contention is the positive and negative aspects of doubt. Some people experience doubt because of a genuine desire to deepen their faith, others experience seeming paradoxes between the world they live in and the religious ideals they ascribe to which may lead to cognitive dissonance (the holding of two or more conflicting ideas) and other forms of psychological distress. The consequences of doubt depend largely on the origin of the doubt (desire to grow spiritually or seeming paradoxes) and how the individual handles that doubt (Seeking spiritual growth or suppressing the doubt). Suppressing one's doubt may result in negative psychological consequences when an individual feels that questioning some aspect of their faith is wrong or sinful and as a result would not be acceptable to their religious congregation. On the other hand embracing doubt and seeking guidance can lead to growth.

The question on the mind of those of a faith tradition seems to be, "what does the presence of doubt mean for/about me?" Religion offers answers for the deep existential questions of origin, meaning, and purpose that we all ask ourselves. Doubt threatens in some regard to strip us of those answers and leave us without the assurances of purpose and meaning. Although not everyone experiences doubt the same way, most of us can attest to experiencing it in some regard. The truth is if we were to be completely honest many of us have the notion that doubt is a thing to be banished. Sadly, many of us may have gotten the idea that doubt is a thing to be avoided due to teachings in our places of worship and reinforcement by others and this may lead to the undue perpetuation of guilty and shameful feelings.

I think we have demonized the notion of doubt and as a result exposed ourselves to miasma of internal turmoil. Perhaps doubt is not something to be avoided like the plague. Maybe a healthy exploration of our doubt is the ticket to avoiding unnecessary psychological distress and moving on to healthier religious practice and stronger belief. In the words of the late apologist C.S. Lewis “If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply.”

Krause, N. (2006). Religious and psychological well-being: A longitudinal Investigation. Review of Religious Research, 47(3), 289-302.

Ellison, C., Krause, N. The doubting process: A longitudinal study of the precipitants and consequences of religious doubt. Science Study Religion, 48(2), 293-312.

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