Current research suggests that religious doubt has effects on psychological well-being. Most would assume that because doubt can have serious implications on a person’s psychological health, the doubt is undesirable and threatening. However, the researchers (Krause, Ingersoll-Dayton, Ellison, & Wulff) suggest that doubt can develop a “deeper and more meaningful faith” because it gives an individual the opportunity to wrestle through questions and uncertainties (p. 525). The difference in this assumption lies in whether or not the individual sees the doubt as beneficial or detrimental. Their findings suggest that religious doubt is associated with less positive affect and greater depressive symptomology (p. 532). These researchers also used age as a variable to test and found that younger people may be more vulnerable religious doubts’ effects on well-being, while older adults may have better opportunity to cope by using resources.
In light of this study, mental health care professionals should be aware of the impact religious doubt may have on clients’ psychological well-being. Specifically, counselors and clinicians ought to consider asking questions more specific to religion when conducting assessments and observations for treatment purposes of psychological distress. Though there are many factors that contribute to a person’s psychological well-being, devout, religious, and/or spiritual Christians specifically may be more affected by doubt than nonbelievers. For the younger generations in particular, the researchers suggest having older people to help the younger cope and explore these doubts in community.
This transition of uncertainty between belief and disbelief is not completely harmful; there are benefits that can result from a period of doubting. For instance, Thomas doubted that Jesus had truly been resurrected until he experienced the wound in Christ’s side (John 20:24-29). Thomas was asked to touch his ribs where the spear had been pierced. The doubt provided a way for Thomas to experience Jesus personally, and Jesus was not offended but instead welcomed Thomas to stop doubting by truly experiencing belief through faith. Rather than pretending that doubt does not exist in the Church, it seems more appropriate that we seek to help those who are in a period of doubt—in particular, the younger generations could benefit from the training of the older generations. While older ages could certainly assist the younger folks, Titus chapter 2 presents the idea that the spiritually mature should be teaching those who are younger in the faith—I would think encouragement is of utmost importance for the younger believers who are still wrestling through questions and uncertainties about their faith.
Krause, N., Ingersoll-Dayton, B., Ellison, C. G., Wulff, K. M. (1999). Aging, religious doubt, and psychological well-being. The Gerontologist, 39(5), 525-533.