Monday, December 3, 2012

Religious Doubt and Psychological Well-Being

It has been speculated that religious doubt may have either positive or negative effects on psychological well-being. However, studies have shown that religious doubt seems to primarily have a negative effect on those who experience doubt. On the other hand, the argument has been made that religious doubt may also enhance spiritual growth as long as one pushes past the doubts and resolves them. Yet, in this case, the doubt is not what solidified the faith, but the further understanding of truth is what led to a mature understanding and faith. So, studies appear to show that religious doubt actually leads to negative psychological well-being since the mental struggle between two contradictory points strains the mind (Aging, Religious Doubt, and Psychological Well-Being).

This appears to present a huge challenge to Christians because it seems nearly impossible to have absolutely no doubts about anything ever. Of course, the problem often lies not in the existence of the doubt, but in the failure to pursue an intellectual resolution. However, Krause suggests that a potential danger of doubt is that further knowledge into a subject, while being informative, actually may increase doubt since the more we know, the more we realize that there is so much more that we don't know (Religious Doubt and Psychological Well-Being: A Longitudinal Investigation). Yet, this is true in every case with regard to every instance and subject, not only with respect to religion. Therefore, if this mindset was adopted, then every experience in life would have a negative impact on our psychological well-being, and knowledge would actually be a negative achievement; however, we know that this is not true. Thus, while doubt is certainly a negative aspect if not resolved, it is also a constant, present reality in the life of every person because as humans with limited knowledge we can never be absolutely certain of anything.

So, what can we do with doubt and what should we do with it? How can we retrieve a positive outcome from something that seems detrimental to our psychological well-being? In one way, doubt is a positive thing because if we never doubt anything then we would believe everything, which would really be detrimental because because we would accept so many contradictory beliefs and that would really cause psychological distress. As a Christian, one would need to be aware of proof texts and how people may take verses out of context in order to try and show that the Bible supports a point that they are trying to make. For instance, Krause quotes this portion of Romans 14:23, ". . . he who has doubt in condemned," and he uses it in order to try and show that the Bible declares that doubt is negative and wrong. However, his use of the verse is improper since it has been entirely isolated from the context, which has to do with maintaining a pure conscience and not creating stumbling blocks for others with the focus being on what food is proper to be consumed. In fact, Romans 14:23 within its context has not even been fully quoted because the whole verse states, "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." Thus, the doubt is not wrong, but the emphasis is on the fact that ignoring the doubt and performing the act without being certain that it is not improper or a stumbling block is wrong since it does not fully satisfy the conscience.

Thus, there is clearly a positive aspect of doubt being a type of safety mechanism by which we prevent ourselves from being easily convinced of anything that claims to be truth. The balance, in my opinion, is in how we view and handle doubt. We can't just ignore it because then it will always remain and fester and become a constant corruption of our beliefs and defile the purity of our conscience. On the other hand, we must also realize that doubt is a natural result of sin and can be part of Satan's plan to keep us from seeking and pursuing truth. So, doubt may be helpful or harmful depending on how we allow it to impact us. If we are utterly controlled and plagued by doubt with regard to every issue then it will absolutely have a negative influence on our psychological well-being, but it can also bring us to further probe and search for solidification of truth. The key is to learn to manage and control our doubt, instead of being manipulated by it.