Doubt is Not Humility
I don’t even remember the issue we were talking about – it had something to do with Christianity – but I do remember my friend’s response. “Gosh, I'm not really sure," he said. And I thought it a humble and gracious posture to take.
Only, its been five years now. And he's still saying, "I'm not really sure." He has landed in that place. Now I see what happened. He has chosen doubt - a posture very attractive and honored in our day.
Doubt is “in.”
Listen to how people talk (especially young adults). “I don’t really know…I’m just sort of wrestling with things right now…you know, I’m not really sure….” And if in the rare case someone actually says what they believe, they quickly add, “but that’s just the way I see it.”
As if confidence is a bad quality to have. Certainty is suspect these days.
For one, it doesn’t seem “real,” or “authentic.” It’s human to doubt. So it seems more human to express doubt than certainty. We end up embracing doubt because it feels “true.”
But there is also guilt by association. Dogmatic people – people certain they know what’s what – have done a lot of damage. Particularly dogmatic religious people. Good people don’t want anything to do with that, and so – by a leap of logic - they don’t want to be seen as having strong convictions. Certainty is not something they want to be associated with.
I’m thinking of this quote by Alan Bloom; referring to a fundamental assumption the postmodern makes he says:
“The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”
And so Doubt, masquerading as humility, has become a virtue. A pre-requisite for respect. People of strong conviction are suspect.
Now, I appreciate the desire for humility, and the fear of being dogmatic.
But let us remember that conviction is not the enemy. As Chesterton said, "An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth...The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."
Enter Jesus, who is always so wonderfully counter-cultural. He knows humility. But doubt (this will be a great surprise to many people) is not something Jesus holds in high esteem. “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). Hmm.
I think we've stumbled onto another vital expression of not letting ourselves be corrupted by the world (James 1:27). We breathe this cultural air; we take in its assumptions. So let us remember this truth:
Doubt is not a virtue. Doubt is not humility. Doubt is doubt. Jesus understands doubt, and he wants us to get past it, not embrace it for heaven's sake.