DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Forced into Doubt

Written by: on January 25, 2018

Smith, Taylor and Erdozain

For the past few weeks the questions that have been explored are what does it mean to be secular? And what does it look like to live in a secular world?  The exploration of  secularization as it relates to our understanding of doubt, unbelief and the human condition have been heavily discussed by James A. Smith, Charles Taylor and Dominic Erdozian. James A. Smith in his book, How (Not) to Be Secular wrote that “even as faith endures in our secular age, believing doesn’t come easy. Faith is fraught; confession is haunted by an inescapable sense of its contestability. We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. We’re all Thomas now.”[1] These words express the very real tension that exists between faith and doubt. Charles Taylor in A Secular Age focused  not on the beliefs people hold when it comes to unbelief but on the conditions of their beliefs. Smith acknowledged that Taylor would affirm that people “are no longer bothered by “the God question” as a question because they are devotees of “exclusive humanism” — a way of being-in-the-world that offers significance without transcendence. They don’t feel like anything is missing.”[2] His discussion was framed by a set of questions that focused on how “exclusive humanism” has evolved and is fundamental to the “immanent framework” that all humans exist within.

Dominic Erdozain in The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx takes on a less broad stroke than Taylor across the historical, theological and philosophical views on secularization in an attempt to assess unbelief and doubt. He sees conscience as the basis of unbelief which had been fostered through religious control and not that of religious rejection due to the emergence of science and philosophy. His discussion is that unbelief is rooted in the church and the justification lies in its historical narrative beginning with Luther and moving in time through Karl Marx. He is arguing that it is not science or philosophy that had introduced doubt of religion but it was forced by the constant misrepresentation of the Bible as it relates to the churches engagement with shifts in culture and society. He writes “Time and again, the religion rejected was an expression of what Jean Delumeau has termed “Augustinism,” a “type” of Christianity “that spoke more of the Passion of the Savior than of His Resurrection, more of sin than of pardon, of the Judge than of the Father, of Hell than of Paradise.”[3] Ironically, this form of Christianity is not something that only resonates within the historical context addressed in the pages of his book but can be witnessed in our American Christianity today. The discussion on unbelief and its roots in the church can be summarized in this statement “when the Bible becomes a battleground and the church a place of “ceaseless learned controversy,” dissent becomes an obligation. There is a degree to which some people were forced into doubt.”[4]


Dissent, spirituality and control

It is apparent in our society today that many religious leaders in our American culture have taken the stance that “spirituality” is waging war against Christianity. At the root, the “war” on Christianity is not a war at all. It is merely a dissent against a theological framework that imposes religious control and alienates anyone who does not comply. From the churches stance on abortion, divorce, homosexuality, racial justice and even gender roles/definitions has left many today feeling forced into doubt. Taylor’s discussion on western postmodern engagement in faith is “spiritual but not religious” is brought forward in Erdozain’s reflections on Spirituality and theological control. Erdozain and even Taylor to some degree would urge Christians to not be so quick to call something that does not comply with our beliefs secular.

Erdozain stated an assertion by Jean Delumeau that “before we can talk about “de-Christianization” we have to know what we mean by “Christianization,”[5] I believe that this is the crux of our current day dilemma within the context of the American church. Whether it is a rejection of religion based on a rebellion against theological control or a desire for spirituality that expresses a freedom that goes beyond the current “restrictions” that exist within a linear fundamental framework of transcendence, unbelief and doubt is a part of the human condition. It is not necessarily an assault on faith or even Christianity. To Smith’s point “we are all Thomas now”, in so much as, our doubting exists even as we continue to live out our faith. Our doubt or even our dissent is not what makes us secular, it is what makes us human. I do think that we as Christians do have to reflect and process our role in how we engage in our culture especially in this day and time. It can appear to be a slippery slope and a battleground of beliefs that only lead to more division and less resolve. I do think we need to listen to those who sit on the fringe and choose not to come in. There dissent or even rejection can open our eyes and enlighten our understanding of the world around us. How can we be a light in darkness if amongst ourselves, in order to retain control, are deceptively trying to pass on our own darkness onto one another as light?






[1] James K. A. Smith, How (not) to be secular: reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 4.

[2] Ibid., Preface.

[3] Dominic Erdozain, The soul of doubt: the religious roots of unbelief from Luther to Marx (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016),263.

[4] Ibid., 264.

[5] Ibid.

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks