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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

10 responses to “Forced into Doubt”

  1. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “I do think we need to listen to those who sit on the fringe and choose not to come in.“

    As someone who role in our church includes evangelism and outreach, I am in agreement with this statement.

    When Christians no longer have close relationships with unbelievers, the walls of our bubble becomes impermeable. Yet, there is another reality.

    For some, the gospel is a stumbling block. Over the years, I have found that God does not always reinforce my social and political beliefs. Sometimes God’s teachings cause me to reshape my worldview.

    The church definitely needs to do a better job of connecting with people who believe differently. It seems to be a never-ending challenge to separate biblical truth from culture. The world needs the life-altering love and message of Jesus…and that message can be counter cultural.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Great post, Christal. I think your title goes right to the point and your analysis is clear and concise. One specific example is this sentence, “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.” We do that—a lot! It’s easier to put a “tag” on something than to engage. I’ve never feared doubt or difficult questions, even those coming from those who are less than well-intentioned. I am, however, fearful—if fearful is the right word—of those who refuse to engage. “Come, let us reason together.” Erdozain documents historically what can happen without engagement. Enjoyed your post.

  3. Mary says:

    I’m with you, Christal! “It can appear to be a slippery slope and a battleground of beliefs that only lead to more division and less resolve.”
    As a new Christian one of the first responses I got from a friend that I was trying to explain about Christ to was, “Well, none of you can agree on anything, so why should I waste my time with that?”
    I’m not saying that we can’t share Christ until we have a perfect theology, just that as you say, “Our doubt or even our dissent is not what makes us secular, it is what makes us human.” Too many theologians are counting the angels dancing on the head of the pin and leaving the weightier things undone.
    Matt. 23:23   “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”

  4. Lynda Gittens says:

    Christal great way to link the three author’s books on “Secularization” I particular like your comments, “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.” Those whom you speak of are those whom Jesus sought and fellowshipped with. Christians get so caught us in the word saying believers should fellowship that we forget Jesus also fellowshipped with those not yet among the believers. I think we take the scripture on 2 Corinthians ‘”Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

  5. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Wise words and ones I resonate with: “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.”

    If there is one big takeaway from this program for me, what you stated is it. I realize there is much to be learned from those excluded from the fellowship of the body, and including them enhances the church and teaches us more about the relational nature of God. I wonder where we would be as a church if we were more bent on connecting with others different from us and pursuing them? Instead, there has been so much rejection and criticism, as our efforts have gone into excluding them, excusing our behavior based on poorly interpreted scripture. How would you suggest we include people in the body?

  6. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    I appreciate the recognition you make that much of the tension in America (specifically) today is the wrestling of religious control and those that resist it. You write, “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.”– Yes and yes! And perhaps returning to and expanding on Hunter’s theology of faithful presence might be a place for us to begin.

  7. Kristin Hamilton says:

    “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.”
    I appreciate you highlighting this, Christal. Thomas is my hero. I preached about him a few years back, and ever since then I keep going back to his story. I think Thomas was the only one brave enough to doubt and, because of this, he was the first one to openly worship Jesus as “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus didn’t chastise him in his doubt but gave him intimate proof. This has been my experience with doubt as well.

  8. Christal,
    A very good post.
    You said: 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. ‘

    I think this is right on and an critically important point….. It is interesting to consider if the biggest ‘issue’ that those in power (or at least positions that give them voice) in American Christianity have isn’t the loss of faith of those around them, but the loss of control…..

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