doubt, believings, and post-postmodernism
“Doubt is most often the source of our powerlessness. To doubt is to be faithless, to be without hope or belief. When we doubt, our self-talk sound like this: ‘I don’t think I can. I don’t think I will.’ …To doubt is to have faith in the worst possible outcome. It is to believe in the perverseness of the universe, that even if I do well, something I don’t know about will get in the way, sabotage me, or get me in the end.”
~ Blaine Lee
On one level I get what the guy is saying. But on another I think this is to misunderstand doubt. Faithless to me is better understood as despair, absolute bleak meaningless. When meaningless doesn’t anymore give a meaning (as is still the case in nihilism).
Or perhaps we should differentiate between healthy and unhealthy forms of doubt. Blaine Lee would be here talking about the latter. Healthy doubt is being open to the possibility that one is wrong. Or at least one’s truths hold a place that may depend in part on certain times, places, and events being in play.
The way I read Lee’s quotation, doubt here is more like a script and sounds fairly “faithful” to me. i.e. The person so consumed really thinks they understand the world–it just happens to be out to get them. But is that really doubting?
The other question I have is whether belief and faith are that synonymous. My understanding more informed by my studies of the classical religious heritage thinks otherwise. In that world, belief (or rather believing) is about what a person or group holds dear. The better term for belief then is trust. Or as Tillich said, what is of ultimate concern in life. What or Who one ultimately entrusts oneself to. In that sense, one could (I think quite reasonably) entrust oneself to something or someone and yet still be open to the possibility that this choice could turn out in the end to be wrong (whatever we mean by that term–another discussion for another day).
Faith then is something more like an organized set of believings or entrustings. At least understood religiously. It works as something of a container, and (ideally) a pull into the deeper believing core.
The problem arises in modernity where the original notion of trust is lost and belief become faith or rather dogmas. And these had to be either assented to or criticized–faith as a series of propositions objectively either right or wrong. So fundamentalists actually and somewhat weirdly are modernists. They assume the logic and worldview of modernity–that truth is decided by objective facts–and then argue that the Bible is full of the best facts, e.g. the “real science” (Creationism). So-called New Atheists similarly are themselves the “old” modernists in this sense–the other side of the same coin. They also “believe”–i.e. entrust themselves to Enlightenment rationality–that faith is a series of propositions, either logical & true or not. They say not. But both miss the idea that believing (verbal not noun) is what is really at stake. The deep and abiding believing in rationality during modernity was obscured by claiming it to be essentially fact (and not believing in any sense).
Now we are shading into postmodernity. Unfortunately too often in postmodernity (I’m so over-simplifying on all sides now) believing became too closely identified with values. So that allowed these values to become either A)sacrosanct and unjudgeable which has led to political correctness of both liberal and conservative streams B)be ignored. “They are just values.” Values being a rather less powerful word in my mind that trust. C)Both A & B where values can not be judged and the values in question are fairly sterile, static, and superficial.
The post-postmodern shift, if I may be so bold, seems to me about articulating what it is we entrust ourselves to. But with a sense of humor–i.e. showing copious amounts of healthy doubt–knowing that these “believings” of ours are open-ended, open to change. And I think as importantly, if not more, that we find a deep place for this “entrusting” question in relationship with others.
The later question of how these believings relate to faith would I think be a very interesting one to discuss. In one sense there is a returning to the classical (“premodern”) understanding but in another sense very very different. That traditional world, best as can be reconstructed and understood by us today, was one in which the believings came wrapped in “cumulative traditions” (Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s definition of a religion). Those cumulative traditions have largely broke down–or at least our post-industrial social native inundation in them has been severed for many of us. (See modernity and postmodernity as to how & why). You Can’t Go Home Again it would appear on this one. Any attempt to do so usually shows up with romantic nostalgic visions that are really contemporary versions of how the individuals involved think the past really was. Not always very accurate.
So I don’t think we want to go there. But at the same time the postmodern (postmodern conservative?) insight is that traditions are inescapable (both for good and ill). I’m mostly talking off the top of my head (or the edge of my fingers) but the liberal Enlightenment view of radical liberation from tradition doesn’t cut it nor does some impossible return to some imagined (by us) past–which may or may not be very much like how it actually was back then.
I wouldn’t want to say we just make traditions up. At the same time we can’t help but be a part of them. Nor does it seem a whole mess of folks are going to go for a total re-adoption (if that’s even possible) of a/the cumulative tradition(s). I think I’m running out of juice here. Or my sensing is out beyond my language or ability to rationally reconstruct/articulate what I’m after on the inter-relationship between believings and then faith in a post-postmodern frame. But whatever it is, it seems to be at the nexus of those multiple simultaneous impossibles with which in some fashion we must come to grips.