Living By Faith, Dwelling In Doubt: A Conversation

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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29 Responses

  1. North says:

    Congrats on the book Kyle and a fine set of questions and answers my Todd.Report

  2. RichardS says:

    Great post all around. It’s refreshing to see someone of faith make the effort to, if not question, at least examine that faith in the context of how it applies to real life. Whether one has “faith” (which I generally assume to mean one adheres to a particular religion) is to me less important than whether individuals take the time to examine why one does or doesn’t “have” faith.

    Full disclosure… I vascillate between beleiving in God and being an agnostic. I seem to only be able to tap in to the “divine” while actively playing music or out in nature. The dogma that comes with most religious institutions doesn’t satisfy my search for meaning and feels more like social engineering… but that’s just me. Your own milage may vary.

    I guess the same might be said regarding my views on abortion. I’m not comfortable with either extremes on the subject. It’s a surgical procedure and that shouldn’t be entered lightly for medical and ethical reasons BUT the squawking about murdering fetuses comes off as anti-feminist moralizing. I know a fetus is a potential human being, but on the on the other hand, we don’t seem to have moral compulsions about performing the same act retroactively if the individual has done something society doesn’t approve off. I guess my own view is simply IT DEPENDS…Report

    • Kyle Cupp in reply to RichardS says:

      Appreciate it, RichardS. Could you expound a little on how dogma feels to you like social engineering? That’s a very interesting description. I might actually agree, but I’m curious to hear what you mean.Report

      • RichardS in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        I’m a lapsed catholic. My mother (who’s still quite active in the church as a Franciscan) tells stories of visits from the local clergy when she was newly married who would tell about “crowns in heaven” for each child she would bear. Medically, she had difficulties carrying pregnancies to term and she spent a lot of time in the hospital when I was a child.

        I guess to some dogma is a script, a set of instructions if you wish, to guide you physically and spiritually through the world. I understand how always having the right answer already worked out for you provides comfort and order in a chaotic existence.

        To others like me, it’s a straightjacket. It’s a prescription for comformity. It doesn’t allow deviation from the established norm, and thoughout history has been used dictate what is acceptable. Dogma is the blueprint, and shame is the tool. Looked at from that perspective… it resembles bullying quite a bit…Report

    • Will H. in reply to RichardS says:

      I was thinking yesterday that I would rather pray out in the woods somewhere than to pray inside of a church.
      I find it comforting that someone else might feel the same.Report

  3. First off, I look forward to reading this book eagerly. I actually dragged the family to a bookstore on a recent mall outing, only to find they didn’t have it and couldn’t get it any faster than I could from Amazon. But get it I shall! The themes appeal to be a lot as someone whose own faith is shot through with uncountable threads of doubt.

    Kyle’s thoughts about mythology remind me a lot of what CS Lewis wrote in “Of Other Worlds,” (though if memory serves, I don’t think Kyle is nearly as much of a Lewis fan as I am).Report

  4. Will H. says:

    If I were a pie, I’d like to think myself round; even were a piece of me missing.Report

  5. Mike Dwyer says:


    Haven’t read the book yet, so apologies for not asking this question from that perspective, but I am curious about what your thoughts are on Catholic Culture verses the Catholic Faith. So many of my friends (and myself included) identify culturally as Catholic but struggle with the practicing part. It seems to me that Jews have made peace with this reality in their community. Do you see this as similar among Catholics or something different?Report

    • Kyle Cupp in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Good question, Mike. I know not a few Catholics who either practice the faith infrequently or pretty much not at all, but who still associate with the name, if loosely. The reaction to this “cultural Catholicism” varies among practicing Catholics and even the hierarchy itself. You see the hardcore hellfire and brimstone types who, in no uncertain terms, preach the mortally sinful nature of missing Mass and speak of cultural Catholics as souls very much in danger of eternal damnation. You also see the more moderate types who encourage non-practicing Catholics to return to the faith, but more for the benefits of community, liturgy, and so forth than because of some endangerment to the soul. I seriously doubt that the Church would ever be at peace with Catholic Culture (as opposed to the practice of the faith) simply because of what the Church claims to be: the place or body in which salvation ordinarily happens. If the Church were to be, as a rule, totally cool with the loss of faith, then it would in effect be saying that its purpose doesn’t matter too much. Does that make sense?Report

  6. Shazbot9 says:

    “We all have our presuppositions. Unproven assumptions that motivate our thinking and behavior. Mine happen to include some fantastical stories about God becoming human.”

    We all accept some unproven assertions, so therefore any claim P, even a fantastical one, is justified/defensible/okay-for-me-to-hold/etc.

    What a fallacy! It needs a name. “Cupp’s Fallacy” sounds good, no?

    It could even work in the foundations of mathematics. “We all accept axioms that are by definition unproven, so therefore it is justified to believe any claim in mathematics.”Report

    • Chris in reply to Shazbot9 says:

      That’s an uncharitable reading. Wouldn’t it have been better to ask, say, why we need those, and why he chose the ones he did?Report

      • Shazbot9 in reply to Chris says:

        Right, it isn’t his job to explain why “Zeus exists” has the same epistemological status as the law of excluded middle. It’s my job to prove they don’t have the same status.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Oddly, I think they have about the same status. That said, you are having a conversation with yourself here, so continue on. I don’t like to interrupt.Report

    • Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot9 says:

      As much as “Cupp Fallacy” has a nice ring to it, I must, with regrets, respectfully refuse the label. The descriptive sentences of mine that you quote lack the structure and content of an argument: there’s no “therefore” explicitly stated or implied in them. And as you rightly illustrate, the mere fact of presuppositions does not, in itself, render those presuppositions justified, defensible, or okay.Report

      • Shazbot9 in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        Got it. You were just describing.

        So you recognize that there is no analogy between epistemologically basic claims like “There is a world” and claims like “Jesus had magical powers.” And you were not arguing for such an analogy, correct?

        If so, your claim that “God became human” is as indefensible and unjustified as “The Cylons created man” and gains no credence from the fact (which some dispute) that there are some epistemologically basic claims which can be accepted without evidence or argument in their favor.Report

      • Kyle Cupp in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        The latter doesn’t follow from the former (i.e., God became man” doesn’t follow from “There is a world”), if that’s what you mean, but that doesn’t in itself mean that the claim “God became man,” or for that matter, “The Cylons created man,” is indefensible and unjustified. If these claims are indefensible and unjustified, they are so because there is no basis or possible basis on which to defend and justify them.Report

      • Shazbot9 in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        So you recognize that we shouldn’t believe that God became man and Jesus had magical powers. These are claims without justification.

        Or are you trying to draw an analogy between these claims and epistemologically basic claims that are axiomatic (used in justifications without themselves being justified by more basic claims)?

        It seems to me you want to say it is epistemologically acceptable to accept unjustified claims and so therefore it is okay to accept the unjustified claim that “Jesus became man.”

        But not all unjustified claims should be accepted as axioms. Some are just crazy nonsense that no one should believe, like “Zeus exists” or “This wine is blood.”Report

      • Will H. in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        @shazbot9 :
        What I find odd here is that, even though your remarks are clearly intended to demonstrate the foolhardiness of a belief in God, nonetheless they begin with a conceptualization of what God must necessarily be; even that the miracles are “magical” in nature (as opposed to, e.g., “supernatural,” et al.).

        Q1: What manner of evidence may you cite as supporting this conceptualization of divinity?

        Q2: Does this extend to other religious traditions as well? E.g., the appearance of out-of-season tangerines by Gandha Baba related in Ch. 5 of Autobiography of a Yogi?
        Or is it primarily the Christian faith for which you reserve your contempt?

        From available evidence, it appears as if the view of atheist as model of enlightenment is not supported by fact. Cf. Ouspensky’s comments on “positivistic materialism,” Tertium Organum, Conclusion.

        All that arrests the motion of thought is false.


        Do you not recognize that this proclaimed disbelief in God contains in itself an image of God a priori, in which it then disbelieves?
        Where did such an image of God come from? And why would you maintain it?Report

      • Kyle Cupp in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        Shazbot9 writes: “It seems to me you want to say it is epistemologically acceptable to accept unjustified claims and so therefore it is okay to accept the unjustified claim that ‘Jesus became man.'”

        No, as I wrote in the first sentence of my most recent comment to you, such a line of thought does not follow. That it may be (or is) acceptable to accept some unprovable claims does not imply that it is appropriate to accept any unprovable claims. I haven’t and wouldn’t argue the contrary, but for some reason you don’t seem to believe me.Report

  7. First, congratulation! Second, this is a wonderful interview. Third, I’ve already asked for this for Christmas, so hopefully The Wife will honor my request (if not, I’ll be ordering it myself.

    Fourth, I just want to say again how incredibly impactful your writings on your faith have been on my own worldview over the years. As a lapsed Catholic, I had for quite some time wavered between atheism and agnosticism. Your consistent – indeed constant – exhibition of humility and doubt coexisting with deep faith has served as a stark reminder of what “faith” can, and indeed should, mean, that at its root, it is and should be intensely personal even to the extent it takes place within a hierarchy. Increasingly, I find myself wavering not between atheism and agnosticism but rather between agnosticism, a sort of vague theism, and a slowly growing curiosity about returning to Catholicism. That Pope Francis increasingly seems to exemplify this sort of faith has certainly helped as well; it’s the faith of my warmhearted Buffalo Polish grandmother rather than the rule-obsessed, uncaring dogma of my CCD classes that seemed to leave little room for the type of faith preached by Jesus in the Gospels.Report

  8. Ruben says:

    Outstanding!, congrats for the book! 🙂Report

  9. Boegiboe says:

    I ordered your book the day you announced it here, and I’m half way through it. I read the first few chapters over a few days, and now I’ve taken a break from it. Its intensity makes me feel like I’m reading it all the time, in a sense, but I’ll make an effort to finish it soon and come back here to comment more fully, and hopefully you’ll still be taking questions.

    I do want to say now that I appreciate how you use each chapter’s topic to focus on the story from a new angle. I think it may be that you’ve created a blueprint for how a person of faith can manage their own crises. What do you think of that assessment? Is that something you intended?Report

    • Kyle Cupp in reply to Boegiboe says:

      Much appreciated, Boegiboe. If the comment thread closes, please feel free to email me at kyle at kylecupp dot com.

      To an extent, the “new angle” structure was intentional, although I have to credit my editor with the final arrangement of the chapters. I had initially written the manuscript in more or less a chronological order, but my editor thought a thematic-driven arrangement would work better, in terms of both the drama and the ideas.Report