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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Faith, Doubt and Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa has recently made the headlines with her soon to be published private journal. The book “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light” reveals years of private journal writing exposing her personal thoughts throughout her ministry of service to the sick and poor.

The revelation that is making the news is that Mother Teresa writes about her Doubt and “lack of Faith” obviously for such a devoted servant of God this news comes as a surprise and even shock to most.

For me it opens the door to an important conversation, long overdue about the role of Doubt within the building of our Faith. We tend to think of the terms Faith and Doubt as being opposite and exclusive of each other. If you have doubt it means that you lack faith and if you have faith then doubt does not enter your mind. Particularly in the case of faith – we tend to think of it as an absolute. Homes says of faith – “Faith is a mental attitude, so inwardly embodied that the mind can no longer deny it.”

In New Thought we really like absolutes – they keep things clean and simple – easy for the intellect to take hold of. But the fact is that in a metaphysical universe – there is a lot of “gray matter” The danger of painting Faith and Doubt in such black and whites is that we end up holding faith as such a high spiritual ideal that few people actually possess it. We make Faith so pure that we can never fully attain it. Not only that, but we then begin to carry guilt for our lack of faith and our more common doubt. Let’s return to faith in a moment -

What of doubt? Is is simply the lack of or mis-placed faith? I think doubt can be these things – but is much deeper and much more important in our spiritual development. In New Thought we have done very little to understand the valuable role of doubt in our spiritual awakening. To doubt, fundamentally is to question, to question is to inquire and to inquire is to learn and grow. I believe that doubt plays a much larger role in our unfolding and spiritual growth than we have ever acknowledge. After all, was it not Ernest’s youthful and constant questioning of the world around him (the preverbial question mark, always asking Why?) that lead to his awakening and articulation of the wisdom we now call New Thought and Religious Science?

When it comes to building our faith, doubt is an important component. M. Holmes Hartshorne reminds us in his work “The Faith to Doubt” that is was Luther’s dare to doubt the means of grace which the Church presumed to guarantee to the faithful, that “cut the ground out from under medieval Christianity.” I agree with Hartshorne that in terms of exploring spiritual principles it is “not reassurance but the courage to doubt critically” that we need. Similarly, Augustine observed that we doubt for the sake of truth.

I believe that it is through doubt that we are able to plumb the depths of our soul and uncover hidden beliefs – bringing them out of the dark shadows and into the light for close examination. In order to build our faith – we need doubt. Without it our spiritual principles become self serving Polly-Anne platitudes that lack meaning and substance.
Don’t feel guilty about your doubts – embrace them, explore them and allow them to deepen your faith. To do so is to develop healthy and mature faith.
Paul Tillich says this best…
“Faith comprises both of itself and the doubt of itself…To live serenely and courageously in these tensions and to discover their ultimate unity in the depths of our own soul and in the depths of the divine life is the task and dignity of human thought.”

Through exploring our doubts and darkness we can truly come to understand our Faith.

Thank God for Mother Teresa’s doubt - she has reminded us all that Doubt is a natural part of the Faith walk – while one day the church will make her a saint, today we know she was human. A great human with great Faith and Doubt.


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  3. Holly3:01 PM

    Hi, David:

    I'm only 4 or 5 months late with this....

    I realize I continue to have trouble with the word "doubt" in the context in which you use it. It seems to be a word with negative connotations for a process that is ultimately positive: being open to and acknowledging change and fear and uncertainty in our lives, whether or not we are confident God is going to "come fix everything."
    I guess I don't equate "the dark night of the soul" with doubt.

    Or are you speaking at a more theological level: e.g., questioning basic beliefs (the thing itself, how it works, for us, the Trinity for standard Christians, etc.)? I have to tell you that I tried that in seminary (isn't that where it usually happens?) and was nearly destroyed psychologically.

    I think what I learned from that experience was to question mostly from the heart rather than only from the mind. I guess to me "doubt" (taken to its extreme) implies that ANYthing is possible, even the existence of a hateful God--because it's easy enough to "prove" anything with the human mind. It is the heart that knows Truth without even asking--and "doubt" is a word that it cannot conceive of.

    I seek only to listen ever more carefully to my heart--while using my mind in every way I can to improve my hearing. That's what I love about New Thought--the mystical intimately entwined with the intellectual.

    Anyway, have a great new year!



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