In my last post I discussed my experience at the RZIM Academy. The topics for the next few posts will be based on the written interactions and reflections that were part of the experience.
In one conversation towards the end of the Academy, a man posted questions he had about doubts that he was experiencing. He explained that certain situations cause him to severely doubt the truth of Christianity, such as someone making an intellectual attack on a Christian concept, or a Christian having a completely different view than his own.
He wondered what the nature of these doubts were. Were they an immediate emotional response to the situation at hand? Were they “doubts of the will”, where a deep-seeded attitude caused doubt about something he knew to be true? Or were they truly intellectual doubts?
I discussed the nature of certain types of doubt in a previous post, but still wanted to share my response to these questions. Below is my unedited response:
I identified with just about everything you said here. Especially the part about Christians having different views, and people poking fun at Christians on their beliefs. In fact, a few thoughts/doubts sprung up today after watching a clip of an interview between Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher. In the clip, Maher takes a few shots at Christianity, such as it’s all made up stories.
It seems like your primary question is how to differentiate between the different types of doubt. When you have a moment of doubt like I did today, is that just doubt due to some emotion you have, or are there legitimate intellectual doubts involved? I think it can be difficult to make that judgement when going through doubt, but there are a few things that could help.
One thing you could do is a self-reflection at the moment of your doubt. Why am I having this doubt? Is there good reason to have this doubt? I think if you’re doubting immediately after hearing someone insult Christians or Christianity, you’re likely experiencing emotional doubt for the most part. You’re reacting to a one-time event based upon how you feel at that moment. But if a serious doubt about some intellectual topic is lingering in your mind for weeks, or months, or longer, there’s good reason to think that your doubt is primarily intellectual.
The doubt of the will is a newer concept to me, so I’m unsure of how you would “diagnose” that. I’m sure prayer and having conversations with others would be a big part of it. It seems like doubt of the will is something we would often be “blind” to through our own self-reflection.
Here are some questions I would have for someone in your situation, and I’ll also explain why I’m asking the question:
Have these doubts that you talk about been present for a significant amount of time? (If the same doubt has been present for a long time, there’s probably more going on than pure emotional doubt).
Assuming your doubt is about an intellectual topic, would there be a substantial change in your lifestyle or central belief system if your view about that topic changed? (If not, you may be worrying too much about the doubt you are experiencing).
What caused these doubts to spring up in the first place? (If the doubts stem from an insult about Christianity, they might be more of an emotional response to someone trying to tear down your views).
I gave this answer directly to a Christian, but I think the three questions I listed above can apply to people who hold any worldview.