Bring Back Doubt


Is there nothing that needs to be fixed in today’s world? One might think so from some reaction to recent events. But if you look closely at today’s New York Times there are clues:

  • 20% of Americans do not find a truth that makes sense to them in organized religion.
  • A British ISIS recruit claims that the Prophet Muhammad said, “the cure for depression is jihad.”

So does religion makes sense or not?


Critics look at the blood shed in the name of religion. Indeed, our history is littered with holy wars. But there must be something in the quest for the unknowable and unnameable: our ancestors have found it impossible to live without it. And the diverse religions in world history have much in common. What do they preach? Four paths to peace of mind:

  • Wonder
  • Gratitude
  • Communion
  • Acceptance

The words are different, but the concepts are the same. We find peace by getting outside of ourselves. We start by being amazed at the beauty of all creation. We continue by being thankful for being alive and having a place in this beauty. Then we join hands in recognizing our common humanity (Christians would say we share one bread, one cup). Finally, we try to accept what we must: our own mortality, for example.


The ISIS recruit is rightly troubled by our society's reliance on money, wealth, and markets to bring meaning into our lives. They will not, and somewhere we know that. But through history we (and especially the young) grab new and different certainties as solutions. They are right in seeing the need for change. But history, and especially the history of religion, show us that no sudden truth stands as the eternal panacea.

There is a fifth path: doubt.

What is education, after all? Why are we endowed with intelligence in the first place? What is free will, and how can it be reconciled to God's will? Or that of Allah, or Buddha, or Vishnu, or the Great Spirit?

The Latin educare means to draw out that which lies within. A young child has a natural bent toward learning. If Dad answers a question with a fact, a certainty, the child will ask back, “Oh, why?”

That is doubt, a natural quality that we extinguish at our peril.


Of course maintaining rule of law and the social contract requires order. We must respect one another and our need for a safe social milieu. But let's not blot out or deny the clues:

  • Protesters persist in Ferguson, MO
  • Putin shuts down MacDonald's
  • Children push through the U.S./Mexico border

Are these just bad things? Signs that the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket? Or do they have something to say, something to teach us? Do we have enough of the child left within us to take a moment for doubt? A moment to learn, to be drawn out, away from certainty? To be educated?