Dealing With Doubt

The afternoon was wearing on, but I didn't want to end our conversation without getting advice from Anderson on how people can deal with the doubts that may be plaguing them. I knew there was no simple formula for overcoming uncertainty; at the same time, there are some steps people can take to help ease their doubts. And everything begins with the will.

"When you teach on this topic, you tell people that initially they need to decide whether or not they really wane to believe," I said. "Why do you start there?"

"Because some people say they want to believe when they really don't. As I said earlier, they raise intellectual issues when they're just trying to deflect attention away from why they really don't want to believe. For instance, a college girl told me, 'It looks to me like this whole Christian crock is invented by people who have a psychological need to believe.'

"My answer was, yes, people have a psychological need to believe-just as some people have psychological needs not to believe. I said to her, 'What's the reason you don't want to believe? Is it because you don't wane the responsibility faith brings with it? Is it because of despair over your own incorrigibility? Or is it because you don't want to give up parties?'

"She was startled. She said, 'Who told you that? It': a little bit of all three.' Okay, she's got emotional reasons for not wanting to believe. Other people have different reasons.

"But people really have to decide why they want to believe. Is it because they've seen some evidence Christianity is true? Or because they're desperate without God? And if they don't want to believe, why not?

"If they have intellectual doubts, that's fine, but don't stop there. They need to go deeper into what really may be driving them to back away from God. For ten years I've been visiting a young girl whose family had been abusive, and she has just finally admitted to me that it's not God she has trouble with, it's not her questions-it's her scars, her emotions. She needs to start there." "Assuming a person wants to believe," I said, "what do you recommend as a next step?"

"I suggest they go where faith is. If you want to grow roses, you don't buy an acre at the North Pole. You go where roses grow well. If you're going to do faith, you probably don't want to join American Atheists, Inc. Get around people who you respect for their life, their mind, their character, and their faith, and learn from them. Watch their life.

"And I encourage people to put faith-building materials into their mind. By that, I mean books, tapes, and music that build strong motivation for faith, that clarify the nature of God, that examine the evidence pro and con, that deal intelligently with the critic of the faith, that give hope that you can connect with God, that give you tools to develop your spirituality."

These suggestions made sense. But something was missing. "Faith for the sake of faith is meaningless," I said. "Isn't it important to establish exactly where you're putting your faith?"

"Precisely, which is why the next step is to clarify the object of your faith," Anderson replied. "We Canadians know there are two kinds of ice: thick and thin. You can have very little faith in thick ice and it will hold you up just fine; you can have enormous faith in thin ice and you can drown. It's not the amount of faith you can muster that matters up front. It may be tiny, like a mustard seed. But your faith must be invested in something solid.

"So people need to clarify their reasons for believing. Why should they believe in Jesus rather than the Maharishi? Why do they believe in crystals or in Oriental mysticism? Where's the substance?" Anderson gestured toward the leather-bound Bible on the table. "Obviously, I'm prejudiced," he said, "but when it comes right down to it, the only object of faith that is solidly supported b) the evidence of history and archaeology and literature and experience is Jesus."

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