The Opposite of Faith

Faith is not a competition. But we love to make it one.

In our competitive society, we find ways to compare our faith with that of others, ways to make sure we are better at faith than they are. We go to church more often than they do; we tithe, and they give less than ten percent; our kids participate in the youth group, and theirs don’t. Three points for our team.

We find ways to show our faith is stronger than others’. They ask questions, try to learn how and why God is and does what He is and does; we look at the Bible and accept it word for word. We make sure doubt never enters our vocabulary, unless we’re talking about someone else’s doubt, or unless we’re describing how we used to doubt but have matured in our faith until it’s no longer there. We talk of the elimination of doubt, of the growth of certainty, as the growth of faith.

Because doubt feels dangerous to us. Doubt, we fear (or have been told by other people who fear), can erode our faith. Asking questions–particularly if we look anywhere else but the Bible for our answers–can lead us to the wrong answers, which can lead us away from God. As if God is too small for our questions. As if wanting to learn more about Him can lead us away from Him.

We treat doubt as if it’s the opposite of faith. But it isn’t. The opposite of faith is certainty.

Because certainty replaces faith, crowds it out. Certainty makes faith redundant–if we are certain, we have no need for faith.

And certainty is vulnerable to questions. Like a thick pane of glass, certainty can be shattered by the right question. Doubt can overwhelm certainty–and once gone, it’s nearly impossible to regain.

Certainty fears doubt, fears questions. It discourages the search for knowledge and ridicules the seeker. It leads inevitably to dogma, inflexible and cowardly, as the certain try to impose their certainty on the questioners.

But faith–real faith–isn’t threatened by doubt. Doubt strengthens faith.

Is a marriage stronger because neither spouse ever experiences temptation, or is it stronger because they do–and choose not to give in?

Is a friendship greater because I never consider the possibility my friend could betray me, or because I do–and choose to trust them anyway?

Are my kids made stronger when I try to control their every move, or when I acknowledge they might not do as I would–and choose to let them succeed or fail on their own terms?

Faith is much the same. Because faith acknowledges that it is at its heart a choice: I choose to believe God is there, even though I can’t prove it; I choose to accept the lessons of the Gospels, even if I’m not sure of their origins; I choose to believe God is behind the natural processes that created our beautiful world, even though the evidence suggests it might have been a chain of cosmic accidents.

I choose to believe in things I can neither see nor prove. Your choice to believe or not does not threaten my choice, nor does mine yours. I expect I will always have doubts–but as long as I choose to believe in the face of my doubts, I will have faith.

[I heard the Anne Lamott quote that inspired this post from a Jesuit priest on the podcast of On Being. Multiple sources of truth–in action!]

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.
  • Dana

    I love this! Thank you for such great examples toward the end of this post, too! Also, I really appreciate the link to the On Being podcast and the Anne Lamott quote! I’m slightly obsessed with podcasts, and have heard great things about On Being, and now finally have it on my phone – thank you for reminding me to do that!!! A few people from First UU have told me to check out Anne Lamott, so I guess I now have one more piece of evidence proving that that would be wise…anywayyyyy, it’s great to “meet” you!

    • H. Scott Dalton

      Thanks, Dana! It means a lot to know you find truth in my words. I look forward to meeting you in person!