I believe in doubt. At least I think I do. It seems to me that right now, as I write this, doubt is the thing I believe in. I can imagine it might not be – if I think about it in a different way or if I learn something new or … You get the picture.
I’m not sure I believe in doubt. Maybe it’s just an ironic topic for a personal statement of belief. I love irony. I’m not sure that doubt’s a good thing to believe in. Doubt hasn’t always led me where I hoped to go. I’ve left footprints of wishy-washy flip-flops and passively thick-soled soft shoes along the way, missed alternate paths, and regretted my failures to stand firm at times.
I’m pretty sure that being led by doubt is not such a good thing. A guy knocked on my apartment door once when I was in college and asked, “Does So-and-So live here?” No one lived there but my roommate and me, and neither one of us was named So-and-So. But I answered doubtfully, “I don’t think so.” Doubting my own perception or thinking that certainty was impolite (or whatever precipitated my response) was not a good thing. It was timid, weak, shameful. Or at least that’s what I used to think. Still, there might be another way… never mind.
One of my favorite signposts, Frederick Buechner, wrote, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.” I just love that image. Prickly little stinging doubts that make us dance and wiggle, slap ourselves, maybe even shake out our dirty underwear in public! As a companion of faith, not an opponent, doubt, as my students say, rocks and rolls. And tickles and pinches and nips. Without doubt and banana peels and mudholes, my life’s journey would be a lot less lively. But I’d be a lot more certain about retirement.
As I’ve gotten better acquainted with doubt, I’ve discovered other names for it. Skepticism. You know, it’s always asking, “Yeah, but can you prove it?” and “Why would anyone be empty-headed enough to…” And there’s curiosity. It’s a wild goose, I know, but chasing it has really gotten me somewhere. Sometimes. And what about ambiguity? I say, “If it ain’t got ambiguity, it ain’t got art.”
Believing in doubt creates wonder and possibility and, maybe most importantly, humility. If the other things I believe in can’t handle some serious doubt, I don’t want to believe in them. My daughter once overheard someone say of me, “You know. He’s that minister who doesn’t believe in God.” Sort of true. I’ve been married to my wife for almost forty years now, but I’m not sure I believe in marriage. Nowadays I’m an English teacher who doesn’t believe in T.S. Eliot, and I’m not so sure about Shakespeare. I teach my students that doubting our interpretations and our own language and almost everything leads to deeper understanding. And I believe that.
I believe in doubt. Yeah. I think I do.
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