For some, the principle of faith and the question of doubt in a religious context are dichotomous extremes. If you have faith, such as faith in a creator, faith in your religious beliefs, or faith in a better world, then you have no room for doubt. However, if you doubt those beliefs, doubt the existence of God, or doubt yourself and your existence, then you surely have no faith.
But is this really the way we operate as humans, with our feet firmly planted in one extreme or the other?
There are many things in this world that we don’t know or fully understand. However, just because we don’t understand them does not mean that they are not true or that they have no value. Having faith in something does not make doubt in that same thing mutually exclusive. And in a religious context, many have come to the realization that without doubt, there is no such thing as true faith.
Lesley Hazleton, who wrote a biography on the prophet Muhammad, said the following at a TED talk in 2013:
“Abolish all doubt and what’s left is not faith, but absolute heartless conviction. You are certain you possess The Truth (inevitably offered with an implied uppercase “T”) and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness…by which I mean a demonstrative overweening pride in being so VERY right. In short, the arrogance of fundamentalism.”
In essence, faith without doubt is what leads to religious intolerance and fundamentalism. The idea of religious intolerance and fundamentalism, however, is not merely relegated to those who profess a belief in a Supreme Being and religious texts. Many of those who don’t believe in God or have no religious affiliation are just as guilty of being intolerant of those who don’t believe the same way, or of engaging in fundamentalist activities towards those whose beliefs are different from their own.
However, overcoming that religious intolerance and fundamentalist thoughts towards others and their beliefs is possible. All it takes is two simple (but sometimes not easy) steps. First, we should realize that it is OK to question our beliefs. Questioning what we believe in does not mean that we are denying our faith or our beliefs. It merely means that we are open to the idea that we don’t fully comprehend everything. Second, once we realize that we don’t know all things, we are then capable of admitting that there might be some truth to other people’s beliefs.
Once we realize that faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive, we can not only begin to be more tolerant of other people’s beliefs, but also increase our own faith in what we believe.