Doubt is Not the Opposite of Faith; Certainty Is

Doubt is frequently cast as the opposite of faith. Doubt is frequently shunned, and sometimes, outright condemned. Mormon leaders today demonize doubt and admonish members to doubt their doubts, to stop rehearsing their doubts with others, researching doubts is not going to provide answers and even that research itself is not the solution to doubt. The leaders compare those with doubts about church history to playing whack-a-mole and never being satisfied. They compare doubters to immature and spoiled children and belittle them for so-called insignificant complaints about stale crackers and chipped paint. The church pushes members to claim that they know the church is true beyond a shadow of a doubt. They cling to the phrases found in the New Testament where Jesus says “Doubt not.”

Is doubt the enemy though? Some more mature religious movements have come to terms with doubt as part of the human condition. We can’t know answers to religious questions with any certainty, and that’s ok. We can’t know! That’s the whole point of having faith. The church leaders would be surprised to learn that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty is.

Mormon scripture teaches that faith is hope in things that are not seen but true. If we can see that they are not true, then how can we still have faith in them? Faith is required when there is an absence of facts. It is a hope for things that are true but not seen.

Facts Matter |

The LDS church doesn’t understand or forgets that faith is not needed when you have a certain knowledge of something. So teaching primary children to say they “know the church is true” is not teaching faith, but in all honesty, brainwashing them. Children don’t know the church is true. Full-fledged adult members don’t know this either, and most have no idea or experience with the church and its truth claims (or truth crisis).

"The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely." - Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith |
“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely.” – Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me — that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.

Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Page 257

Sometimes religion acts like a police officer standing in front of a crime scene, waving off would be spectators with a casual, “Nothing to see here!” Religion — bad religion, anyway — frequently places itself in front of the sea of doubt and insists to the faithful, “Nothing to see here!”

There are two problems with that approach — first, it’s clearly a lie. As with a crime scene, there is most definitely something to be seen there and we all know it. The lie may be comfortable and may give us a sense of security — that we’re not really in any danger — but we all know something is going on. Second, those insisting “there’s nothing to see here” are standing with their backs to what is going on. Faith cannot stand with its back toward the void. It has to turn around and embrace it. Given the unavoidability of doubt, to stand with your back to it and deny its existence is folly.

But even more to the point, doubt is not simply unavoidable. It’s necessary

Faith has never been about knowing. It has never been about certainty. It has never been about belief. It has been about stepping into the unknown, about taking that leap.

On the Necessity of Doubt, by Mark Schaefer, Jul 25, 2017 | The Certainty of Uncertainty

I’ve seen this observation attributed to theologian Paul Tillich and to popular Christian writer Anne Lamott, but it’s been expressed in one way or another by mystics and preachers across the centuries.

It says that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt.

Tillich, I believe, said doubt is a necessary part of faith. Lamott has said that the opposite of faith is certainty.

This idea didn’t originate with either of them. It’s very old…

That leads us, as all big questions eventually do, back to God himself….

What if I’m wrong? I think about that, especially when bad things happen. What if there isn’t any God? What if the whole idea is just a big pitiable exercise in wishful thinking? If God is there, why doesn’t he do the common-sensical thing and reveal himself? …

Questioning, doubt and bewilderment are norms of faith, not indications that you lack it. Ideally, they’re the prods that keep us searching, reading, praying — and eventually lead us into a deeper, more seasoned relationship with the Almighty, others and ourselves.

If we think we’ve already got all the answers, there’s no reason to keep seeking. When we have no answers, there’s nothing to do but keep pressing on.

Faith Isn’t Easy — It’s Often More About Uncertainty Than Certainty, by Paul Prather, July 21, 2023 | Religion Unplugged Blog


The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.

"The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing." - Socrates |
“The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.” – Socrates

I know that I know nothing” is a saying derived from Plato’s account of the Greek philosopher Socrates: “For I was conscious that I knew practically nothing…” (Plato, Apology 22d, translated by Harold North Fowler, 1966). It is also sometimes called the Socratic paradox.

This saying is also connected or conflated with the answer to a question Socrates (according to Xenophon) or Chaerephon (according to Plato) is said to have posed to the Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, in which the oracle stated something to the effect of “Socrates is the wisest person in Athens.” Socrates, believing the oracle but also completely convinced that he knew nothing, was said to have concluded that nobody knew anything, and that he was only wiser than others because he was the only person who recognized his own ignorance.

Socrates: I know that I know nothing | Wikipedia

When we acknowledge that we know nothing, we can begin to understand the ludicrous claims of primary children who repeat the phrase “I know the church is true.” This is not limited to children, we have fully developed adults, church leaders, and even apostles making this same claim. However in the case of the apostles, they claim also to be “Special Witnesses” of Christ, thus inferring that they have seen something more special than the run-of-the-mill members, but in fact, they confess that they have no more “special” witness than the rest of us. The church has confused the definition of plain and clear words for something else. They think claiming to know the church is true, equates to believing in the church and having faith, but they don’t understand that it’s not the same thing. They instill fear and teach members to flee from doubt, when in fact it is not the opposite of faith as they assume, but an essential part of any real or mature faith.

Did you feel the fear the church preaches toward doubt? Did you allow yourself to think for yourself? Did you allow yourself to read and study from non-approved or church-sanctioned material? Consider sharing your own faith transition story at today!

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