Confidence and eagerness for growth has been shorn off. It’s been replaced with a limping, bedraggled faith.
How did I get here? In retrospect, I see three major landmarks.
1) I grew up in a rather small world. Christian church, private Christian school which was built by that church… My school friends, my church friends and my family all swam in the same pool, so to speak. Virtually everyone identified as Christian.
Having that world expanded as I headed into the workforce went about how you’d expect. I wasn’t really prepared to deal with the fact that other people had different beliefs than me, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to deal with people leaving the faith.
The realisation that my firmly established beliefs and morals were genuinely unintelligible to other people was something of a shock.
Even though my convictions were still there, I struggled to extend those beliefs to cover the other people that I met outside of the bubble. This is hardly an uncommon story, I’m sure some of my readers will be able to relate.
I had a very localised upbringing and received a great deal of affirmation about my beliefs. So much so that I was severely lacking in what we call “grit” when engaging with different beliefs. I still do. I suspect many people do, and it’s because of this absence of genuine ownership and confidence of conviction that there is so much unproductive communication between differing religious or societal beliefs.
It’s worth digressing for a moment to narrow in on this. We often think that it’s because people are too strong in their beliefs that they say terribly insensitive things; put their foot forward in aggression towards other systems of faith and religion. That is sometimes true; people don’t commit acts of terror because they’re lacking conviction (or maybe it’s a massive overcompensation for their internal shame about lacking belief?). On the other hand, when people become defensive about their beliefs, does that highlight their assurance, or does it expose their fear? Do I, as a Christian, need to defend Jesus as if He were vulnerable to human opinion?
2) Secondly, I discovered that I had a brain. As I became fascinated by psychology, I realised that what I (and many other Christians) had formerly categorised as “spiritual”, were in fact normal expressions of my emotional wiring and autonomic nervous system. I don’t want to go on at length on this point because it’s complicated and probably boring to many. Basically, it was a surprise that my “spiritual” experiences were common to humanity, regardless of worldview. Instinct, intuition, empathy and vibrant imagination are traits we all share to one degree or another.
3) The third landmark on my journey towards doubt was met last year. I work in a university context and it’s become apparent that there are people who know much more than I do, I know much more than some, we’re incredibly confident in what we think we know, and, ultimately, we know very little. Or at least what we claim to be “true” is not 100% convincing and rational to 100% of people.
You may have seen the superb movie Arrival which was released last year. It was adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang. Much of Chiang’s writing poses the weighty question, “what if the tools by which we understand the universe, such as language and maths, are insufficient to bring true clarity to the reality of things?” It’s questions such as this that have turned me into someone who is, by nature, a sceptic.