Doubt


 

Somewhere around 25 years ago I met a lawyer who was getting sued by one of his former clients.  He told me something that day that I never forgot.  Something happened to people when they got to be over 50 years old. I sure never understood what he meant at the time.  It had nothing to do with mellowing with age. 

 

I think what he was alluding to was doubt.  At some people, over the age of 50, people begin to experience a form of doubt that they never imagined.  Doubt in the world and its compassion.  Doubt in the dogma of a political party.  Both of them.  Doubt in the dogma of religion.  Doubt in a creator.   Or mostly, just doubt about themselves.  Especially if they had not saved enough money for the long haul.  Especially when hemispheres looked to be ready to over turn completely.  From east to west. 

 

The lawyer had been talking mostly about people who never saved money for the future.  When I turned 40 there was a surprise birthday party one night.  I was as sick in the 24-hours before as I have ever been since the age of 23.  I did not want to be there.  But that night I got a coffee mug from some friends who had driven up from Chicago.  And I gave that mug back when the youngest of the group turned 40 in 2007.  And he was giving the same mug to a mutual friend who never had a party last week.  I never quite believed that I could be 40. How could a kid like me turn 40?  The latest friend that I have who turned 40 in January seems to have reacted the same way.  I think that was the reaction last week, as I read the e-mail response that I had received.  The latest friend that I have who turned 40 in January seems to have reacted the same way.  And I don’t think he appreciated that traveling trophy of a coffee mug.      

 

The theme of this week seemed to be about doubt. The movie, based on the play, called “Doubt.”  Then there was the American Public Radio’s “Speaking of Faith” about doubt.  And the John Updike novel on doubt that I had started. 

 

It was time to address the most signifiant issue of the day. In January in Minnesota.  No, not global warming.  In Minnesota at this time of year, there was doubt.  It was not going to get above zero today.  Or maybe all week.  Fahrenheit.  And two months later they were still counting, addressing ballots, 2 months after an election.  There was a lot of doubt. 

 

I always thought that time period post WW II was the most interesting in all of history.  The “return to nomalcy.”  Or the attempt to resume a normal life.  Was it possible if you lived in Europe in 1946?  When everything you ever believed in, when everybody you ever believed in, was challenged.  Like beyond the human imagination.  By bombed out buildings.  By cold temperatures –the worst in a long long time.  By forced migrations of people.  By national identities. 

 

I have not seen “Doubt.”  I had read an interview of the Irish writer which included his own thinking.  There seemed to be a lot of doubt in Europe these days.  When the natural gas would be back in the pipelines.  That interviews:  I think there was something in the air I was picking up (concerning his  own Catholicism as a “point” for Doubt).  There was a quality of certainty being exercised around me that something in me was answering with something that felt very powerful called “doubt.” Not a weakness, but in fact a passion to answer this certainty that was not as founded as doubt.  Then at another point I started to think about black and white. And about those nuns.  And their certainty.  And that connected it to the past.  Again, thinking again in black and white, I started thinking of a black woman—coming into a white woman’s office, and talking about whether something was black and white.  Democrats and Republicans who, year in and year out, show up like convicts chained together—having the exact same positions on everything!  They’re just chained to it.  I don’t think that’s “thinking.” And that’s what functioning, effective members of a culture do—say, ‘Look! I have doubts. And that’s a good thing. You should have doubts, too. And if you don’t, you’re a hammer-headed clown!’   Whether the invasion of Iraq or molestation within the Catholic Church regarding the institution.”  

 

Power and authority.  And doubt.  Doubt about human authority, when it came to human freedom.  Doubts about the economy.  The Freedom House annual survey group’s statement released yesterday stated: Citing 34 declines and 14 improvements, although setbacks in 2008 did not represent substantial declines for most countries, setbacks were numerous and affected most regions.”’  With Russia elections reportedly “were ‘neither free nor fair.’”  With neighboring Russian-influenced countries whichstifled dissent following peaceful anti-authoritarian revolutions.  Greece sank over nationwide riots in December and the government’s ‘inability’ to control them.’”  Notice the cultures influenced by the Eastern Orthodox Church.  

 

Power and authority.  Adminsistering free will in the modern world.  In the changing world.  The American Revolution.   The French Revolution.  The industrial evolution.  The

Russian Revolution.  And now this.  Carried along by the wind current.  Capitalism and its affect on freedom.  Doubts about human authority in administering justice.  In a free world.  God and freedom and free will.  And money. 

 

Money never seen.  There were 3 trillion dollars per day in electronic transactions.  All built on trust.  Money, the worth of paper, is a confidence game.  In the information age that seems to have resulted in a revolution affecting freedom of everything. 

 

Confidence and trust.  In a world where trust can be lost.  Trusting people to pay you back was the definition of….credit.  At my bank and trust.  Business no longer works without credit, we learned in mid-September 2007.  When there is doubt.  When banks quit loaning. 

 

Political rights and civil liberties declined largely because governments worldwide mimicked European anti-authoritarian “color revolutions” that reversed course and squelched democracy,” Freedom House said.

 

What of the difference between belief and atheism?  The great doubters and believers,  agnosticism. Have been preoccupied with another great schism: The one between what human beings are and what we wish we were.  What divides belief and atheism is that believers have some kind of a taste for religion and atheists think it is dangerous bunk.  What we do and what we understand.  That we love, and that love, among other possibilities, brins forth life, is very strange.  We cannot state that it is inexplicable, and yet when it happens (either true love, or conception, or both) we stand amazed.  Love can drastically alter a rational person’s world

                –Jennifer MichaeL Hecht’s book, Doubt: A History

 

Religion.  Some kind of a passion to record what people before us discovered about God, this “taste for religion.  Always and everywhere.  There were evangelical doubters, who wanted nothing to do with people who were interested in the spiritual history of human beings.  The atheists.  The agnostics.  The doubters.  I wonder how they disavow a belief in natural law.  That something falls from an airplane at 32 foot per second per second?  That there was a speed of light?  That there were the four seasons of the year?  Why there was high and low tide?  That the planets spun in a certain alignment?  Why gestation for a woman was 40 weeks for the most part?  Why a woman had a cycle?  Power and authority.  God.  Freedom and free will.  Natural law.  Capitalsim and freedom.  What did you believed in?  When you were hungry?  When war was declared? 

 

Hey!  We were all born doubters.  Doubt was a reality in this world.   Always and everywhere.  There was always a need for new discoveries.  And a lot of people grow up with belief and over a lifetime return to a period of doubt. 

 

John Updike wrote in his book, In the Beauty of the Lillies, of one family in characters over 4 generations of the 20th century, of belief and doubt.  “The pastor who loses faith in God whose doubts finally pushes him out of a job to where he spends his time at a movie theater.  His son content with the quiet life of a postman who doesn’t want to wade back to the God question.  His daughter who is constantly aware of God, yes her narcissism and self-centeredness betrays a very shallow faith. Infatuated with herself from a young age, she grows up to be a movie star, displaying the typical “godless” lifestyle typical of Hollywood. Belief in God is her “secret”, sees God so clearly, finds doubt a bit bemusing, but would not know what it was like to not believe in God.  And finally her son the young dropout who loses faith in Hollywood and finds escape in a cult group with an apocalyptic madman and his counterfeit God with precisely the passionate commitment which the family has never had. In a strange way, life has come full-circle for this family in his great-grandson.”

 

Power and authority.  Doubt.  About God, or about other humans?  Doubt not in purpose but in authority.  In law.  In order.  In war time.  In human authority?  Doubt in the need to be saved?  In saving others?  The discussion.  In January.  In good time and in bad.  In sickness and in health.  Til death do us part.  The prayer back and forth. 

 

In a world with doubt in God, is it a surprised that we doubt each other? 

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