Adventures in Doubt

It’s rather fashionable to be agnostic nowadays. The modern project of finding indubitable certitudes on which to base my life is said to have collapsed; Descartes’ adventures in doubt, however, are still all the rage, albeit devolved to dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum: “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.” And what do I doubt? Well, a whole range of things. In this upside down world, I’m like the Queen of Heart’s antithesis: sometimes I’ve doubted as many as six highly plausible things before breakfast. It just takes practice.

I doubt whether the Royal wedding, telecast to millions, represents “true love”—after eight years waiting, Kate must have some qualms about her balding prince. I also doubt the idiot box on which it was telecast, with all those inane ads. Will that latest shampoo really regrow hair on my own bald-spot? They can’t fool me—I’m too suspicious for that. (Though I did buy the product, just in case, of course.)

On a different front, I doubt whether PJP2 deserves beatification in a world where science has surely debunked miracles. But I’m also pontificating over whether scientists and their threats of global warming can be trusted—the Himalayas may be hot, but Brisbane just had its coolest and wettest summer on record.

The wavering cascades like a waterfall. Was Obama really born in the USA? (The certificate could be forged.) Is Trump seriously running for President? Did the moon landing even happen? Does religion have anything meaningful to say? Is every kilometre over the speed limit really a killer? Do my parents really love me? Can I trust my spouse?

I doubt it. I doubt everything, right?

Well, perhaps not.  I mean, to be truly sceptical, I must believe something solid on which to base my doubt. I doubt Trump because I believe his whole life is implausible. I doubt miracles because I trust a materialistic scientific method. I doubt global warming because it lies under the shadow of my local cooling.

Closer to home, I doubt the speed signs because I’m confident in my driving skills. And, if I’m honest, I waver over parental love and spousal honesty because I’m safeguarding myself against disappointment from abused trust. I believe that I am worth protecting. Doubt functions like a universal acid to dissolve any claim that threatens to control me.

Perhaps, then, my adventure in doubt hasn’t gone far enough? My totalizing deconstruction preserves one indubitable certainty: Me. For at the root of it all, I believe in me. My hermeneutic of suspicion extends to everyone and everything that threatens my autonomy or demands my allegiance. Religion has nothing worth listening to, as I am the only ultimate authority in this universe.

Okay, trying to be even handed, there seem to be at least two good reasons for doubting myself. One, I’m finite. How could I know it all? Surely I could be mistaken—on politics, religion, love? A bit of humility wouldn’t hurt. I guess that Professor had a point:

“If you’re going to be a doubter, be sure to doubt your doubts as well as your beliefs. We’re taught in our culture to think that a person who doubts is essentially smarter than the person who believes. But you can be as dumb as a cabbage and still say ‘why?’.”[1]

So I could be wrong. But there’s a second good reason for doubting myself. Not only am I finite; I’m also fallen. I’m limited, and biased. Contrary to the evidence, I think I’m normal and everyone else is weird and mistaken. But taken to the extreme, this blind trust in self—from which “flames the fixed star of certainty and success”—is tantamount to tyrannous insanity. As G. K. Chesterton mused, “The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”[2]

Touché. So where does this leave this doubting doubter?

Perhaps it leaves me blogging with my friend Mitch, trying to escape ‘Descartes’ Watchhouse’, “detained in an imaginary cell by my own epistemic impotence.”[3] I must squarely face my deep seated trust issues. Perhaps it leaves me with Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver, facing up to my own identity as a backward yahoo in a world more complex and beautiful than I had heretofore perceived. Perhaps it leaves me, like the early church father, Origen, realizing that I only truly know that which I truly love. Love is risky business that dethrones my own superiority and leaves me open to being deceived; but is there a better path to traverse?

Wherever it leaves me, this genuinely ‘Wondering Fair’ article should leave me searching for anything, or anyone, worth trusting. For if I could find one who is trustworthy, then maybe I could set out on the greatest adventure of all: the adventure of faithful and courageous commitment.

Dave Benson

[2] Orthodoxy (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Christian Classics, 2006), 9.


2 responses to “Adventures in Doubt

  1. Great article Dave.

    If there is only one thing worth putting faith in what is it. Is it our selves or something other? I go for something other, I find my own answers way too limited.

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