Faith vs. Doubt

Hawkgrrrl apostasy, Asides, burdens, Charity, christ, christianity, church, conference, Culture, curiosity, depression, Discrimination, diversity, doubt, education, faith, fear, General Authorities, General Conference, inter-faith, joseph, LDS, Leaders, liberal, Logic, love, mercy, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, orthodox, President Monson, prophets, questioning, religion, restoration, scripture, spirituality, testimony, theology, thought 48 Comments

“Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”

Here are a few responses from various different individuals to this quote from this weekend’s General Conference:

  • “It’s not as if you’re going to hear that and say “Right. I guess I don’t have doubts.” It seems more likely that people will hear that and say “Right. I guess I don’t have faith.””
  • “Plenty of seemingly incompatible thoughts/emotions coexist in the same mind at the same time without dispelling each other. It’s like saying “being faithful in marriage means never having desires for another woman/man” when the truth is faithfulness in marriage is about staying committed in spite of those desires.”
  • “If Joseph Smith hadn’t doubted a whole bunch of things would we even have the LDS Church?”
  • “One popular ZEN proverb reads, “Where there is great doubt, there will be great awakening; small doubt, small awakening; no doubt, no awakening.” It’s refreshing and uplifting to think about doubt as a positive catalyst for reflection and self-discovery, rather than a weakness to be risen above.”
  • “If faith means enough hope to act even though one is not absolutely certain of the result, the opposite is enough despair or discouragement that we become paralyzed from acting. If one calls that despair or discouragement “doubt”, then I agree that doubt is the opposite of faith.  However, I personally see doubt as uncertainty, recognizing the possibility that what we hope for or believe is not true. For me, that is an inherent component of faith. Without that uncertainty or doubt, I do not think faith exists (because it would be knowledge or certainty).”
  • “I’ve heard plenty of Church leaders admit to feeling doubts, and Joseph Smith seemed full of them. But quotes like this do set-up a certain mindset among the “faithful” that they should never entertain doubt, or else. The sad thing here is that this state-of-mind is temporary at best, and can often lead to complete loss of faith. But some GC talks seem more designed to rally than educate, which explains stuff like this.”
  • “What was most striking about Mother Theresa was the juxtaposition of faith and doubt in her life. She had such faith, yet such doubt at the same time. I think it’s totally bogus to pit faith and doubt against each other as opposites. They aren’t competitors, they’re collaborators – they encourage each other. Faith exists because of doubt, and doubt because of faith. IMO, faith without doubt is smug arrogance. Show me someone who has no doubt, and I’ll show you someone who has no faith.”
  • “Pope Benedict referred to Mother Thesesa’s doubts as the “silence of God,” and said that all true believers must learn to deal with the silence of God which inevitably come to all of us.”
  • “Elder Holland said Jesus needed to experience something like doubt. Joseph Smith certainly did–see the first verses of section 121. And the book of Job is full of doubts and anguish (although, in the condensed version we skip from Job’s refusal to condemn God and go straight to the restoration of his prior blessing, and we overlook his struggles and anguish and anger expressed in the intervening chapters).”
  • “If faith is a spiritual gift, then only some will receive it. I’m paraphrasing, but the scripture says some will have the give of faith and some will have the gift to believe those with faith and some will have other gifts. And yet then we are told it is a sin if we don’t have this gift?”
  • “When church leaders are asking for us to have faith in God, they really mean have faith in what they tell you about God and what the scriptures say about God, but neither are God, they are just ideas.”

What do you think?  Does doubt drive out faith?  Or is faith without doubt smug arrogance?  Is doubt an essential part of faith development?  Is some doubt bad (paralyzing doubt) and some good (energizing doubt)?  Is doubt the same as “the silence of God” that Mother Theresa, Joseph Smith, Jesus, and Job all experienced?  Do you view doubt as a complement to faith or the enemy of faith?  Is there a “war on doubt” in the church?

Discuss.

Comments

comments

Comments 48

  1. doubt is essential and its tiring to hear the constant denigration of doubt. As if having doubts is the worse thing you can do. Seriously. Look at our history. Read the scriptures. There is a lot to question and think about. Its okay to be depressed. Its okay to be melancholy at times. If your kids die on a trek or from an accident feel free to let the pain sink in. I felt that so much of conference was happy talk on why if you are depressed, sad, have doubts, etc you are just not righteous enough. I get why the church fears doubt but I think its essential stage on one’s individual spiritual path.

    It is frankly the people that have never doubted that scare me. It is in my opinion only with doubt that we can find any real faith. I ascribe to the thoughts of individuals like Thomas Merton on this. Kierkegaard once suggested that the only time we can actually make a bid for Christianity and have “faith” is when it makes no sense and yet we choose to believe. Mother Theresa is a great example of this.

    To a certain extent my faith in Jesus is coupled with doubts. Im not sure how any sane person could not have some doubts. My faith is such that in spite of those doubts I seek to follow him.

  2. Frankly, as the resident parser, I think this discussion almost always suffers from the same problem as the faith vs. works debate – a fundamental disconnect in definitions.

    1) “Faith” is not “knowledge”. It is the substance of things “hoped for” – the evidence of things “not seen”. Faith is based on “hope” – a desire for something that cannot be seen or understood fully. “Certainty” is the end of faith – the desired outcome. It is to be sure of something to such a degree that it is expressed most often in terms of knowledge. “I know this” and “I am certain of this” are seen generally as saying the same thing.

    Otoh, “doubt” is not a lack of certainty. It is not a passive lack of belief or faith, but rather an active disbelief. It is expressed as a negative. It is NOT expressed as, “I am not certain of that,” but rather as, “I doubt that is true” – meaning, “I don’t think that is true,” or “I don’t believe that is true.”

    Faith exists NOT in conjunction with doubt, but rather it functions side-by-side with “uncertainty”. One exercises faith when one is uncertain; one does NOT exercise faith when one doubts. When one doubts s/he actively disbelieves – thus, the one who said he would not believe until he personally had seen and touched was called “Doubting Thomas”. He didn’t say, “I’m not sure.” He said, instead, “I will not believe unless . . .” He could not exercise faith, not because he was uncertain, but rather because he actively doubted.

    I get more than a little bit frustrated by the orthodox insistence that everyone can know everything, but I have no issue with the idea that faith and doubt cannot co-exist. Faith is the active expression of an internal orientation toward belief; doubt is the active expression of an internal orientation toward disbelief. Therefore, based on a strict parsing of the technical meaning, they can’t co-exist – since they are opposites. However, because we tend to conflate and confuse doubt and uncertainty, I do have an issue with the idea that faith and doubt cannot co-exist IF what the people who say that really mean is that faith and uncertainty cannot co-exist – that if I am uncertain of something, then I lack faith. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of faith.

    Again, frankly, I think the heart of this issue tends to be that the leaders who make these statements mean faith and doubt, but the hearers tend to translate it as faith and uncertainty. At least, I hope that is the case.

  3. Thankyou for that Ray,it was very useful,but I think few listeners are capable of parsing as finely as you,and statements such as the one in the OP make it easy for the uncertain to conflate their experience with doubt and come away feeling like a goat rather than a sheep.
    However,I do think it important to focus on that which builds faith as we live in an uncertain world where for many of us much of the time we experience the silence of God.I guess this is where we find out who the grown ups are.I am coming to think that the garden that became a wilderness will become a garden again.I am trying to choose to be hopeful,as i think little can be gained from hopelessness.Nothing comes of nothing.

  4. Thanks for this post. I have had some similar thoughts (expressed a few months ago at http://meditatingonmormonism.blogspot.com/2008/11/false-faithdoubt-divide.html) and tend to agree that the blurred linguistic lines between doubt and uncertainty can lead many to feel that statements such as that referenced in the OP suggest some defect in their faith. I would reiterate my prior thought that understanding faith more as faithfulness and doubt more as doubtfulness, each relying more on actions than mental assent, can help to restore the balance between faith and doubt, without introducing doubtfulness into the mix. As expressed in the OP, letting the two get out of balance could truly detract from religious experience.

  5. I took that talk as not putting down people who doubt, but prompting faith as a way to deal with doubt. Of course some people will take it as people who doubt don’t have faith, but I think that is a wrong interpretation. I don’t have the conference talks in front of me, so I don’t remember if this is the same talk that talked about “net faith”. But I really liked the idea because I have my doubts but I also have a strong faith in a lot of things and my “net faith” is that I have more faith than doubts. This is what makes me an active member of the church because despite my doubts I have enough faith to overcome that doubt. I think it is important when listening to talks to listen with the Spirit and find what message you can use from it and not focus on how other people will interpret it or always even on the literal words. If other people choose not to listen to the Spirit that is their choice, but I think too often on this forum and for a lot of “orthodox” Mormons there is to much focus on snippet of text and the literal words that were said and not on the Spirit.

  6. I agree along the lines of what Ray said. But, to me, I have faith in spite of doubt. I use doubt and questioning to reinforce my faith, not tear it down. For example, I am not sure whether to accept the biblical account of Jonah as a true story. But I have faith that that story is there for a legitimate reason and I can learn from it. While I may doubt that it is true, I have faith that it is something that I can learn from.

    As was said, doubt is uncertainity, not absolute knowledge of an untruth, or lack of faith in a truth.

  7. I would have to agree with Ray. I think that this is why Christ would rebuke the apostles, “Oh ye of little faith…” There are so many scriptures that have to do with faith – where the Savior implores us to have more faith. I often wonder, what would this world be like if we all had more faith? What would my life be like if I exercised more faith.

    It isn’t that I try to doubt, but I can see how doubt and fear hamper our faith (think – Peter walking on Water…Think the twelve apostles on the boat as a storm rose in the sea and Christ was sleeping).

    I simply think that the prophets and apostles may just know a little more than we do on this subject. I think that the Savior may know a little more than we do on this subject. Therefore, I think that faith and doubt cannot co-exist.

  8. Morm. 9: 25, 27

    25 And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth.
    • • •
    27 O then despise not, and wonder not, but hearken unto the words of the Lord, and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.

    Mark 11: 23

    23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

  9. “Truth is in the eyes, when you know you know!”

    These are lines from Oliver Stone’s Platoon. Charlie Sheen’s character (Taylor) says this when discussing Sargent Barnes (Tom Berenger) murder of Sargent Elias (Willem Dafoe).

    Because of inner fighting within the platoon, Sargent Barnes decides to kill Sargent Elias while they are alone in the jungles of Vietnam. Taylor is the first to see Barnes after the murder, and “knows”, simply by looking into his eyes, that Barnes has killed Elias.

    We have all experienced what Taylor experienced; someone says something to you, and you immediately know that that person is lying to you. You don’t know how you know, you just know you know. Now try explaining this to someone else: “He lied, I know he lied.” They respond, “But how do you know he lied? Did he swallow before he spoke?” You reply, “Well no.” Then they ask, “Did he look down at his shoes when he spoke to you?” You reply, “No, he looked me right in the eyes, but I know he was lying to me, I could see it in his eyes!”

    Often discussions on the Book of Mormon are similar. One person just simply “knows” the book is true, while the other person wants to know how they “know.”

    Sometimes I only believe the Book of Mormon is true, other times, while reading the book, I know it’s true just like you know when someone is lying to you. I will read a certain verse and it will hit me like a bag of hammers, “this book is of ancient origin, this book was not written by someone in the 19th century.”

    You see, I don’t have to get into some big theological debate to know of the existence of God. I don’t need the Dead Sea Scrolls to believe in the Bible, when I know, I know. I don’t need archaeologists to dig up the ancient city of NHM to know the Book of Mormon is true. When I know, I know. There are some things in life that are just that simple.

    And you should think this way too: When you read something, and you know it’s true, it’s true. Don’t back-peddle, don’t second guess yourself, it’s true. When you know someone is lying to you, they are lying to you. Don’t second guess yourself, don’t back-peddle, they’re lying to you.

    Read the Book of Mormon. Read it, and read it often, and you will know that it is true.

  10. I first read the BofM as a boy cover to cover, taking its truth for granted because of the teachings of my parents. In the decades since, my understandings of God and the church have changed drastically, and I have certainly been exposed to many arguments against the historicity of the BofM, and accept that Joseph Smith made numerous personal errors.

    Yet, I have had persistent impulses to reread the Book in the last two years, and continue to receive evidences about things I’d never noticed before.

    Shutting off doubt can prevent growth; testing the questions you have can correct misunderstandings and lead to greater understanding of the truth. God never fears truth, or He wouldn’t be God.

  11. The problem, as I see it, is that people have different definitions of faith and doubt. While Ray parsed it nicely, most people don’t. For that reason, it is easy to see why “quotes like this do set-up a certain mindset among the “faithful” that they should never entertain doubt, or else.”

  12. The word “doubt” is simply problematic without further clarification. According to the dictionary, when used as a verb with an object (to doubt something), it means:
    1. to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.
    2. to distrust.
    3. Archaic. to fear; be apprehensive about. (It is used this way scripturally at times, therefore this definition is relevant).

    But when used as a verb without a direct object (to doubt in general), the definition changes:
    4. to be uncertain about something; be undecided in opinion or belief.

    When used as a noun (the concept of doubt):
    5. a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something.
    6. distrust.
    7. a state of affairs such as to occasion uncertainty.
    8. Obsolete. fear; dread. (again, this is relevant due to scriptural implications)

    While Ray’s interpretation is valid and renders the quotation more useful, the alternate definition is equally valid without clarification from the speaker. But without clarification, these two definitions (uncertainty vs. distrust and fear vs. courage) are conflated. It’s not good enough to say that the onus is on the listeners to read the mind of the speaker. These are not uncommon definitions of the word “doubt.” They are at least equally common.

    Personally, I think it’s also important to consider the archaic definition here (as implied by scripture), that one who seeks God or inspiration needs to have faith (courage) and not doubt (fear). Because that is an archaic definition, again, the responsibility belongs to the speaker to not spout bumper sticker philosophies with little thought for the audience.

    Language is complex and requires thought and intention to be clear. Words are how hearts and minds are opened or closed. Clarity and thoughtfulness matter.

  13. I honestly don’t think the conference speaker put even a fraction of the thought that is happening here into the statement he made.

    Is that the whole problem?

    Or are we making more of this than necessary?

    (I think that there is a bit of a “yes” answer to both questions)

  14. “IMO, faith without doubt is smug arrogance. Show me someone who has no doubt, and I’ll show you someone who has no faith.”

    Love it.

  15. jjackson – actually, that’s kind of my point. Not putting sufficient thought into valid interpretations of your words when speaking at a world-wide conference is pretty sloppy. In short, do we care about people or not? If not, why are we talking to them?

    It seems there are several possible outcomes:
    – some will find it faith promoting. Good for them!
    – some will find the statement dismissive of their experience, creating cog dis. Sorry – have a nice life; maybe Mormonism just isn’t for you. Remember, plenty of people watch GC because they are considering returning or seeking inspiration; not just the TBMs are watching.
    – some will misunderstand the statement and use it as a cudgel to beat up on those who had cog dis. Worst possible outcome, IMO, and quite likely given the current focus of correlated materials (e.g. “war on doubt”).
    – some will dismiss the statement as not relevant to them personally or misspoken. No harm, no foul. That’s probably my position relative to the statement.
    – some will be watching sports instead of GC. Well, you weren’t going to reach them anyway. Maybe next year.

    Perhaps this is just the way of the world.

  16. “It’s not good enough to say that the onus is on the listeners to read the mind of the speaker”

    A speaker/writer is not usually able to stop and think about the meaning of their words any more than the listener is in most cases. We simply use the word that happens to come to mind and don’t realize all the different possible ways people might understand it.

    The speaker was (most likely) thinking of certain scriptural verses and used the words that came to mind. In the quoted scriptures above, believing and doubt are positioned as mutually exclusive. Thus “doubt” in these verses means specifically “disbelieving” and not “uncertainty.” The speaker, thinking of a verse in the scriptures, is not typically able to stop and think through all the different ways a person might misunderstand. This is beyond human capacity to do all the time. Because of this miscommunication is inevitable.

    Here’s the interesting part: Most likely the overwhelming majority of the audience did NOT think to themselves “oh, I shouldn’t be uncertain at all or I’m a bad person.” So how do we explain that the majority of the audience seem to have understood the speaker without incident but a huge number on Mormon Matters didn’t?

    A few things come to mind:
    1. Its unlikely most Mormons would stop and think to themselves too deeply about a single common phrase like this. To them, it’s just short hand for “be believing” and they move on with their lives.

    2. It’s likely that some percentage of the Mormon Matters posters are hyper sensitive to the whole “doubt” issue and have lost the ability to think of “doubt” as meaning anything but “uncertainty” now. Thus they have accidently ruined their ability to understand that scriptural short hand any more. This group, once given an explanation like Ray’s, will immediately see that they misunderstood and correct their impression. (Though probably still rightly complaining about the bad wording.)

    3. Its likely that some percentage of the Mormon matters posters are looking to be critical. Thus their mind naturally looks for contradiction and finds it even if (when we understand the speaker’s actual meaning) no contradiction was there. This case is the hardest because the intentional critic can never accept an explanation like Ray’s because the issue was never to seek understanding. The issue was a desire to find fault.

    Such a critic is “right” in that the wording was ambiguous but is also being “unfair” in that they would never hold themselves to their own standard because it’s an impossible standard to be held to. (And thus useful to the critic because its an unending source of things to be critical over.)

    One more point: It’s very very hard to think about words because we think in words. Look at Jeff Spector in #7. He first agrees with Ray, and then goes on to solely use the word “doubt” to mean “uncertainty” without further clarification. If taken literally, he is contradicting himself. But somehow we understand what he means anyhow because the human brain can easily understand equivocation like this most of the time if the audience isn’t hostile to the speaker. We slip in and out of multiple meanings of a word all in one paragraph or sentence all the time (it’s very common) and still have a very good chance of being understood by non-hostile listeners.

  17. One more point: I’m unware of anywhere in scripture where “doubt” means only “not certain.” Thus in a religious setting, it shouldn’t suprise us that “doubt” gets used in that way most of the time.

    Experiment: When you read the beatitudes in church, do you say “bless-Ed” or just “blessed.” Everyone I’ver ever seen says “bless-Ed” even though the word is, in every other circumstance, just pronounced “blessed.” Our physical setting seems to matter a lot in how we even preceive the meaning of a word or even how we pronounce it.

  18. H G – I don’t think the speaker was or is worried at all about alternate interpretations or misinterpretations. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that anyone he had any interest in could ever find a point of disagreement with the statement. Now that it has been spoken in that context it will, by some, be considered scripture. Thereafter any discussion of the possible meanings or doctrinal validity of the statement can be polarizing.

    Some will scramble to apologize, or if they lack the grey matter, simply defend.

    Others will scramble to find more fault in the statement that is perhaps necessary.

    Like I’ve said already, I just don’t think he’s thought that much about it. And that bothers me. Like you said, it’s “sloppy”. I don’t think it’s quite a declaration of war on doubt. If it is, then that will REALLY bother me.

  19. Oh, I thought of another reason why we might have a collection of people on Mormon Matters that misunderstood while the vast majority of the audience didn’t.

    I’ve noticed that if one person misunderstands and explains their misunderstanding, this causes others to wonder about their own understanding.

    For example, if one poster said “hey, faith isn’t certainty, so it includes doubt” this would suddenly cause a shift of context for others that saw the post. Whereas a moment ago “faith” meant to them “disbelieving” now it suddenly means “uncertainty.” If they don’t stop and think “oh, it means both, the speaker must mean ‘disbelieving’ in this context” they will suddenly not understand the speaker anymore, even though they did a moment ago before they put too much thought into it.

    Of course this all happens a lightning speed, and it’s artificial for me to explain it like a series of steps like this. But the phenomenon is real enough.

  20. This is an issue I find very complex indeed, yet a vital one for anyone who claims any kind of religious involvement (quite possibly for those who do not as well). Part of the difficulty is that which Ray and Hawkgrrrl point out-“doubt” really can and does mean different things to different people. Personally, I see unbelief as the opposite of faith and doubt as some mixture of the two. It is thus the vast middle ground between the person who has complete faith in something and the person who rejects that something (or someone) entirely. (I recommend this view for those who struggle with doubt to the point of condemning themselves. Think of where you are on a 1-100 scale and ask that same question from time to time to see in which direction you’re moving.)

    A second difficulty lies in the means by which someone comes to know something and the weight given to a particular epistemology. Lone Danite, e.g., is quite comfortable with knowing something because you “just know it”. I suspect this might be called the intuitive approach, though a student of religion might refer to it as “mystical”. Others, myself included, need a certain amount of physical or at least logical evidence in order to believe something. I hasten to add that evidence does not preclude faith. The jury that decides a case upon the evidence presented cannot know for certain that they have judged the matter correctly. Hence the standard is not certainty, but “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

    The mention of a jury trial also points to the fact that religious faith is often quite different from faith in other areas of our lives. “Just knowing” is quite acceptable in religious circles. Sgt. Barnes, however, would have every right to expect something more substantive than Taylor’s testimony in a court of law.

    The last difficulty lies in the fact that faith is really more a passive response than an active choice. I can choose to behave in accordance with Christian moral teaching or even decide to suffer martyrdom for my religious convictions. I cannot, however, choose to believe something. Either my experience, evidence, or intuition responds positively towards something or someone or they don’t. To put it another way, faith is like falling in love. I choose to treat my girlfriend well because I love her, but I did not choose to fall for her. It just happened.

    That said, one can “grease the skids” a bit by the things one reads, listens to, thinks about, or the places one goes and the things one does. Doubtless, my loving treatment of my girlfriend strengthens my love for her, even if it didn’t create that love. By the same token, if I want to increase the chances of my believing LDS teaching, then attending meetings, reading the LDS scriptures, praying, talking with missionaries or bishops, and the like are all good ideas. But even these do not mean I’m necessarily going to find faith in the LDS. That, as Jesus taught in John 4 is about the Spirit blowing where it will.

    Thank you, Hawkgrrrl, and fellow responders for raising and exploring such an important, yet difficult subject.

  21. I have often wondered how much the attacks on doubt come from a fear that there is little underlying certain positions and faith. I Personally feel that as long as people are honest seekers of truth that we should not fret when the encounter doubt. Although I appreciate Ray’s parsing, I tend to believe the way the term doubt is used within our faith is more in the uncertainty realm than some active belief. There is a faith that comes after doubt that is much more tried, tested, and resolute than the dogmatic faith that has never considered why? If our doctrines, etc are true then we need not fear doubt. It is the certainty on both ends of the spectrum that can lead to narrow minded dogmatic approaches that never reach the full stature of Christ.

    I thank my heavenly father that he cares and entrusts me enough to work out my own salvation and to struggle with faith and doubt. In the end I believe God wants me to believe not because of appeals to authority, dogmatism, or fear of questioning but because his plan truly makes sense and is actually true.

    One of my favorite theologians has written the following:

    I suspect that the experience of the world as morally adrift has a more profound source than the mere observation that people are permitted to do what once was unthinkable. Our disquiet about morality more likely arises within us. Even though we feel strongly about abortion, divorce, dishonesty, and so on, we are not sure why we feel as we do. And the less sure we are of the reasons for our beliefs, the more dogmatically we hold to them as our only still point in a morally chaotic world. Ironically, our dogmatism only masks our more profound doubt, for although we hold certain moral convictions adamantly, we secretly suspect that we believe what we do because we have been conditioned…This lurking suspicion that we really have no firm grounds for our beliefs makes us all the more unwilling to expose what we think to critical scrutiny.”

  22. Bruce Neilsen,

    my experience with many non-bloggers is that they believe questioning any doctrine is viewed as a sign of apostasy or unrighteousness. It is sad but I personally know a number of members who have been socially ostracized and gossiped about as apostates or unbelievers because they had concerns or doubts about aspects of Joseph’s life or other doctrines.

    I actually dont think equating doubt with uncertainty is just a blog phenomenon. In my experience if you tell a fellow member that you are not sure that certain aspects of our faith are true you are immediately labeled as a doubter and lacking faith. Rarely are the questions of the doubters discussed but they are rejoined with the pray and read scriptures solution which certainly is good advice but assumes that the individual with concerns is wrong and that they just need more faith. Unfortunately, pray and scripture reading does not resolve every concern.

  23. I struggle to understand the statement that “Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time”.

    My personal belief is that without doubt, there is nothing for faith to leap over.

    “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things.” Alma 32:21.

    “I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” Mark 9:24.

    I agree with the commenters who say it boils down to a semantic or definitional matter. I probably just understand the words “faith” and “doubt” mean something different than the speaker had in mind.

  24. jjackson – “Some will scramble to apologize, or if they lack the grey matter, simply defend.” Isn’t this the mission statement at FAIR? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    Bruce – “Most likely the overwhelming majority of the audience did NOT think to themselves “oh, I shouldn’t be uncertain at all or I’m a bad person.”” If so, I think that’s because most don’t give GC much thought at all. Unbelievers find it a source of irritation perhaps (a key point of this post), but worse yet, believers are asleep at the switch! Who then is the target audience? If doing no harm to the majority is the standard, that’s a low bar. But I do certainly agree that someone with a desire to be critical or irritated will be impossible to please.

    David Stout – “another way, faith is like falling in love. I choose to treat my girlfriend well because I love her, but I did not choose to fall for her. It just happened.” Great analogy. I agree with your line of thinking here. Thanks!

  25. I’m catching up on the comments, slowly, but I just want to give a boisterous AMEN!! to Hawk’s #13. I believe the main responsibility of every public speaker, no matter the forum, is NOT to make sure everyone understands; rather, the speaker’s primary responsibility is to try to ensure that nobody misunderstands. That’s an important distinction to me.

    Ultimately, that’s an impossible standard, but it still is an important effort, imo.

  26. Clearly, “doubt” cannot denote, as used here, the lack of questions or the absence of uncertainty. Such questions and uncertainty are part of the essence of “searchging” and “working out our salvation.” I agree with the commenters who suggest this comes down to semantics.

  27. #22: I disagree with your analysis to some degree. Let me explain. Consider these two statements:

    “I am not sure Joseph Smith was really a prophet.”

    “I have faith Joseph Smith was really a prophet.”

    The basis for all our semantic bickering is that “faith” contains within it “uncertainty” and thus the speaker was being contradictory. But if that is strictly true, then the two statements above should be parsed as being the same thing too.

    But we all know they are not.

    (Also consider: “I believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God” and “I doubt Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” Are these really saying the same thing?)

    So if someone were to express their uncertainty as “not sure” (as you are saying) I WOULD expect others to understand that to mean something similar to “disbelieving” because presumably that wording was chosen for precisely that reason — they currently feel disbelieving.

    There is a separate but related issue over whether or not members of a religious community of faith should “freak out” just because someone goes through a period of disbelieving. But let’s not comingle the issues. That really is a seperate issues and more complicated then it first appears.

    Also, we could separate out those that feel “faith” is insufficient because they should “know.” (And here we are using “know” to mean “certain knowledge” even though the word is rarely used that way.) But this is a separate issue also.

  28. “If so, I think that’s because most don’t give GC much thought at all. Unbelievers find it a source of irritation perhaps (a key point of this post), but worse yet, believers are asleep at the switch! Who then is the target audience? If doing no harm to the majority is the standard, that’s a low bar. But I do certainly agree that someone with a desire to be critical or irritated will be impossible to please.”

    Hawk, this isn’t what I said and I feel I gave ample examples to avoid this misunderstanding. I am not suggesting believers are “asleep at the switch” but it’s okay because we’re “doing no harm to the majority.” I didn’t say this or even suggest it.

    To be honest, I don’t believe the reason I was misunderstood was because I wasn’t careful how I said things. This sort of illustrates my point. Communication is very difficult and it’s wrong to lay blame on one person over the other like we are doing here. Speaker and listener will naturally misunderstand each other because that’s life.

    The real determining factor in communication will always be if the two parties want to try to put in the effort to understand each other or not.

  29. “To be honest, I don’t believe the reason I was misunderstood was because I wasn’t careful how I said things.”

    Clarification: this statement wasn’t meant to blame Hawk for our misunderstanding. My only point here is that even when someone gives lots of examples, tries there best to explain themselves, etc, that sometimes even huge misunderstandings take place. They simply can’t be avoided.

    Real communication will always be (mostly) limited between two parties that want to understand each other and keep asking for clarification or make a strong attempt to consider all possible meanings (or go back and carefully parse was actually said.)

    You’ll have to forgive me, but in the end, saying “Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other” is actually a self explaining statement that doesn’t require rocket science to understand.

    I’m all in favor of a speaker trying hard to explain themselves, but every additional caveat actually reduces the comprehensibility of a statement like this. If he had said, for example “Faith and doubt (as the scriptures use this term as meaning ‘disbelieve’ rather than ‘uncertainty’) cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other. Now faith and uncertainty can exist, but only if we understand ‘uncertainty’ as choosing to believe, but without complete perfect knowledge, which is inherent in the definition of faith in the first place.”

    Now I really would expect members to be asleep at the switch, and for good reason. The precision of the statement is much better, but the comprehensibility has dropped dramatically.

    (If you are familiar with software requirements, you’ll understand what I mean here. Humans comprehend abstractness better then precision, but by its nature abstractness has more chance of multiple meanings. It’s the dilemma I face every day in my job. It’s the same dilemma here.)

  30. “Oh, I thought of another reason why we might have a collection of people on Mormon Matters that misunderstood while the vast majority of the audience didn’t.”

    I not sure the above conclusion is a given. I think we tend to draw more of a disinction between Mormon Matters participants and “chapel” Mormons than what reality would bare out. Some here are educated, some are not. Some are more conservative, some are more liberal. Some have a strong belief in the Church, some have questions. Most, not all, of us however, at least one day per week are chapel Mormons. In other words, we attend the same meetings and participate in more or less the same culture and society, then we come here.

    With the above comments in mind, I don’t think we have nailed the exact intentions down in reference to what was meant by doubts. We now that there are different ways of looking at it, I think Ray’s comment was insightful, but is that how the speaker intended it. I can’t be sure given that our culture and general leadership places so much emphasis on absolute positions of faith.

  31. Bruce #22 – careful there. You are using the verb “doubt,” and not the noun. The actual quotation uses the noun, which doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing (see the definitions in #12. You are also focusing on the dichotomy of faith (belief) vs. doubt (distrust). But in doing so, you are dismissing the equally valid interpretation (using the noun “doubt”) of faith (assertion) and doubt (uncertainty). However, you don’t spend any time on the one that I think is more accurate doctrinally, given that it is the archaic use more common to scripture: faith (courage to act, decisiveness founded on hope) vs. doubt (wavering, fear, indecision). Honestly, I think this is the more correct interpretation, although the quotation misses that distinction somewhat as well (as does James in 1:6 frankly).

    Bruce #29 – I didn’t misunderstand you. Those remarks are my observation. I am not attributing them to you. I was just taking your remark out of context and twisting it (ironically) to fit my own observation. I find most believers who watch GC do not give much thought to the content if they are paying attention at all. The disbelievers who watch either pay attention so they can criticize it or marginalize the counsel or hoping to find something that revitalizes their interest. There are a handful who are listening for content because they are at a point to receive counsel, they want to feel inspired, etc. So, the impact to the culture is more passively created and after the fact through future quotations. Again, all that is just my opinion.

  32. “Bruce #22 – careful there. You are using the verb “doubt,” and not the noun. The actual quotation uses the noun, which doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing (see the definitions in #12. You are also focusing on the dichotomy of faith (belief) vs. doubt (distrust). But in doing so, you are dismissing the equally valid interpretation (using the noun “doubt”) of faith (assertion) and doubt (uncertainty). However, you don’t spend any time on the one that I think is more accurate doctrinally, given that it is the archaic use more common to scripture: faith (courage to act, decisiveness founded on hope) vs. doubt (wavering, fear, indecision). Honestly, I think this is the more correct interpretation”

    Hawk, since I didn’t write #22, I’m confused.

    Nevertheless, I think I understand what you are saying. Still, I don’t think you are understanding what I am saying, not sure.

    If you were responding to my #28, you are mistaken. I am not trying to relate this back to the original post. My point is simple: a person that says they are unsure about doctrines of the church usually *is* expressing disbelief when they use those words. So I feel JMason in #22 is skipping this distinction. This means I have heavy suspicions that his is freely comingling the fact that when someone starts to “doubt” (i.e. disbelieve) doctrines of the church that they are in trouble from a religious faith community perspective and the response he describes might be ultimately inappropriate, but completely rational.

    “But in doing so, you are dismissing the equally valid interpretation (using the noun “doubt”) of faith (assertion) and doubt (uncertainty).”

    I’m confused why you say I’m dismissing this. Yes, I’m dismissing this as what the speaker originally meant. But I thought we were all in agreement that he didn’t mean this and were now just arguing over whether or not this was primarily the speakers fault or not. What else would I be dismissing? If you think I’m dismissing something else, please clarify.

    If you disagree with me that we are all in agreement over what the speaker originally meant, then let me make my argument in #30 a bit more clear:

    “Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”

    There are two ways to read this statement as per quoted definitions in #12

    (next post)

  33. “On the road toward salvation, let questions arise but never doubts. If something is wrong, God will give you clarity but never doubts.”

    This is really just a matter circular reasoning. If you are having doubts, in other words are unsure whether the Church is true, go ahead and have questions – but just accept that it is true, and God will give you clarity that it is. Since doubts, questions, uncertainty, whatever, each challenge our perspectives on faith, how can we legitimately search for answers if we don’t allow that those answers could alter the equation?

  34. 5. a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something.
    6. distrust.

    8. Obsolete. fear; dread. (again, this is relevant due to scriptural implications)

    Let’s parse them all out:

    “Faith and [a feeling of uncertainty] cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”

    “Faith and [distrust] cannot exist int he same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”

    “Faith and [fear] cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”

    Let’s ask what “faith” means. Scripturally, it means “trust or entrust” in the Greek. Modernly, it generally has one of two meanings:

    1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
    2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.

    So let’s reword one more time:

    “[Trust] and [a feeling of uncertainty] cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”

    “[Trust] and [distrust] cannot exist int he same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”

    “[Trust] and [fear] cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”

    Please note that #2 and #3 are effectively saying the same thing in this context, for all intents and purposes (that I can think of anyhow.) So I don’t see the difference here as significant. You may disagree, Hawk, but I don’t see it.

    Those taking exception to this statement are assuming that the speaker means and can only mean #1 — but this clearly was never true. I think the fact that it simply isn’t true is a strike against the original complaints, if we are going to be fair.

    There also is an underlying assumption in this complaint that even if #1 wasn’t intended, it’s the speakers own fault for not clarifying more and it was sloppy of him that he didn’t. This is a more difficult thing to assess and frankly it’s purely subjective. Personally, I don’t think this is a fair conclusion based on the data currently available. We really have no reason to believe that the average person that heard this statement was asleep at the switch and just ignored it. I suspect that most people approximate #2 or #3 in their mind.

    (one more post, then I’m going into hibernation again.)

  35. #29 – “The real determining factor in communication will always be if the two parties want to try to put in the effort to understand each other or not.”

    That is true to a degree; the other determining factor is how picky the two people are being. (I am grinning at you, Bruce.) Sometimes, as you said in different words, trying to understand something comprehensively gets in the way of understanding something.

  36. Hawk, final thoughts.

    I was just thinking about the following experiment. Imagine that you take a member and show them the quote: “Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”

    Imagine asking them about it in three different ways:

    1. Ask them ‘how can that be true when faith and uncertainty go together?’
    2. Ask them ‘seeing as doubt can either mean ‘distrust/disbelief/fear’ or ‘uncertainty’, what do you think the speaker meant in this context?
    3. Ask them to just explain what it means to them personally without giving them any definitions.

    I would not think you’d get anywhere near the same results with these three different experiments.

    I think for #1, you’d find that a few would realize you are misinterpreting the speaker, but I think most would either agree with you that the speaker is incorrect or they’d try to justify the speaker in some way by conflating “know” and “faith.” The point being, once you’ve handed them a certain definition for “doubt” I think it’s generally very difficult to stop and think about the word “doubt” long enough to realize that you’ve just been manipulated in your answer.

    For #2, I think you’d overwhelmingly find that people agree the speaker didn’t mean that doubt meant “uncertain” and would settle that he meant “distrust or disbelief.”

    For #3 I think people would have a hard time expressing themselves. But I think overwhelmingly, they’d probably use examples to explain the feelings that would equate to faith meaning not taking a disbelieving attitude or being full of fear.

    I do not think this is because they are asleep at the switch at all. I think this is true of just about anything you try a similar experiment on. I think we capture ideas out of words and don’t parse them like Ray does.

    In the case of #1, we are forcing the person to see the statement as inconsistent. It’s the rare person indeed that is able to see that there is equivocation going on and can think their way out of it.

    In the case of #2, we are clarifying that the word doubt has two meanings, so it’s easy to pick out the meaning and explain it properly back tot he questioner.

    In the case of #3, we are forcing the person to (without a dictionary handy) try to explain a word by word meaning to a phrase that carried an abstract idea. Thus I’d expect that most couldn’t explain fully, but their examples would match #2. This is why I suspect the vast majority of listeners “understood it correctly” and the Mormon Matters commenters are the exception to the rule.

    Assuming you agree with me (or even if you don’t)… do you see what I am getting at?

    This whole thread, as well as the original conference thread you are pulling it from, is an example of #1. We framed the question at the outset in such a way that we forced people to see the statement as inconsistent, even though it wasn’t. So it’s not suprising that people express extra concern over the statement. But if we hadn’t framed it that way from the outset, I’m not so sure it would have seemed so confusing or concerning in the first place.

    (People can say “yes, it would still be confusing for me” but honestly, you can’t be sure once the framing is done one way how you would have seen it if it was framed a different way initially.)

  37. “Faith” is not “knowledge”. It is the substance of things “hoped for”

    Faith is three things. First it is an expression of hope.

    Second, it is the spiritual reaching after things, born of hope.

    Third, it is reaching through to the Spirit and making contact.

    Those three things are very different.

    We’ve parsed what doubt is, but it is important to also parse what faith is.

    The truth is that passively experienced, faith and doubt will drive each other out.

    Actively engaged in, they can strengthen and guide us.

    Interesting difference.

  38. Should have said this: ““[belief that is not based on proof] and [a feeling of uncertainty] cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”” That’s what we keep accusing him of meaning.

    Cowboy, just to clarify. It’s always possible that the speaker *would* say that if you have faith, you have no uncertainty because he was defining “faith” as “certainty.” (This does seem to be what the commenters thought he meant.) But if this is the case, the original commenters are still often being unfair to him since they are assuming a different definition of “faith” than he is and not clarifying their own difference in meaning, yet getting mad at him over it. It’s the same argument either way.

    Nevertheless, it’s at least common courtesy to not take several possible meanings of a speaker and pick only the contradictory one and ignore the other possible meanings. So my assumption (be it right or wrong) is that the people quoted in the post were not intentionally being jerks. (i.e. Jerks = they had full knowledge that there are other possible meanings, but didn’t care because they’re trying to be hurtful and misrepresent others beliefs or words.)

    I was only exploring the possibility that while they were being “unfair” they didn’t mean to be.

    I know some people will claim I’m scrambling to apologize or simply defend. But this is something that bothers me going both ways and it’s not an irrelevant point. We are generally unforgiving in our assessments of others.

    In any case, I’m out (really this time) now. If even Ray can’t find something to agree with me on, I’ve definitely confused the issue by being too precise and dropping comprehensibility. Guess trying to be clear isn’t what you are all cracking it up to be after all. It’s definitely time to pack it for a while. (Oy! Now I remember why I hate blogs and am such an ill fit for them. I feel like hibernating again.)

    Happy Easter everyone. See you at Christmas. (just kidding on that last part.)

  39. Yeah, Bruce, I should have focused on the things you wrote with which I agree, since they certainly outnumbered the points with which I disagreed. 🙂 (if I actually disagreed with anything other than to facetiously say, “to a degree”)

  40. Bruce – “Nevertheless, it’s at least common courtesy to not take several possible meanings of a speaker and pick only the contradictory one and ignore the other possible meanings.” I certainly agree with this sentiment. I think the difficulty is not that the speaker had bad intentions. Doubtless the speaker intended to edify. Unfortunately, in addressing a worldwide church, statements are often re-used to whatever ends others choose. And due to the enigmatic nature of the words the speaker chose (various nuanced possibilities), it is difficult to determine which sense of the words was intended.

    It seems to me that speakers in GC should be extra careful to be inclusive, knowing the audience, knowing that these words live on forever and become unofficial canon, and knowing the tendency of others to use their words to be exclusivist.

  41. Read Tuscano’s book “The Sacrament of Doubt.” Awesome book

    “Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt.”
    -Clarence Darrow

    “Beliefs are what divide people. Doubt unites them.”
    -Peter Ustinov

  42. I agree that many (perhaps most) Mormons see no conflict in the statement that faith and doubt cannot co-exist, even if doubt is defined as uncertainty.

    We are taught that we should strive to receive sufficient testimony to say “I know” the validity of the truth claims of the Church. This “I know”, in my opinion, is the equivalent of “certainty”, and allows no “uncertainty” (“doubt”). Indeed, testimonies frequently are borne that “I know, without shadow of a doubt.” [Of course, I have yet to hear a testimony that “I have faith, without shadow of a doubt”, but that is another subject.]

    Inasmuch as we are encouraged to banish doubt and uncertainty in order to “know” without “shadow of doubt, then many Latter-day Saints would not find troubling at all a statement that faith and uncertainty (or doubt) are inconsistent.

    Latter-day Saints who feel certain would not be troubled, because they do not experience uncertainty. And many Latter-day Saints who do experience uncertainty already feel inadequate because of the lack of certainty–and the statement, condemning uncertainty, would be consistent with their pre-existing self-criticism.

  43. #44 – DavidH, I agree that this tendency to couch everything in terms of knowledge is problematic. Even though I think most members who say “I know” actually mean something more like “I don’t disbelieve at all” (“I do not doubt”), and even though I don’t begrudge anyone the right to say “I know” and mean it (especially since there are things I believe I can speak of honestly by saying “I know”), I still agree that I would love to hear more “I believe” and “I think” and “I hope” expressed in our testimony meetings – even if that means it is coming from those who normally don’t get up because they don’t feel they can say “I know”.

    Fwiw, I regularly say “I believe” in my talks and testimonies, interspersed with those things I feel confident saying I know.

  44. Ray – As usual, I agree with you. I prefer “I believe” or “I feel” or even, “I am grateful for” to the “I know” testimony. Those are my preferences as they feel more honest and less cliche. I don’t begrudge others their cliches or perceptions, though. Live and let live.

  45. I remember only a few things said over the pulpit during my childhood. One was from Robert K. Thomas: “The opposite of faith is not doubt; doubt may indeed be the beginning of faith. The opposite of faith is despair.”

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