If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably experienced religious doubt at some point in your life. Perhaps you’re currently in full-blown faith-crisis mode. Perhaps you’re just teetering, pushed to the edge of your spiritual convictions and nauseously anticipating what could be a very long fall. Perhaps you’ve already watched in horror as your beliefs toppled, one by one, and crashed in slow motion at your feet, the exploding shards slicing at your skin. And perhaps you’ve already bent down, collected the pieces, and glued them back together in a Picaso-esque distortion of what you knew before. Wherever you are on your faith journey, I trust that you are here because you are seeking the solace of a kindred spirit. If so, let me extend my warmest welcome. Having survived my own faith crisis, I know firsthand that these experiences are never completely behind us. I know that scars remain, and that sometimes one can’t help but pick at the scabs.
Six years ago, I was in a car crash that shattered my left heel. I now walk with a slight limp, and always will. Having grown accustomed to the limp, I don’t always think about it. But often, I do. Some moments are harder than others. My foot gets stiff, it aches, and my hobble is pronounced. At these times, I’m highly aware of the car accident and of how it’s affected me. But I also recognize that I’m quite fortunate. My injuries could have been worse, their impact on my life even more severe. Some people never walk away from their car accidents. Faith crises are much the same. They affect all of us differently, some more radically than others. Some faith crises are mere fender benders compared to others. But I am here to commiserate, not to compare. I prefer to focus not on the relative gracefulness of our spiritual gaits, but on the fact that even the least among us undoubtedly walks with a limp. It is the minimum price one pays for surviving a faith crisis, and yet for many of us it is the widow’s mite. It should be respected as such.
Surviving a faith crisis has taught me many things. Not every lesson learned has shielded me from the inevitable aftershocks of a shaken faith. But taken collectively, they have imbued me with a sense of calm even amidst the continual rumblings. My goal as I write for A Thoughtful Faith over the next several months is to share these lessons with anyone who may be interested and who might benefit from them. For now, by way of introduction, I wish simply to express the general principles, beliefs, and values that likely inform my approach to faith (and hence my response to faith crises). If nothing else, this brief synopsis may shed light on the mindset underlying things I will share further down the road.
- I value intellectual integrity. I recognize it as one of the highest virtues, and I strive never to compromise it. I also value love and beauty, and I am not convinced that rationality alone can inform us of everything worth knowing and embracing in this world. I believe a great deal is lost if we revere only reason.
- I am very comfortable with questioning things, and I think most people should do it more often. I also think it is dangerous to demand answers when they aren’t immediately available. Patience should always accompany the seeking of truth.
- I am not easily offended, although I am much more easily offended by insincerity, self-righteousness, and prejudice than I am by violence, sex, and profanity. The latter tend to bother me only insofar as they are manifestations of the former.
- I prefer to see the world and the people in it through optimistic eyes. I am more interested in understanding than in criticizing, in lifting others up than in pointing out faults.
- I believe that love and empathy might just be synonyms. I also believe that empathy requires understanding, and that true understanding requires humility.
- The gospel, as I understand it, is beautiful. It resonates with me on both an intellectual and an emotional level. I want it to be true. I hope that it is true. I have experienced things that suggest to me that it is true. If it is not true, there are things in my life that I believe “cold science” is a long, long, long way from explaining. I realize that nothing I’ve said in this paragraph ensures that the gospel is true, but it convinces me that it is worth fighting for.
- I believe most of the difficulties people face in the Church can be attributed to culture and human frailty rather than doctrine. I also recognize that, in many instances, this does not make the difficulties any less insurmountable. In some cases, it may even exacerbate the problem.
And finally, I believe that I survived my faith crisis—and that I continue to survive it—largely because of the values expressed above.