Proving that there is a churchless God, yesterday I turned on the TV for my morning cable news fix just in time to hear Andrew Sullivan speak on C-SPAN about the genuine form of faith: doubt.
Sullivan is my favorite conservative essayist and blogger. I thought that his recent piece about the dangers of Christianism (as contrasted with genuine Christianity) was great. It was a treat to hear him on a Book Expo of American lunch session panel with fellow book floggers Pat Buchanan, Arianna Huffington, and Frank Rich.
His book, “The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back,” won’t be released until October. I expect I’ll be buying it. Not because I want to get back my conservative soul, but because I enjoyed Sullivan’s take on faith and doubt. Here’s some of what he had to say:
The soul, when it is beleaguered by fear, has two options. It can create a certainty, an ideology, a mantra, that it will cling to with white knuckles. To make sense of the world, to reassure itself, to tell itself it’s safe, regardless of the empirical evidence, to suspend rational judgment, and to capitulate to a form of psychological and spiritual fundamentalism.
That, I think, is what has happened to conservatism. It has been high jacked by fundamentalism. The emergence of the religious right in this country, and in the middle East—fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity—gearing up for what the extreme elements on both sides actually literally regard as an apocalyptic battle, this is the great question of our time.
The waging of war between two absolute certainties where doubt is banished, where all dissent is regarded as treason, when empiricism is regarded as a threat, and where individual freedom is always sacrificed on the altar of security and paternalism.
What I try and do in this book is to restore and to remind conservatives that there is another conservatism. There is another tradition, within the conservative political tradition, that resists fundamentalism, resists certainty, and is rooted fundamentally in doubt. Against the conservatism of fundamentalism, we have and must advance the conservatism of doubt.
And there are two areas in which that doubt must be allowed to grow and flourish. The first is religion. You know, there are two kinds of religious faith. And the great lie of today is that the only genuine form of religious faith is fundamentalist. That the only real form of religion and faith is adherence to a set of doctrines that cannot be questioned and which must merely be imposed.
There is another kind of Christianity and another kind of faith that understands, first of all, that God, if God exists, must by definition be unknowable to us. We cannot know for certain what God’s ways are and what God is telling us to do at any given moment in time.
We cannot know, at any moment, what God wants us to do, let alone believe as some people do that God has a position on stem cell research, or capital gains, or welfare reform. These are emanations of an enormous hubris and a betrayal of faith as it is properly understood.
Because the root of all faith is doubt. No human being would ever come to think of God unless he asked questions of the meaning of life and questioned himself.
The kind of faith I’m talking of is, I think, actually held by a majority of Americans who have had their own faith high jacked in public by fundamentalists. And the mainstream media which has not been alert enough to what real Christians and real faith is in this country has swallowed their line and had religion actually defined by the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
Now the faith I’m talking about is one that looks at God and feels humility. That believes in service, that practices mystery, that engages in wordless sacraments that manage to describe the ineffability of the divine. It is a faith that is always interwoven with doubt. It is a faith that asks, “What should I do?” not what someone else should do.
It is a faith that finds it hard enough to impose our own beliefs on our own actions, let alone want to use government and law to coerce the actions and beliefs of other people.