Andrew Sullivan offers up another alternative to “I’ll believe it when I see it” and “I’ll see it when I believe it.”
In his TIME essay, “When Not Seeing is Believing,” Sullivan points toward “I’ll believe it when I don’t see it” as the preferred theology for the 21st century. Or any century in which fundamentalism threatens to rend the fabric of secular civilization.
How, after all, can you engage in a rational dialogue with a man like [Iranian president] Ahmadinejad, who believes that Armageddon is near and that it is his duty to accelerate it? How can Israel negotiate with people who are certain their instructions come from heaven and so decree that Israel must not exist in Muslim lands?
Equally, of course, how can one negotiate with fundamentalist Jews who claim that the West Bank is theirs forever by biblical mandate? Or with Fundamentalist Christians who believe that Israel's expansion is a biblical necessity rather than a strategic judgment?
There is, however, a way out. And it will come from the only place it can come from--the minds and souls of people of faith. It will come from the much derided moderate Muslims, tolerant Jews and humble Christians.
The alternative to the secular-fundamentalist death spiral is something called spiritual humility and sincere religious doubt. Fundamentalism is not the only valid form of faith, and to say it is, is the great lie of our time.
I like Sullivan’s embrace of spiritual doubt. He says, “If God really is God, then God must, by definition, surpass our human understanding…There will always be something that eludes us. If there weren’t, it would not be God.”
However, I feel that Sullivan goes further than is justified in claiming that God can be partially comprehended via Scripture, reason, religious authority, and our own experiences of the divine.
He doesn’t explain why, if this is so, religions are all over the theological map. It’s difficult to discern much agreement between Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism on what It is all about.
So I wish that Sullivan had left off the last two words of, “If God is beyond our categories, then God can’t be captured for certain.” Give fundamentalism a dogmatic inch, and it’ll take an undoubting mile.
The tent of “I don’t know” can comfortably hold every person on Earth. But allow differing species of certainty to creep in under the flap and pretty soon the screeching and hollering will begin.
Infidel! Evil-doer! Pagan! Apostate! Devil-worshipper! Unbeliever!
It’s difficult to envision what a genuinely uncertain belief in God would look like, though. If doubt is the mainstay of a spiritual practice, what separates believers from the faithless?
Well, seemingly nothing. Which brings us all under the tent of unknowing, a nice place to hang out together.