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The roles of doubt in religious faith

Quotes dealing with religious doubt

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About doubt:

  • Pierre Abelard: "The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth."

  • Gordon Allport: "The mature religious sentiment is ordinarily fashioned in the workshop of doubt."

  • St. Augustine: "Doubt is but another element of faith."

  • Browning: "You call for faith: I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists. The more of doubt, the stronger faith, I say, If faith o'ercomes doubt."

  • Charles Bukowski: "The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts while the stupid ones are full of confidence."

  • George Carlin: "Don't just teach your children to read. Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything."

  • Catholic Encyclopedia: "The faith demanded by the Christian Revelation stands on a different footing from the belief claimed by any other religion. Since it rests on divine authority, ... its refusal involves not merely intellectual error, but also some degree of moral perversity. It follows that doubt in regard to the Christian religion is equivalent to its total rejection." 2

  • G. K. Chesterton: "It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong."

  • Darrell J. Fasching: "I have found a fullness in the doubts and questions of my life that I once thought could only be found in the answers. Mercifully, doubts and questions have come to be so fulfilling that I find myself suspicious of answers, not because they are necessarily false or irrelevant, but because even when relevant and true they are, and can only be partial. It is doubt and questioning that always lure me on to broader horizons and deeper insights through an openness to the infinite that leave me contentedly discontent." 3

  • Erich Fromm: "Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties."

  • Hal E. Fulton: Commenting on the dozens of Branch Davidians who died at Waco, TX: "... if these people had been more like [the disciple] Thomas, the whole tragic incident need never have happened." 5

  • G Gaia: "The common dogma [of fundamentalists] is fear of modern knowledge, inability to cope with the fast change in a scientific-technological society, and the real breakdown in apparent moral order in recent years.... That is why hate is the major fuel, fear is the cement of the movement, and superstitious ignorance is the best defense against the dangerous new knowledge. ... When you bring up arguments that cast serious doubts on their cherished beliefs you are not simply making a rhetorical point, you are threatening their whole Universe and their immortality. That provokes anger and quite frequently violence. ... Unfortunately you cannot reason with them and you even risk violence in confronting them. Their numbers will decline only when society stabilizes, and adapts to modernity."

  • Andre Gide: "Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it."

  • Donavan Hall: "Any religion which prohibits doubts abandons any hope of growth or development. A religion without doubt is fixed and unchanging. Such a religion is useless to dynamic thinking individuals who are curious about the truth of reality." 6

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes: "To have doubted one's own first principles is the mark of a civilized man."

  • John A. Hutchinson: "Unthinking faith is a curious offering to be made to the creator of the human mind."

  • Blaise Pascal: "To deny, to believe, and to doubt absolutely -- this is for man what running is for a horse."

  • Tennyson, in his poem In Memoriam: "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds."

  • Theodore Rubin: "There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking."

  • Bertrand Russell:
    • "Throughout the long period of religious doubt, I had been rendered very unhappy by the gradual loss of belief, but when the process was completed, I found to my surprise that I was quite glad to be done with the whole subject."

    • "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

  • Isaac Bashevis Singer: "Doubt is part of all religion. All the religious thinkers were doubters."

  • George H. Smith: "... for the Christian to doubt the truth of a purported revelation is potentially to challenge the authority of the infallible God in whom she believes. It is therefore religious doubt, not atheistic disbelief, that constitutes the greatest threat to orthodox beliefs, because doubt threatens to undermine a belief system from within." 7

  • Mark Taylor: "Religious conflict will be less a matter of struggles between belief and unbelief than of clashes between believers who make room for doubt and those who do not." 4

  • Paul Tillich: "Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith."

  • Miguel de Unamuno: "Faith which does not doubt is dead faith."

  • Voltaire:
    • "Faith consists in believing not what seems true, but what seems false to our understanding."
    • "Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous."

  • Michael White: "God isn't afraid of our doubts, but He doesn't want to leave them with us either."

  • Zen saying: "Great Doubt: great awakening. Little Doubt: little awakening. No Doubt: no awakening.

About religious doubt in the military:

  • Anon: "There are no Atheists in foxholes."

  • Bill Cooke: "... enforced Christianity was the surest breeding ground for unbelief. Many men either became unbelievers or met unbelievers during their military service." 1

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Bill Cooke, "The Gathering of Infidels: A Hundred Years of the Rationalist Press Association," Prometheus Books (2004).
  2. "Doubt," Catholic Encyclopedia, at: http://www.newadvent.org/
  3. Darrell J. Fasching, "Narrative Theology After Auschwitz: From Alienation To Ethics," Fortress Press, (1992), Page 4.
  4. Mark C. Taylor, "The Devoted Student," New York Times, 2006-DEC-21. See our essay on the role of religious doubt.
  5. Hal E. Fulton, "Faith, Reason and Doubt," at: http://hypermetrics.com/
  6. Donavan Hall, "Science and the Fear of Doubt," St. Alban's Lectures, (1996), at: http://www.phys.lsu.edu/
  7. George H. Smith, "Why Atheism," Prometheus Books, (2000). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Posted 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Copyrights for the individual quotations held by their creators
Last updated: 2012-APR-21
Compiled by: B.A. Robinson

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