I had a friend once who, after who knows what, began to doubt his faith profoundly. So intense was his sticky doubt that he became depressed as a fly in a web. He couldn’t find any way out, nor any reason to go on trying. He could not hear God; maybe God was no more?
He later told me what he finally did to free himself from that purposeless void was to take a fresh look at the evidence.
He reexamined Christianity, going back to its roots, its core, its conception; and while I don’t know every method he employed, I know his conclusions. He reaffirmed it is highly likely that Jesus existed, as a man, in the flesh, on Earth. He reaffirmed the accuracy of the New Testament and Bible (the Old Testament being secretly co-opted into this fact). Accuracy here does not mean that there can’t be discrepancies or contradictions, but that what we have now is very similar to what was originally written.
That these things are true, he’d say, there could be little doubt. He is making no other claim than the factual: there was a Jesus who was crucified; the Bible we have now is highly accurate. Since these are true, it took little more than a hop to return safely to the shores of belief.
To be absolutely clear then, he would not assert that what the Bible claims is true, but that its accuracy was undeniable. He would not assert that Jesus’ claims were true, but that he once existed is undeniable. These (and other) tenacious stumps served as more than mere infrastructure throughout his doubting: they were real, ground in the soil of factuality.
And this is where the change happens: accepting the above then, if there was a Jesus, perhaps what he said was true; if the Bible is accurate, perhaps what it says is true. Through these small modifications, branches previously wilted from doubt began to bud once again, producing blossoms of tenable, unreachable dogma.
Foundationally, my friend’s depression was lodged in the opinion that a world without God is a world not worth living in, not realizing that if this world had no deity it would still be the very same world previously thought graced by God. Consequently, his doubt was sterile from the beginning since a world ruled by God was the only one he knew how to be content living in. His questioning was never seriously contemplated. How could everything we now see even exist without the aid of God? Such a thought being beyond credulity, he could only dwell on how sad it made him feel not to have God around. How easily his doubt morphed into a passing, palpable trial; a routine religious event.
The inconspicuous manner in which faith forces itself on reality is nothing short of dangerous, and the logical conundrums this union produces are too easily dismissed with quick references to doctrine which have survived by design for this very purpose. Just when you think you have trapped your opponent by revealing such inconsistencies, he somehow manages to untangle himself by means which would impress any escape artist. Thanks to this selective reasoning, he now plays host to a rich flora of prickly dogma from which no true or honest mustard seed could ever hope to germinate. Doubts fall among stony fields, questions among choking thorns, and contravening thoughts are devoured by ready birds. Only that which agrees with previously established dogma grows freely and uninhibited.
This is a cautionary tale, for the moment dogma begins to take root in us we ought to meet it with violent sheers or, in no time at all, there will be little room for anything else. Soon your friends lend support to your conclusions: it was indeed a trial; you had no reason to doubt; look what you’ve come through. Those who surround you agree with you until you’ve lost sight of the fact that they were selected by you based on their agreement; those who contravene what you think simply don’t know what they’re talking about. Why engage with such negative, cynical people who question everything until nothing is left? And, of course, contravening never feels good. These are self-preserving mechanics which keep the meme fueled.
Selective critical thinking, leaps to hasty conclusions, and a general overreliance on intuition quickly make dogmatists of us all. It’s in its nature. Worse still, it’s in ours.