What material is out there that specifically talks about doubt in Christianity?
July 17, 2010 9:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books, documentary, video, anything decently published on the topic of doubt and doubting in Christianity.

For a variety of reasons, I'm trying to dig up a broad range of material that has to do with, or treats at some length, the topic/problem of doubt in the life of a Christian, or someone raised in a Christian home, or anyone who struggles with doubts about Christianity.

I'm looking for any kind of well-made (or at least decently put together) piece, be it book, article, documentary or even movie that focuses primarily on this. Theology/philosophy books are great, popular fiction or non-fiction is great, anything really in any medium is great, as long as it's well-made and devotes a great deal of its content or attention to doubt in the life of a Christian.

Actually, I don't really want to limit this to doubt in the lives of Christians. Doubt in the life of any conventionally religious person is interesting to me. But since I am most familiar with Christianity, I think stuff in that "area" might be more helpful. Still, please answer with anything you find or know about - excess is better than drought.

What I wouldn't like to see is popular apologetics of any sort. I'm quite capable of finding enough of that, and it's not what I'm looking for. What I'm looking for is anything that talks about or looks into the actual experience of doubting, the dilemmas that come along with it, etc. Or, alternatively, I'd like to see some treatment of it as a broader phenomenon experienced by many - something a documentary might treat, for example.

I'm interested, even if a whole book or source might not pertain, in seeing anything you can throw it me. Thanks!
posted by superiorchicken to Religion & Philosophy (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
An article from (not yesterday's) Charlotte Observer. If nothing else, it points out "[a] study, “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” was published recently in the journal Evolutionary Psychology by Daniel Dennett, co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University outside Boston, and Linda LaScola, a Washington-based clinical social worker, researcher and psychotherapist."
posted by theichibun at 9:19 PM on July 17, 2010

Shusaku Endo's Silence.
posted by edguardo at 9:27 PM on July 17, 2010

After her death, it was revealed that Mother Theresa was plagued with doubts most of her life. It was discussed at length here on metafilter.
posted by QuakerMel at 9:29 PM on July 17, 2010

Anything by C.S. Lewis. A Grief Observed was really enlightening to me.
posted by karminai at 9:40 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Born Again, To Porn Again: Confessions Of An Angel Turned Porn Star is one I've seen on the shelf but not read. From the one review on Amazon it appears to relate some experiences engendering doubt, evidently followed by a persisting faith. That oughta fill in an outlier for your broadness of experience!
posted by XMLicious at 9:48 PM on July 17, 2010

er, "for your broad range of material", that is
posted by XMLicious at 9:49 PM on July 17, 2010

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (A great book by one of the greatest philosophers of all time, David Hume. Well worth the effort to get used to the writing style. Wikipedia has thumbnail sketches of each character; Philo is the main doubter.)

Deconversion 2.0

posted by Jaltcoh at 10:34 PM on July 17, 2010

A lot of the books by Adrian Plass, who has written about this in both humerous and serious ways (and often a combination of both).
posted by Ms. Next at 11:40 PM on July 17, 2010

Though it looks like it has something of an apologetic angle to it, God in the Dark by Os Guinness looks like it might be of use to you.
posted by nangua at 1:17 AM on July 18, 2010

In Zen (or at least Japanese Zen)practice it is said that doubt is essential to the practice. You must have a "great root" of faith a "great ball" of doubt, and an overcoming will.

(these are just snippets, but I have come across that exact phrase of doubt being one of the "3 essentials" in numerous Zen books, I'm sure you can find one suitable to your needs that goes into detail about doubt).

If you think about it, that is the same thing that Christianity is talking about when faith is "tested". The only thing that can test faith is some sort of doubt. Of course, in Christianity the doubt would be doubt in god's existence, or gods plan, or the validity of the word of god; where as in Buddhism the doubt is just doubt in your ability to pierce through delusion to your Buddha nature, or perhaps doubt in the wisdom of the seemingly absurd Koan, or the master who gave it to you. Maybe it is just meaningless? But you ponder it anyway.

Doubt is what gives the exercise meaning. You cannot exercise overcoming will without a doubt to overcome.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 1:25 AM on July 18, 2010

I have no doubt that you'll get some great answers here, as always. But you might want to head over to your local library and run this by the reference librarian on duty, as well; this sort of question is exactly what they're trained to help patrons with. Good luck!
posted by divisjm at 3:07 AM on July 18, 2010

Constantine's Sword is a documentary that is not so much about doubting the Christian faith, but about the perverse consequences of dogmatic Christian faith joined with temporal, worldly power.
posted by Sara Anne at 6:38 AM on July 18, 2010

Paul Tillich's The Courage To Be, has a lot to say about this, though with an (non-popular) apologetic slant.
posted by jon1270 at 6:43 AM on July 18, 2010

Letters from a Skeptic
posted by pecanpies at 7:35 AM on July 18, 2010

Also, I'd add Where is God when It Hurts and Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey. These are kind of popular theology books, but good pop-theology and Yancey's a good source for other authors who deal with doubt/pain from a Christian perspective.
posted by nangua at 9:03 AM on July 18, 2010

Penn Jillette did an interview on Big Think, and he spends a couple minutes discussing how he evolved into being an atheist. (If you don't want to watch the whole interview, skip ahead to the section marked "Reading the Bible (or the Koran, or the Torah) will make you an atheist.")
posted by crunchland at 9:34 AM on July 18, 2010

I'm sure there are lots of examples of people who doubted and then left their faith. It sounds like you may be looking for sources that deal with doubt as a phase in spiritual life, meaning they stuck to it and came through.

A phrase you might want to start with up is the "Dark Night of the Soul" that Christian saints John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux experienced. Theresa of Calcutta's period of doubt and despair toward the end of her life was widely publicized. (And not without a predicatable tinge of schadenfreude from some, unfortunately.)

To me, Mother Theresa's period of doubt was inspiring. I can only hope to keep going through the periods when I am just not feeling it myself, so I look to the examples of others who struggled too. No sufficiently mature faith has not experienced these "dry spells" filled with doubt and ennui.

Much of the training for those discerning religious vocations deals extensively with the issues of spiritual dryness. You might do well to contact people like my friend Fr. Bill Jarema at the Mercy Center in Colorado Springs. He is a psychotherapist who specializes in healing. Along with grief and addiction healing, he also treats burnout, dryness, and other conditions that afflict those who devote their lives to God's service. The kinds of people who help those who are serious about committing to a life of faith know all about the kinds of doubt you are talking about.
posted by cross_impact at 10:44 AM on July 18, 2010

The two authors you should explore are Bishop John Shelby Spong - specifically, "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism," and Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation."
posted by jbickers at 3:49 PM on July 18, 2010

Real Live Preacher mentions his doubts on a number of occasions.
posted by novalis_dt at 4:20 PM on July 18, 2010

Fear & Trembling by Kierkegaard.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:27 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I want to second Shusako Endo's Silence. It's haunted me for years.
There's another Doubt, as well. It's actually the script to the film/play.
And how could I not mention The Brothers Karamazov?
posted by sunnichka at 11:05 PM on July 18, 2010

You might try the Bible, too. Like, for example, Mark 9:24, or 1 Kings 19. They're affirmation stories, but it's interesting how people in them with what might be called honest doubt are dealt with.
posted by slab_lizard at 10:34 PM on July 19, 2010

The Myth of Certainty
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:40 PM on July 24, 2010

Today's WaPo has a piece called The Doubting Christian by Jason Boyett, who has a whole blog on the topic: O Me of Little Faith.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:47 AM on August 1, 2010

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