Embracing Doubt to Grow Into a Mature Faith (Part I): The Path of Disbelief


My own spiritual journey was a very circuitous one.  I was born and raised Catholic, but by the time I was a teenage years and young adulthood, I drifted away, in part because I was drawn to the allure of the consumer culture in the U.S. and in part because I did not have a strong theological foundation in my youth.

During most of my 20s and 30s, I fell away from Christianity, viewing it as an anachronism of a bygone era.  I respected the institutional legacies of Christianity (schools and hospitals) but thought the Mass was boring and that doctrines had no relevance to daily life.  To the extent I thought about theology, I ranged between agnosticism to a vague deism.  Mostly, I focused on getting ahead in my career.  I did not consider God part of my life for almost 20 years.

As I was reaching my late 30s, and having sufficient career and personal success that from an objective view of the consumerist society, I should have been happy.  But I wasn’t.  I had an inner angst that kept getting bigger.  I was becoming more concerned about climbing the next run on the career ladder and was becoming increasingly irritable with my family, friends and co-workers.  Intellectually, there was a disconnect between my outwardly apparent success and my inner anxieties.  I was stuck in what Dave Schmelzer and Scott Peck would describe as Stage 3 spirituality or what Richard Rohr would call first half of life spirituality.

After failing to open the door that God had been knocking on for a couple of decades, I finally decided to open it in the form of several virtual spiritual mentors who helped lead me back home to my Christian faith, albeit in a very different mindset of my youth.  One spiritual mentor of course is Teilhard de Chardin, who is the namesake for his blog.  While some of his readings can be challenging, his attraction stems from the combination of his big picture synthesis of the cosmic truths of Christianity and his living embodiment of those truths with joy and humility despite many personal tragedies that would led a less God-centric person to bitterness and despair.  I will speak much more on Teilhard de Chardin’s thoughts in the future.

However, I would like to focus this series on how doubt, especially doubt about the really big questions such as “Is there a God?” and  “What is the nature of God?”.  I had core doubts on these questions and went on a massive investigative study where I researched the best writings of the five major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism).  One of my key influences during this period was James Martin, S.J. and his outstanding book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.  In this book, Fr. Martin discusses six different paths to God: belief, independence, disbelief, return, exploration and confusion.  My personal path crossed several of these path but the most fruitful one for me was the path of disbelief.  It was not until I both embraced and confront my own doubt of God’s existence that I was finally able to open myself up to the loving presence of God.

Fr. Martin published excerpts on the Six Paths to God on the Huffington Post a couple of years ago.  Here is a quote from The Path of Disbelief:

“You might be surprised to hear of agnosticism or atheism as a path to God. But, in my experience, believers have often found themselves on this path. This is not to say that atheism or agnosticism ineluctably leads to God. Obviously it does not. But for some the path ultimately leads to a desire to understand the transcendent.

Those traveling along the path of disbelief not only find that organized religion holds no appeal (even if they sometimes find its services and rituals comforting), but have also arrived at an intellectual conclusion that God may not, does not or cannot exist. Often they seek proof for God’s existence and finding none, or encountering intense suffering, reject the theistic worldview completely.

The cardinal benefit of this group is that they take none of the bland reassurances of religion for granted. Sometimes they have thought more deeply about God and religion than some believers have.”

Here is the full summary of the Embracing Doubt reflections:

Part I:  James Martin, S.J.:  The Path of Disbelief.

Part II:  Pope Emeritus Benedict on how doubt serves as a springboard to a richer faith experience.

Part III:  Pope Emeritus Benedict on how faith and doubt can form the basis of cordial dialogue with non-believers and a deeper understanding of our common humanity.

Part IV:  Deacon David Backes on how God would prefer that we wonder in search of the Truth rather than spend our life as spiritual zombies.

Part V: Julian May’s explanation of God’s creation through her wonderful Teilhardian vision of the future evolution of humanity.

Part VI: Julian’s explanation for the Incarnation as part of the Teilhardian evolutionary vision.

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog (www.teilhard.com) explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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6 Responses to Embracing Doubt to Grow Into a Mature Faith (Part I): The Path of Disbelief

  1. Pingback: Embracing Doubt to Grow Into a Mature Faith (Part II) | Teilhard de Chardin

  2. Pingback: Embracing Doubt to Grow Into a Mature Faith (Part III) | Teilhard de Chardin

  3. Pingback: Embracing Doubt (Part IV): A God Who Lets Us Wander | Teilhard de Chardin

  4. Pingback: Embracing Doubt (Part V): Creation of Universe Out of Love | Teilhard de Chardin

  5. Pingback: Embracing Doubt (Part VI): The Incarnation | Teilhard de Chardin

  6. Pingback: Sunday Reflection, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 11, 2013): Examined Faith Leads to a Deeper Faith | Teilhard de Chardin

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