In my experience, there’s one thing that is seldom, if ever, discussed in Evangelical Christian circles: doubt. If mentioned at all, it’s said with a disapproving tone and usually accompanied with a head shake that is supposed to convey genuine sadness and grief over “that poor backslider” who had “such a strong relationship with Jesus,” but usually is just a poor justification for judgement and isolation for those who are either seriously struggling with fundamental beliefs or who have left the faith and are slowly publicizing it to friends, family, and other members of their community.
The first time I questioned anything I had been previously taught, I was a 16-year-old junior in high school. The question that burned in my mind all semester was this: “Is the relationship I have with God really mine or am I just blindly following the religion of my parents?” Naturally, more questions followed as I got older. “If the creation story is to be taken literally (as in 7-day, 24-hour periods) then what about dinosaurs and fossils?” “Do people who profess to be Christians still go to Heaven if they abuse other people?” and so on.
In my teenage and college years, I inherently knew that I was not supposed to ask the kinds of questions I was pondering over, for if I did, I would be met with blank stares or worse, dismissal. “Why are you asking me that? Shouldn’t you know the answer, by now? I mean, after all, you have such a strong relationship with God.” What they were really saying with their questions was this: “If you were a real Christian, you wouldn’t have questions or doubts.” That “strong relationship” I supposedly had was demonstrated by passionate worship displays, at least at church, hence their assumptions. Take note: A convincing outward display of worship often masks a troubled and conflicted inner soul. After engaging in religious practice and church routine for so long, it’s hard to decipher what’s genuine or counterfeit and people, I have found, will hold you to your past in unexpected ways.
For example, until mid-April, I had been apart of a Christian group on Facebook that discussed mainly things related to apologetics and defending the faith. One night, I wrote a post in which I expressed serious doubt (I almost didn’t post it because I feared the reaction of the group). A lively discussion ensued afterward, in which most members of the group were helpful, as they were empathetic and tried to understand where I was coming from. One person, in particular, was a rude brute who bluntly stated, to the best of my memory, “If you are doubting whether you believe in God, then you never knew God at all. You need to repent and beg the Father for forgiveness.” I have never wanted to punch someone in the face so much as I did that night.
When I woke up the next morning, one of the admins messaged me and told me I was kicked out of the group for lack of belief. My heart was shattered (I spent at least an hour crying) because that was the only place I could ask questions and receive actual answers instead of weak Christian platitudes that serve no purpose than to drive me, and others in the same and similar position, into further doubt and isolation.
Similarly, I recently emailed an old mentor I had back when I attended a Christian university and told her that I was wrestling with God still but was, primarily, an agnostic. Her response saddened and angered me all at once. Here is an excerpt of her words: “You are a cynic because your faith has been by-passed by disappointment and suffering. And then compound cynicism with SELF-PITY and you are laying in the dark pretty hopeless…I sure hope that someday you will put away childish behavior and begin the journey of a consistent, daily growing relationship with Jesus IN HIS WORD!”
So, basically, what she told me was to grow a pair of balls because shit happens and life is unfair and to read the Bible because Jesus is awesome. This woman had made a huge impact on me spiritually as a college sophomore but as I read her email yesterday, I wanted nothing more than to cry because she doesn’t understand where I am right now; she’s operating based on who I was and that hurts.
The problem with this type of rhetoric is that it does more harm than good. If a person doubting is classified as “childish behavior” where does that put David, who was “a man after God’s own heart” and writer of many Psalms that start off with “God where are you? Why are you forgetting me?” Where does that theology put Thomas, and hell, even Jesus? It baffles me, truly it does. How do evangelical Christians expect former Christians and nonbelievers to engage them if they can’t even ask questions? Maybe instead of bashing us for asking and doubting, they can come alongside us and be patient as we struggle to figure out our beliefs, regardless if we (re)convert or not.