I recently received an email from a Christian struggling with uncertainty, and his anguish was something that I could completely relate to. But what struck me most about his email is that his doubt in God was followed by a form of self-abasement. The question “Does God really exist?” was followed by “What is wrong with me?” The feeling of guilt that accompanies doubt is, I believe, a result of two general Christian beliefs: the first, that doubt is undesirable; the second, that God is perfect, and thus cannot be blamed for an undesirable situation. In other words, doubt is a problem; and if we doubt, we are to blame.
As a doubting Christian, I also believed there was something seriously wrong with me when I tried in vain to get some sense of God. But the one thing that I slowly realised is that the problem didn't lie with me at all, but with Christianity (or with God, if he exists). I couldn't for the life of me understand why a loving God would hide himself from me, and cause me so much anguish through the doubt I was experiencing. One day I came to the conclusion that a hidden God is no different to a God who doesn't exist. If there is no difference, I reasoned, then why waste energy and time – and experience so much anguish – believing in him.
When I finally gave up Christianity, doubt no longer remained an issue. No longer did I have to expend so much mental energy trying to believe in invisible demons, virgin births, parting seas, and people rising from the dead – things that seem so contradictory, incredible, and counter to everyday experience and common sense. I felt a strange sense of relief when I finally changed to a worldview that seemed more consistent with what I plainly observed in the world around me.
I now view doubt as an opportunity for change, no longer as a threat. Questioning my own beliefs has lead to growth as it has enabled me to discover problems in my thinking. In the words of Dan Barker in Losing Faith in Faith, I conquered doubt by totally yielding to it, and I think – for me at least – I am better for it.