About halfway through my college career (I majored in an unrelated field – Civil Engineering), a flood of doubts threatened to wash away the faith that had given so much meaning, hope, and direction to my entire life up to that point.
If I had to sum up the whole experience in one word, it would be “confusion.” At the time, I was confused about everything: specific beliefs (Is the Bible inerrant? Is there such a thing as “Absolute Truth”?), my day-to-day life of faith (Why does God seem so distant? How do I pray in the midst of doubt?), my emotions (Why do I feel so lonely all of a sudden?), my future (How long will this last? Will I still be a Christian once the smoke clears (if it ever clears)?), and my confusion itself (Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I make it stop? What is happening to me?).
In my “journal” at the time (“journal” is evidently Christianese for “diary”), I wrote that I felt as though I was blindfolded in an underwater fistfight: both utterly disoriented and locked in a desperate struggle. For an entire year, I was perpetually drowning in confusion.
Three years later, after spending a bunch of time reading and thinking, many of those earlier issues have been resolved– at least for now. I’ve managed to remain a “Christian” in a meaningful sense of the word without turning off my brain. In many ways, this blog is an attempt to document the solutions – however temporary – that I’ve found to the most threatening questions and challenges that I’ve run into.
One of those questions that I’ve more-or-less resolved is the questions of why I was so confused about my faith all of a sudden. Hindsight is 20/20!
Looking back, I’m less confused about why I encountered a crisis of faith and more confused about why it took me so long to get there.
For starters, I’ve been asking “Why?” almost non-stop ever since I was a small child. Additionally, during a time that was very formative for my faith, our church was caught up in the so-called “worship wars”: a dispute sweeping the nation that seemed to be (to my eyes, anyway) a throwdown of older Christians who wanted to only sing old-fashioned hymns in church vs. younger Christians who embraced change and infused rock-style music into their worship. As a member of the younger crowd, and with support from the Christians who I looked up to, I learned to question what was by and large taken for granted by earlier generations of Christians.
Even more fundamentally, I was brought up in two different worlds: the world of secular-ish Reason that I encountered at school and the world of Evangelical Christianity that I encountered at church.
In math class, I learned that it doesn’t matter how much you “believe” something to be true: you get an ‘F’ unless you can follow the logical rules that everyone agrees on. In history, I learned that smart people have always disagreed with each other and that Christians have done some pretty despicable things in the name of God. In English class, I learned that a text is open to many meaningful interpretations. In band, I learned that exhilarating and moving experiences can and do happen outside of church. In science class, I learned that answers come after investigation (not before!), and that commonsensical intuition can turn out to be wrong.
But my Doubt Bootcamp didn’t stop when I came home from school. At church, I was taught that people are “fallen” and therefore not only capable of being wrong, but naturally disposed towards wrongness. I was taught that my faith should be my own, having to do more with my personal relationship in God than with memorizing someone else’s doctrine. In my own journey of faith, I learned that God is surprising, regardless of how much I learn from the Bible or sermons. I was told to love my neighbor, which inevitably (or especially!) meant getting to know people with different religious views. And even though I was pretty effectively sheltered within Evangelical Christianity, I eventually came to realize the sheer diversity of beliefs among Christians, even though we all read the same, supposedly crystal-clear Bible and prayed to the same Jesus-incarnating God.
Even without listing specific conflicts between the worlds of Evangelical Christianity and public education (or between my individual religious beliefs themselves!), it’s hard to imagine my formation not eventually resulting in a crisis of faith. Although my initial experience of doubt was very confusing at the time, the fact that I eventually experienced faith-related doubt might be the least confusing thing in the world!