Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Letter D - DOUBT

Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

In another study, college students' doubt and fundamentalism were related in interesting ways:

Doubters who were low in fundamentalism questioned the foundations of their religion, whereas doubters high in fundamentalism focused on the failure of others to live up to religious ideals. Overall, those higher in doubt scored lower in fundamentalism and right-wing authoritarianism.

In one study, the more complex and sophisticated students were in their thinking, the more young people also experienced doubt. Taking all this evidence together, adolescent doubt seems related to teenagers' identity maturity and complexity of thinking. However, some of these works were done on small samples of Canadian youth, so it is unclear whether these findings apply to youth in other cultures.


Will adults respond to adolescent doubts as inappropriate and heretical challenges or as genuine concerns that deserve genuine attention and response? Adults who live and work with youth may influence where teenagers' doubt leads and whether it feels like liberation or damnation. Adult responses to adolescent doubt may depend on adults' own feelings about doubt in one's spiritual journey. If adults see doubts as the "termites" of faith or think mature spirituality is about "having all the answers," they may respond to adolescents' doubt by ignoring or denying it or dissuading the youth out of it. If adults think doubt is healthy for spiritual growth and is the "ants in the pants" of faith that keeps us on our spiritual toes, they may welcome teens' doubts and discuss with them how to reconcile doubt with faith, questions with trust, uncertainty with commitment.

An adult's responses to youthful doubt may also reflect the adult's own faith traditions. There is surely wide diversity across denominations in their acceptance of doubt. Even within a single denomination, there are many positions. In mainline Protestant traditions, doubt is a normal essence of spiritual growth. Conservative or evangelical Christian traditions may view doubt as undermining young people's faith in the literal, inerrant word of God. In Judaism, the practice of Talmudic interrogation and disputation suggests an abiding respect for questioning as an integral component of mature faith, although the degree of acceptance of doubt may vary between and within different Jewish faith traditions.

Youth often think adults are uncomfortable with youths' doubts. In interviews with college students of many faiths, Hill found that virtually all said they had doubts about faith but they were told, directly or indirectly, that their doubts were not welcome at their place of worship. Allport asserted that parents and organized religions might do more to help doubting youth. Adults who work with youth must reconcile their own tensions about doubt to help youth with their struggles. Adults must also discern whether the teens' doubt is more or less healthy. When doubt moves a youth toward despair and a bleak feeling of "it just doesn't matter," adults could be compelled to organize a supportive response by family and community. Adults must also gauge their response to the teen's personality. Doubting teens with a more analytic, intellectualized faith might respond best to philosophical or theological argument; those with a more emotional or intuitive faith may respond best to adults' warmth and acceptance. Perhaps all youth would benefit from hearing personal stories of adults close to them, many of whom have gone through their own dry seasons of doubt.


Let us return to some biblical exemplars of doubt. Rather than thinking of "doubting" Thomas as an oddball or obstinate skeptic, think of him as a poster-child for adolescent doubt. Teenagers are trying to figure out what to believe, and they, like Thomas, often want proof for the claims of their faith traditions. As Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge (2000) noted in Help My Unbelief, it matters that Thomas' doubts were changed by seeing the wounds of Jesus. The experience of suffering and pain may accompany doubt and give rise to a deeper faith. Adults who work with youth may gain something if they look upon adolescents as contemporary doubting Thomases who are struggling amidst uncertainty and the "conviction of things not seen." Adults may help youth even more if they keep in mind the father of the demon-possessed child, saved by Jesus, whose lament captures the paradox and tensions of adolescent faith: "I believe; help my unbelief!" May all adults hear and answer the adolescent cry therein: "Help my unbelief!"