The benefit of doubt

Doubt seems opposed to faith. “If you doubt, you don’t have faith; if you have faith, you don’t doubt” runs the simplistic logic to show that doubt and faith are irreconcilable bedfellows. Interestingly, among the Easter episodes in the Bible, there’s the story of Apostle Thomas, after whom the term “doubting Thomas” is coined. However, after meeting the risen Christ, Thomas believes. Thus, he’s also called “the believer”.
Mature believers sincerely raise questions and seek answers amidst doubt. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hand, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, I will not believe,” says Thomas (John 20:25). Gospel-writer Matthew notes that when the risen Jesus appears to his disciples, “some doubted” (28:17). Other disciples also doubt Jesus’ resurrection, but Thomas alone begs for evidence. Thomas’ doubt fructifies into faith.
Doubt is a buffer between belief and disbelief. It keeps both, believers and unbelievers, humble and open to each other since both parties bear the burden of giving “proof”.
While believers are challenged to prove that God exists, unbelievers must prove that God does not exist even though myriad manifestations of the Divine and of dharma contradict their disbelief. Thus, doubt drives us to dialogue, discern and decide about truth and God.
The West has been grappling with philosopher Descartes’ doubt — “Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum” (I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am) — for centuries; but India’s deep religious consciousness can do better with a “Credo, ergo sum,” (I believe, therefore I am). Our ancestors spoke of the “swing of uncertainty” (samdeha dola) not as a joyride but as a state to be overcome. Kalidas said, “In doubtful matters the inner experiences of mystics are the right criteria.” Perhaps one could conclude that faith is the victory over paralysing doubt.
Years ago, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote: “Doubt, which saves both sides (believers and non-believers) from being shut up in their own world, could become a channel of communication. Doubt prevents both from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer.” Such openness is the wellspring of refreshing dialogue that can build up human communities.
Today, when dharma and adharma coexist and assume new avatars, believers and unbelievers must responsibly and resolutely respond to both, doubt and belief. For believers, faith will always be present against doubt, while for unbelievers faith may come through doubt and in the form of doubt. Belief and doubt come and go, ebb and flow, like the tides of an invisible ocean. Both ensure that we remain humble pilgrims until we reach “the other shore”.

Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi.
He can be contacted at

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