Enlightenment through doubt

Pastor's Point

The gospel accounts of the resurrection present the insight that when the disciples saw the risen Jesus, “they bowed in worship, but some doubted” (Matthew 28.16).  

It may seem strange to think of doubt as a gift, but there is a lot to be said for it. A sign of any healthy individual or faith community is that we simultaneously live in awe and wonder of the mysteries that stretch our capacity to categorize, and still at the same time follow our instinct to ask questions and ponder our response.  

In fact, the art of doubting is easy, contended Martin Luther, for it is an ability that is born with us.   

One of the strangely instructive features of early church life is that Jesus picked Peter, a real average Joe, possessed of one of the more common personality styles around. I mean the loyal-opposition type, for whom the practice of questioning any authority except their own is as natural as breathing. 

Even with his list of spiritual highs and mysterious encounters of the risen Jesus, Peter still had a persistent aversion to Gentiles and had to work through his dreams and nightmares (Acts 11-15), including a process of public debate, to find a way towards a unitive vision of the world that included people who were not like him.  

It is a shame that we who follow in the footsteps of St. Peter have not always worked through our own prejudices to the same degree as our predecessor. 

In summer of 2010, the general synod (parliament) of the Anglican Church of Canada joined the list of Christian churches that were in the process of formally repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.  This is the colonial concept that European nation-states historically could lay claim to ownership of non-European territory without reference to the existence of indigenous peoples already living in these lands.

The Papal Bull Romanus Pontifex (1455) laid the groundwork for the dehumanization of indigenous peoples by the assumption, traceable through European history, that aboriginal peoples were less than fully human, because they had not been incorporated into the official religion of empire. They could thus be either disregarded or forced into assimilation. Their territory was in law terra nullius (no-one’s land), and could simply be claimed and exploited by nation-states — such as the kings of Spain, Portugal or England, to name some of the leading actors.  

If our European ancestors had been able to practice some self-doubt in high places, and had stopped to question the arrogant certainty of their own proclamations, they may have averted genocides and ecological disasters of all kinds.  

When we practice the art and process of first of all being in two minds, we can avoid contrived and false certainties, and make more responsible decisions.  

Diehard Canuck fans with a prior commitment to the absolute destiny of their team as game-seven home-team all-Canadian heroes lack that critical capacity for doubt. They hinder their own necessary grieving. And that’s at least one more one reason why it comes out sideways in a violent catharsis.   

As the daylight around us auspiciously reaches its fullest, let’s take time both to be amazed, and also to doubt. Because we may strangely find ourselves entering into a truer and more enlightened faith by so doing.  




The Rev. Andrew Twiddy is the Rector (pastor) of the Anglican parish of St. Anne and St. Edmund, 

Parksville. Questions or comments?   

atwiddy99@gmail.com, or 250-594-1549.


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