The Ethics of Doubt

I have had various people approach me, generally Christians, whom think the idea of doubting god or god’s existence is unethical. Obviously I think the idea is ridiculous, but I would like to give my take on it. We aren’t really talking about morality here, that has been handled in depth more times than I care to count on this blog…what I am referring to is the actual ethical nature of the individual whom doubts. My contention is that a person skeptical of the existence of god is ethical in a more altruistic sense than the individual whom accepts god and dogma without question.

Before I go into my reasoning I would like to point out that this isn’t intended at an accusation against the believer…I contest that believers (those that believe in god) can just as well be skeptics and doubters not exposed to the same information or unable to get past the religious programming they may have endured. I for one know very well that overcoming all that fear, nervousness, and denying my devotion to god is incredibly difficult. I suggest that the more devoted to your god you are the more likely you are to challenge him, at least that was my own experience. This most certainly qualifies one as a doubter in my book and therefore somewhat more ethical than ones sheepish counterparts.

My standard of ethics is that an ethical person will fight and seek truth no matter what he finds to be true. Despite what I may find to be true I will still attempt to validate that truth and fight for it’s survival, hence you have this  blog in front of your face. In my view, both the pursuit of reality (truth) and  the propagation of it meet the very definition of ethical behavior. Proliferating one’s faith is altruistic as it generally tends to attempt to save wayward souls, but it is only pure when an individual is willing to endure the struggles of his faith….some Atheists lack the experience of faith and therefore an understanding of the difficulty that a person of faith can face in daily life. The doubter loves his non-existent god, his god is real to him, he fights everything natural to him to keep that god happy – my own faith kept me teetering on the border of sanity and insanity almost constantly and it was incredibly difficult- far more than the scapegoat that some Atheists may believe it to be.

For the Atheist or skeptic to promote the idea of doubt in a world full of believers is risky, Atheists are hated almost the world around because we do not bow the notion of god and his authority. Some believers will even risk the promotion of questioning their deity because they understand the benefit of rethinking faith, in their view challenging god will inevitably lead to an improved relationship with him if that god doesn’t fall completely apart under scrutiny.  This, on both sides of the spectrum is altruistically ethical because it intends to benefit humanity in the best way that one may know. Those ethics for the unbelieving skeptic are perpetuated via encouraging a search for truth, this search often leads to innovations in the fields of science and psychology (among  others) that benefit generations, giving the unbelieving doubter the edge on ethics as salvation from a hell or a depravity that does not exist holds no value  outside of good intentions.

  • You said: "Atheists are hated almost the world around because we do not bow the notion of god and his authority."

    Did you ever think that the majority of the drama you claim exists between "Atheists" and "Non-Atheists" exists only in your mind, and is being fueled by unresolved "issues" with the current incarnation of the New Testement…

    I mean.. Really?

    • not at all….do you?

      just because you and I get along doesn't mean that the rest of christendom doesn't intend to retard thought sir.

      • Oh please, you know better… There is a recognizable amount of believers and non-believers that co-exist daily like brother and sister. It is the higher IQ level and maturity in belief, or non-belief taht alienates them from the trolls on both sides. The numbers are there, but no one wants to count them because they refuse to squeak along with the childish wheel.

    • It's not just in his mind. There is polling data.

      http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=1786422

      • Uh. If notice those numbers do not equal half of the polling population, while the marriage one may trend to be 52% with a margin of error (which they did not provide) I hardly think that this poll can justify the statement "Atheists are hated almost the world around because we do not bow the notion of god and his authority."

        Atheists are hated for two reasons. 1. You are a shrinking minority. 2. You have several vocal loudmouths.

        • Shrinking minority?

          ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

        • I thought Catholics where the shrinking minority?

        • Oh no…

          "Atheists" are by no means a "Shrinking Minority". The Bible itself sets that statement aside!

          Apostasy is running rampant, those who are not turning atheist or agnostic, are being led down such a wide road it is annoyingly obvious!

          2 Timothy
          Matthew 24

          And the problem is the "vocal loudmouths" of the so-called "Christians" that is driving this world into the end. I just preached on Micah 7 this morning, and as I told them, that chapter is a mirror image of our society today.

          -Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

  • I don't even know what that statement means that it's "unethical to doubt God or His existence." Christians are telling you this? Frankly, as a Christian myself, on the surface it sounds kinda ridiculous to me as well.

    I might argue that as a Christian who subscribes to God's Word it would be "unethical" of me to not share what I believe to be the life saving truth in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (e.g. Penn Jillette's comment "how much do you have to hate someone not to proselytize them"). However, to say that the act of doubting God is "unethical"…again, I guess I'm just puzzled because I don't even know what that's supposed to mean.

    • I think what he means is that the moment you start to ask questions and openly challenging the church, you get responses from Christians similar to the following:

      1. "Why are you asking those silly questions? Just pray and God will answer you in his own time."

      2. "It's not good that you're blogging those questions. Don't you know a lot of young people read your blog? They might backslide or stumble because of you."

      3. "Are you an atheist now?"

      4. "Just have faith. Don't ask so many questions. You won't get blessed."

      And just for the record, yes, I got asked those questions. And no, I'm not an atheist. But I don't believe in "God" as well. There may be a god, but he's certainly not the god I was taught to believe in.

      • I get all that, I just don't understand how the term "unethical" fits in any way, shape, or form.

    • I think it means exactly what you are interpreting it to mean, Penn Gilletes comment on the matter is perfect.

      Many Christians, believe it or not, simply accept their faith without question…and it never becomes an issue with them. they have an easy Christian walk and barely understand the concepts behind their faith….those same people would rather tell someone like me to leave well enough alone and just believe any way (which isn't even possible) because I should fear hell….My point is that doubting this is ethical no matter what conclusion you come up with when you examine it….the pursuit of truth despite how much it hurts to find it is ethical and good.

      it would indeed be unethical for you to not share your saving gospel with sinners….practically dooming me to hell intentionally or watching me get run over by a bus.

      • I understand all that, Matt. But you said "people approach me, generally Christians, whom [sic] think the idea of doubting god or god’s existence is unethical."

        What I'm saying is how is doubting God unethical? That term doesn't fit. I'm not trying to nitpick semantics here or something, but I might be so bold/brash to say I think it's stupid or foolish not to believe in God, but not "unethical". But even there, I wouldn't say I think it's stupid/foolish to have tough questions or even doubts about God. He certainly knows I have. The way I've always looked at it is that in those tough times, rather than say "I don't like you, God, or the way you've presented yourself so forget you" I'll go to Him, fists flying in rage, if need be. Better to be angry AT God and talking TO Him rather than get mad and turn away from Him. The Psalms are full of instances where the Psalmist got ticked and yelled at God, but still always trusted Him. Does what I'm saying even make sense?

        • it makes perfect sense….I can't imagine why someone would think it unethical either…but they do….the fact that it makes no sense to you should tell you that I wasn't targeting people like yourself…I would call you a doubter in a sense…i know you have challenged the idea of god in some way at least.

          some people do not though….they never do…they just call themselves Christians and thats it….mindless followers…that is who will say stuff like this to people like me.

      • Right or left, up or down, in or out, it all comes down to "Freewill".

        Jesus saves through the softening of the heart by the Holy Spirit, and not by anything that any human could possibly do, even "sharing the saving Gospel".

        And in the very end, it all boils down to "Grace".

        Why do humans assume that they are worthy of anything but "Hell"?

        And "Faith" is just that. Zero evidence, never have had, and never will have any evidence of God's existence. Why is it so hard for believers to just trust God, and for non-believers to just accept the fact that those that trust God aren't interested in evidence on either side? In fact, as I have said before, if science came up with indisputable evidence that God did not exist, that would only cause me to believe even more!

        "We all got drama, the saga continues…" -P Diddy

  • I'm not sure about Matt's experience, the revruss, but I've had a few Christians tell me I was lying about my disbelief, that I was actively choosing to ignore God and doubt him. So maybe that's what he means.

    • that is true too, this has happened many times

      "You are just angry at god"

      etc

      • And I've heard many times that because I believe in God I'm just rebelling against science, trying to fit in, etc.

        I think we as a people get too caught up in right and wrong. The world is relative. It may be good for us to do one thing, but the same action could destroy another. Likewise, I think it is in fact unethical to dictate a belief system to anyone else. It certainly is NOT unethical to question things. It's the point where you arrive at a conclusion and begin to promulgate that conclusion when problems arise – funny how it's usually Christians who do this.

        • I agree, Ronald – that's the point I was trying to make. I think it's unethical to dictate a system but I do not think it's "unethical" to question things – including God. Again, the only thing unethical I can come up with is that it would be unethical for me NOT to share the Gospel with others if I truly do believe it has the power to save lives. As Matt said, if I believe that then NOT sharing it would be like withholding the cure for cancer.

      • Once Saved, Always Saved… Lets hope they have southern food in Heaven, or you and I are going to have to send for take-out down on the new earth during the millenial reign. 🙂

        • I get where the concept of "once saved, always saved" comes from and I understand why people want to hold on to that. Help me understand this, though: what then do you do with all the passages in the NT that warn against falling away – 1 & 2 Peter, Jesus, Paul – why would they warn against falling away if such a thing isn't possible? 2nd, doesn't that imply that someone not saved really had no hand in the matter and God just arbitrarily wanted them to go to hell? 3rd, if I'm just "saved, always saved" then it really shouldn't matter what I do in this life, right? I mean, if nothing I do can jeopardize it once I'm saved, why not just do whatever I feel like – "sin all the more"? 4th, how would apply something like that to Matt? Do you think he's still "saved" or that he never was in the first place? If he's still saved, then that would imply if he were to die right now, he's going to heaven to be with Christ when he dies – and if THAT is true, then what about his blatant denial of God and Christ? Does that mean I can just deny Christ and no big deal? On the other hand, if he never was saved, what about all that happened during his life as a Christian – just a big joke? A farce? Didn't really have faith?

          Again, I understand where this doctrine comes from and why people want to hold on to it, I just can't reconcile the implications. I'm curious to know your thoughts 🙂

  • lowrads

    The consequences of an hypothesis have no bearing on the validity of an hypothesis.

    Even if my creed inspires me to acts of inhumanity, or insults against the mind, civilization or diction, it doesn't change reality as that thing which is the same regardless of how we wish or believe it to be.

  • I do like your take on how a non-believer may be the one to question authority enough to make a massive breakthrough, thereby saving people's lives.

    Certainly, the pursuit of truth is in itself an ethical and moral imperative. This is something that many religious groups will only partly accept. Yes, it is unethical to lie; truth is critical and valued. Except when it disagrees with ancient words on pieces of paper, or interpretations thereof.

    My religious background, though, is from Judaism, where questioning is encouraged and accepted as a natural consequence of the human intellect, which, of course, is given by God. There are many wonderful stories in the Talmud about rabbis arguing with God (and of course, so do Moses and Abraham). The Jewish God is not seen as infallible, even by the rabbis.

    Maybe that's why it's easier, I think, for Jews to stick around (like my husband), or to leave (as I have).

  • "Some believers will even risk the promotion of questioning their deity because they understand the benefit of rethinking faith, in their view challenging god will inevitably lead to an improved relationship with him if that god doesn’t fall completely apart under scrutiny."

    I agree here…I had to allow my ideas of God and Christianity to completely fall apart under logic before I could see Him in a new light. There were many days I even strongly doubted that God existed, but then a "light" came and I found the world outside my previous sufficating doctrines to be quite a pleasant place. I find that out here, I have a better relationship with God and a love for people more than I ever did in the years prior where I didnt question anything.

    Questioning why you believe things is probably the most healthiest thing you can do for yourself

    • I hope now you see why I was pushing you in that direction….I figured you would be closer to my point of view but my goal was to get you to crack that shell of dogma and think a bit outside the box. You have come a long way since then.

  • For some it's very child like, similar to the idea that if you stop believing in the tooth fairy, there will be no more money under your pillow. So to keep the money coming, you cling to the belief as long as you possibly can. You don't want to question, because it can lead to doubt, and doubt can lead to disbelief, and then no more money.

    There are some people that would rather not question their faith, out of fear that they might just be believing in something as fake as the tooth fairy. They would rather not find out. They have too much at stake and too much to loose, if that is the case. It's not a few quarters this time.

    If they question their faith and it can't hold up under scrutiny, and everything they believe is a lie, then that means there is no promise of heaven.

    They don't want to risk that. They don't want to lose that hope. They would rather die happy, thinking there is a heaven and all those friends and family members that have died before them are waiting there with open arms, even if it isn't true, than live with the thought that death is final and they will never see their loved ones again.

    They fear death, so they cling to whatever they can to ease that fear, no matter how irrational their beliefs are. They haven't come to terms with their own mortality and the thought of it scares the crap out of them. That's why they think that all atheists live miserable lives with no joy and no purpose. Their joy and purpose is in making it to heaven and seeing their loved ones again. They can't see it any other way, and they don't want to…just like stubborn little children.

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    • And that has what to do with the price of rice in a sushi bar?

  • I completely agree with your take on doubting. For if something is indeed true, it will withstand all scrutiny, but what about acceptance? For of what value is the truth to those who do not want to accept it? This is the problem with seekers, who I consider as being the polar opposites of doubters. For seekers profess to want to find something, but in order for this to happen, they would have give up being a seeker. For seekers seek, and when someone finds what they are looking for, there is no longer any need to keep on looking.

  • I can't agree more that doubting is NOT unethical.

    I imagine Christians who say that come from a perspective that they is no POSSIBLE way that they might be wrong. People who think that way are imo, mindless followers. I respect Christians who actively think for themselves and continuously doubt their religion to seek for veracity. Honestly, what satisfaction is there in having a bunch of zombie followers? I'd much rather have a bunch of THINKING followers who gave it a lot of thought but chose me eventually.

    Doubt is indispensable in the search for truth and searching for truth can't be bad right? 🙂

  • I just bought a book called Divinity of Doubt. Haven't read it yet though. Think you would like it based on what I've read about it.