“The first key to wisdom is assiduous and frequent questioning … For by doubting we come to inquiry, and by inquiry we arrive at truth.”
– Peter Abelard, Yes and No, c. 1120.
“Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends … well I say there are some things we don’t wanna know … important things!”
– Ned Flanders, The Simpsons
Welcome to The Allowed – an honest space to explore questions of faith & doubt & science & everything.
We all have our beliefs about life, work, the universe, family, God(s), love, death. They give us context, give us a tribe to be part of, give us security. For many of us our beliefs are formed at an early age, and stick with us for our entire lives.
Belief feels good.
Doubt is a pain in the ass.
Doubt is that little niggling thought and feeling that you might be wrong. Maybe people aren’t all that nice. Maybe the world doesn’t work in that way. Maybe I’m in the wrong career. Maybe God was just made up to control the poor. Maybe death is just the end.
In the fundamental Christian world that I grew up in, doubt is the enemy. We all thought we had the Truth, and so we had to be strong against any doubt that tried to sneak in, and have faith in every situation.
Faith is a good thing.
But doubt is not the opposite of faith.
Certainty is the opposite of faith…
…because you don’t need faith if something is certain. When something is certain, it is a fact, and faith is not necessary.
“In reality, there is no faith without doubt. To believe one thing is to not believe another. Faith gives structure to work, but doubt gives structure to faith. Doubt asks questions that can keep faith from becoming ignorant superstition, violent triumphalism, or destructive judgmentalism. Doubt purifies faith. Without doubt, belief calcifies into rigid fundamentalism. Without doubt, there are no questions; and without questions, there is no imagination.
Some people think that doubt and faith are polar opposites. They are not. Doubt and faith go hand in hand. One without the other devolves into fundamentalism.”
– Michael Gungor, ‘The Crowd, The Critic & The Muse; A Book For Creators’
I’ve been on a journey over the last ten years. I used to have pretty fundamental beliefs about God and religion, because I grew up in that world. I was afraid of doubt, because I thought that if I focused on it, I’d lose my beliefs and God would disappear.
– I used to believe that anybody who didn’t believe in Jesus and ask him for forgiveness would spend eternity in Hell after they died.
– I used to believe that the whole universe was made in six days.
– I used to believe that God allowed a being called the devil to torture a man called Job, by taking his family, wealth and everything he owned, simply to test his devotion to God.
– I used to believe that homosexuality was wrong, but that we can love the sinner while we hate the sin.
– I used to believe that evolution was just a theory and completely unproven.
– I used to believe that God was a certainty, something I had wrapped up and understood, a neat part of my life, huge and powerful but safe and known.
The problem with all these things is that I simply took them on board automatically. I assumed a belief, and then filtered all the evidence in the world so that it matched what I had already decided.
The famous astronomer Galileo wrote about this way of thinking;
“In the long run my observations have convinced me that some men, reasoning preposterously, first establish some conclusion in their minds which, either because of its being their own or because of their having received it from some person who has their entire confidence, impresses them so deeply that one finds it impossible ever to get it out of their heads. Such arguments in support of their fixed idea as they hit upon themselves or hear set forth by others, no matter how simple and stupid these may be, gain their instant acceptance and applause. On the other hand whatever is brought forward against it, however ingenious and conclusive, they receive with disdain or with hot rage — if indeed it does not make them ill. Beside themselves with passion, some of them would not be backward even about scheming to suppress and silence their adversaries.”
– Galileo (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems)
This is the opposite of Science. Science tells us to collect evidence and see how things really work, and then form our theories around what we observe; putting an amount of confidence in an idea relative to the amount of evidence to back it up.
And so I’ve spent the last few years slowly taking apart many of those old beliefs. The past 12 months especially have been a significant time of deconstructing, rethinking and changing my mind on some long-held ideas. Some things I’ve come back to with greater confidence, some things I’ve done a complete U-turn on, and a lot of things I’m still holding in an open, uncertain hand.
I’ve allowed doubt to be part of how I think. I’ve asked myself hard questions. And I’ve come to the point where I’m okay with knowing that I don’t know all the answers, and never will.
And through allowing myself to question and learn and doubt, I’ve discovered a greater openness, a wider perspective, and a much more genuine interest and excitement about the world around me.
One of the biggest things I’ve realised this year is that there are so many other people going through this.
I’ve had a crazy number of conversations with people who are finding the faith they grew up with isn’t making sense for them any more. Some of them are able to enjoy that process and explore it confidently, but most of them feel alone, insecure, guilty, and often pretty sad about the whole thing. Many of them have tried expressing their thoughts to others, only to be shut down with a quick answer or a well-meaning ‘let me pray for you’.
This is why I’ve launched The Allowed.
The main thrust of the website will be in-depth ‘Main Issues’ on a specific topic. Starting with #1 – Hell, these could be about pretty much anything, from evolution to space exploration to Calvinism to sex to the Quran. Basically, whatever is interesting to me, I will write about. Scientific theories, religious ideas, cultural traditions. Every article will be long-form, well-researched, and designed to open up questions and ideas in your own mind.
There will also be occasional mini-posts, guest articles, and I hope more community aspects too. We’re also launching The Interesting Email, a weekly mail-out which will include a bunch of links and things that I’ve found interesting or challenging or inspiring in some way. You can sign up for that at the bottom of this post.
Our aim is to create a safe place for anybody who is experiencing doubt, questioning their faith, or who just wants to explore spirituality and science and life without leaving their brains behind on the way. I’m still on a journey to figure this stuff out, but I’m convinced that the process of thinking and listening and questioning is more important than having all the answers.
If I could give you one personal thought right at the start, it would be this;
It’s OK to feel unsure. It’s OK to question and challenge your beliefs and inspect them in the light of science and experience and reason. It’s OK to doubt and struggle. You’re not alone, not by a long shot, and you have all the permission you ever need to follow your uncertainty, wherever it leads. It’s more important to have integrity and to be honest with yourself, than to follow a crowd and fit in. This is allowed, and it is good.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, suggestions and comments, stories and struggles. You can get in touch by email or on our social media by using the buttons at the top of the page.
I really hope this can be a safe and inspiring place to help you explore, ask questions, and get some much-needed breathing space.
Comments : The Allowed is a safe space for people of all backgrounds who are wrestling with faith and doubt; many of whom may have had negative or traumatic religious experiences. Please be respectful and kind in any comments you make.