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The Rector: On faith, doubt, and certainty

The Rector

Bolton Abbey Parish Magazine

July 2015

On faith, doubt, and certainty

On faith, doubt, and certainty The German theologian Paul Tillich once commented that doubt was not the opposite of faith; rather it was an element of faith. Tillich had been an outspoken critic of the Nazis during their rise to power and was eventually dismissed from his academic post in Germany in 1933, so it is perhaps not surprising that he was so distrustful of the type of certainty which had produced the perverted ideology of National Socialism. Nevertheless, I think that Tillich’s belief that doubt constituted part of the life of faith actually enables that life of faith to be lived in all its fullness because, (to use another of his observations) when we live in full awareness of our doubt, our questions and our answers are not separated from each other. Last month saw a continuation of the seemingly endless series of atrocities committed by individuals and groups who claim loyalty to ISIS, described succinctly as a ‘death cult’ by the journalist Jonathan Freedland in a recent article. The activities of ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, are driven by an unyielding, unwavering, certainty that their world-view is consonant with their religious beliefs. Faced with the fanaticism that accompanies such certainty, and remembering those of many faiths (including Muslims) and no faith who have lost lives and loved ones to the violence of ISIS, perhaps the only conclusion we can tentatively draw is that the willingness to embrace and live with doubt offers the best opportunity for our faith to flourish and to grow. Mere certainty, on the other hand, will eventually eradicate true faith, along with all its fruits.

With very best wishes,

Simon