Doubt is a lonely road because we find it so difficult to admit we’re on it. We’re afraid of being ostracized, quarantined, or just plain feared. The evangelical church creates a climate of fear: fear to learn anything that might not match up with what we think we know, and fear to express doubt or confusion when we do learn something that doesn’t match. Thus, most doubters suffer in silence, some playing the part of dutiful Christian and others, unable to fake it any longer, leaving the church altogether.
“O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling” by Jason Boyett offers doubters a companion for their lonely road. I devoured this book in approximately 2.5 days over the winter break (and reviewed it very briefly here). It’s thought-provoking, funny, easy to read, and exactly the kind of companion book I wished for years ago.
Last week we spent over two hours talking about faith, doubt, his book, and where he is today. That’s a lot of words! I have condensed and squeezed and still need two posts (ridiculously long posts, but I’m defying the conventional blogging wisdom which says people only read short posts) because I believe you are just as hungry for this conversation as I am.
Joy: In the introduction, you write that this is not a how-to guide. I’d like to hear more of this book’s back story. Why did you write it, and why this way?
Jason: I don’t like how-to books. They are too simplistic. They assume that you have a problem you can fix in 3 easy steps. But faith and doubt and questions are not problems to fix. I’m suspicious of formulas in general, and in particular in complex matters of faith.
I wrote O Me of Little Faith for myself. It is the book I looked for but couldn’t find. I wrote not as a person who had solved his doubts, but as a fellow wanderer who is willing to be a companion to others who have not “solved” their doubts either. The thing with doubt is that once the bell is rung, you can’t put the sound back in. This is a story about how to manage that. It is a hopeful book that ends in a hopeful place, and hopefully brings the reader there as well.
Joy: You wrote that some of your research messed you up, and it sounded like you see this as a result, at least partly, of the way the church/Christians/Christian schools handle history, science, and the Bible. How so?
Jason: As a kid, I was fascinated by dinosaurs. I was always very curious and loved science and history. But I discovered early that my parents and Christian teachers did not have good answers for questions like, “Where do dinosaurs fit into the Bible’s narrative?” I couldn’t find a good bridge between my love of truth on the science side and my love of truth on the faith side.
Then I started to see that every time science and faith bumped against each other, the church had to recalibrate. First it was whether the earth was flat or round. When Galileo showed that the earth revolves around the sun, the church freaked out and declared him a heretic. Today, we have young-Earth creationists who still accept the teachings of Bishop Ussher from four hundred years ago. He said the earth was 6000 years old, based on his calculations of biblical genealogies, and it’s amazing that the Church is still recalibrating on this one.
It makes me wonder what it means for the overall Truth of faith if it is always having to shift to accommodate new learning? I don’t think we will ever reach a point where we have no faith left, because faith answers questions that science can’t, but the pattern gives me pause.
Joy: How are you approaching this with your kids?
Jason: I don’t know how to navigate this with my kids. I see a lot of myself in my kids, and my daughter has an introverted personality like mine. I’ve had conversations with my wife in which we admit that we just don’t know how to talk about faith in a way that says uncertainty is ok. Right now, our kids need their parents to be certain.
What we’re doing now is trying to pass along a love of knowledge, reading, history, the Bible, and theology. I want them to know that their dad is always digging and looking and learning, and while he can’t always make sense of things, he’s always working at it. I want them to know that if God is a God of truth, if Jesus is the way the truth and the life, than wherever we find truth, we are finding something that reflects that. Even if that truth makes us uncomfortable.
I couldn’t talk about this with my parents when I began asking questions, so I want very much to be the kind of parent who invites questions and has conversations like this, even when I don’t have answers or help. I want them to have a deep faith, not one with fear and misunderstandings. My faith twenty years ago was not deep. While I doubt greatly, my faith is much deeper. I want deep faith for my kids.
Joy: Where are you with faith today?
Jason: What I know through faith are the moral things – the ways we live, how to be a good human, what our motives are or should be. These are all the horizontal things, how we relate to others. What is still murky are the WHY things – the vertical things between us and God.
When I wrote the book, I hoped that I was on an upward path toward more faith. I suppose it is in one sense, but not the way I hoped. The book says what I wanted to say and what I needed to hear, and my conclusions are ones that I still believe. I believe that actions taken despite belief is a real kind of faith. So in that sense, I do have more faith. I continue practicing Christianity, believing the basics of morality and ethics, and living within the tradition. My life is defined by the teachings of Jesus, and Christianity is embedded in who I am.
But if I had to describe myself, I would say that I’m a practicing Christian, a follower of Jesus, and committed to the truth, but I don’t always believe it.
Read the second half of the interview here, in which we talk marriage, Mother Theresa, and coming out as a doubter, and we give away some books!