Faith and Doubt

February 25, 2013

Doubt plays an important role in intellectual and faith development.  As we receive wisdom (from teachers, scripture, etc.), we test it against our own experience, our own sense of what is right and true.  In this way, we create meaning for ourselves.  Making meaning is what humans do. 


An inability to admit doubt (aka fundamentalism) masks a deep fear of being wrong.  As Reinhold Niebuhr puts it, “Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure.”  Fundamentalism comes in all flavors, including atheism and secularism!


In James Fowler’s Stages of Faith, doubt lives primarily in the “Individuative/Reflective” stage, though it stays with us as we develop and grow.  Individual Unitarian Universalists and UU congregations can sometimes get stuck here.  We can fall into a trap of defining ourselves by what we reject…what we don’t believe…rather than doing the work of articulating what we do believe. 


The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it is despair.  We all despair; there are times when we lose faith, lose hold of the thread of meaning in our lives.  And so we must articulate our deepest, most sustaining wisdom, and share it with one another, so that in those times, we can be reminded of who we are and why we matter.

Read the full text of the sermon on the UU Church of the Palouse website:


Resource List


Faith:  Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg

Faith without Certainty, by Paul Rasor

 “Faith and Doubt” in The Dynamics of Faith,  by Paul Tillich

James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith,” from Wikipedia: 

“Faith and Fiction” by Frederick Beuchner

“If I Were Asked” by The Rev. Victoria Safford:

The History of Doubt by Jennifer Michael Hecht