Doubt - Theology

Theology

Doubt that god(s) exist may form the basis of agnosticism — the belief that one cannot determine the existence or non-existence of god(s). It may also form other brands of skepticism, such as Pyrrhonism, which do not take a positive stance in regard to the existence of god(s), but remain negative. Alternatively, doubt over the existence of god(s) may lead to acceptance of a particular religion: compare Pascal's Wager. Doubt of a specific theology, scriptural or deistic, may bring into question the truth of that theology's set of beliefs. On the other hand, doubt as to some doctrines but acceptance of others may lead to the growth of heresy and/or the splitting off of sects or groups of thought. Thus proto-Protestants doubted papal authority, and substituted alternative methods of governance in their new (but still recognizably similar) churches.

Christianity often debates doubt in the contexts of salvation and eventual redemption in an afterlife. This issue has become particularly important in Protestantism, which requires only the acceptance of Jesus, though more contemporary versions have arisen within Protestant churches that resemble Catholicism. The debate appears less important in most other theologies, religions and ethical traditions.

Doubt as a path towards (deeper) belief lies at the heart of the story of Saint Thomas the Apostle. Note in this respect the theological views of Georg Hermes:

... the starting-point and chief principle of every science, and hence of theology also, is not only methodical doubt, but positive doubt. One can believe only what one has perceived to be true from reasonable grounds, and consequently one must have the courage to continue doubting until one has found reliable grounds to satisfy the reason.

Christian existentialists such as Søren Kierkegaard suggest that for one to truly have belief in God, one would also have to doubt one's beliefs about God; the doubt is the rational part of a person's thought involved in weighing evidence, without which the belief would have no real substance. Belief is not a decision based on evidence that, say, certain beliefs about God are true or a certain person is worthy of love. No such evidence could ever be enough to pragmatically justify the kind of total commitment involved in true theological belief or romantic love. Belief involves making that commitment anyway. Kierkegaard thought that to have belief is at the same time to have doubt.

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