The Gospel of Doubt

I am in the process of developing some healthier habits that will actually stick and become routine over time. I have a pretty sweet night time regimen (we should have bought stock in whatever company produces Dr. Teals Epsom Salt Soak) but my morning routine has been lagging for quite some time. I used to be that girl who could wake up at 5:00am and hit the gym before work. I don’t know that girl anymore and I have no idea where she went. Then I became that girl who could sleep until 9:50 if I didn’t have to be at the office until 10:00. That girl disappeared when I got married and suddenly another human could judge me for my slacking. Since my schedule varies by day, I am working on waking up at a consistent time and doing something active rather than depending on a pot of coffee to get my heart beating at a normal rate.

So I started walking in the mornings. I am able to fit the walk in just before the Central Florida heat starts to rival the center of a volcano. I used to listen to an upbeat playlist during my walk, but then I realized that I was literally walking in a circle repeatedly while singing to myself and that felt really weird. So I started listening to various podcasts in order to feel more productive. I love The New Activist, but I needed something to supplement it. I tried Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History and while the podcast is incredible, Mr. Gladwell’s voice made me feel so relaxed I just wanted to crawl back in bed and let him speak lullabies. So I started on the TEDTalks podcast under the society and culture theme. I was intrigued by the title of a talk given by Casey Gerald back in May 2016, so I gave it a whirl and now I can’t stop listening to it.

casey-gerald

Casey Gerald, TEDTalks May 2016

Mr. Gerald graduated from Harvard Business School in 2014 and founded the non-profit organization MBAs Across America. A few years later, Gerald put himself out of business by making his business model free to anyone who wants to do the hard work of reinventing the American business culture.

So what does Mr. Gerald’s success have to do with my feeble attempts to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Nothing, other than I have spent many hours walking around the pond in our neighborhood doubting myself and everything I stand for, and that is what Casey Gerald’s gospel is all about. For most of my life, I have been taught – either implicitly or explicitly – that doubt equals lack of faith. If I doubt something I must not believe in it. There seems to be an undercurrent of fear that runs through any large institution which discourages people from doubting, because any questioning of the system must mean the system will fall.

I used to think doubting was dangerous. If I doubt my faith, does that mean I am not a Christian? If I doubt my purpose in life, does that mean I am doing something wrong? If I doubt my boss, does that mean I am not a team player? If I doubt the ingredients in a hot dog, does that mean I shouldn’t eat it?

Gerald poetically describes the night of December 31, 1999 when many of us wondered if the world would truly end at midnight. He was in a Baptist church with his grandmother, and had been taught that he better get right because Jesus was coming at midnight and he didn’t want to be left behind. Gerald recounts his fear, disappointment, confusion, and hurt when midnight passed and he found himself on the sofa watching Peter Jennings countdown the new year in three different time zones. In a matter of moments, everything Casey Gerald believed came crashing down around him, and he didn’t know that his doubt wouldn’t kill him.

“But there, on that night, I did not stop believing. I just believed a new thing. That it was possible not to believe. It was possible the answers I had were wrong, the questions themselves were wrong, and now where there was once a mountain of certitude, there was, running right down to its foundation, a spring of doubt.”

After graduating from Harvard university and returning home only to be held up at gunpoint, he learned that the best education in the country couldn’t save him from harm. After taking a job with Lehman Brothers in 2008, he learned that a job at the best investment firm in the country couldn’t spare him from failure. After landing a spot in Barack Obama’s White House, he learned that a President he lad longed for would not ensure a grand future or provide all of the answers to life’s problems. Gerald learned what happens when we make gods of the things that begin to hold us captive over time.

“But over and over again, midnight struck, and I opened my eyes to see that all these gods were dead. And from that graveyard I began to search once more, not because I was brave but because I knew that I would either believe or I would die.”

Like Mr. Gerald, I tend to find myself at the crossroads of belief and death on a daily basis. Not a physical death, but a moral, emotional, and spiritual death that seems far more terrifying to me than reaching a biological end. When I stand at that intersection, with doubt riding on my back, I have a choice: I can choose to believe, or I can choose to stop fighting. If I keep walking towards belief, doubt goes with me. And that’s ok. It is ok to be afraid. It’s ok to ask questions. It’s ok to be not so sure. I believe that walking with doubt is the crux of faith. For me, doubt is nothing but a healthy wrestling that usually brings me to a stronger faith than I had before I entered the ring.

I have to believe, even in the midst of all of my doubts. Questioning one brick, like Gerald says, does not shake the whole foundation. In fact, it may improve the entire structure.

“The gospel of doubt does not ask that you stop believing. It asks that you believe a new thing: that it is possible not to believe. It is possible the answers we have are wrong. It is possible the questions themselves are wrong. The gospel of doubt means that it is possible that we are wrong, because it raises the question, ‘Why, with all the power that we hold in our hands, why are people still suffering so bad?”

When I face failure or start to doubt the things I hold so dear, my new belief says, “Keep fighting. Don’t give up. Ask a different question. Listen for a different response.” Fear and doubt and courage and faith are all closely related and they usually travel together. Like the great 20th Century philosopher John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

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