It has long been popular among certain self-identified Mormon intellectuals to argue that, contrary to what one might suppose, doubt is not inimical to faith. Some even claim that doubt and faith are not only compatible, but even interdependent faces of the same coin.
I first heard arguments along these lines well over a decade ago from a BYU English professor who, when he taught the about deconstruction as a theory of literary criticism, liked to deconstruct the binary of faith and doubt to demonstrate that they really are the same thing.
Even at that time it was a well-worn chestnut.
And yet now, years later, this argument is still regularly brought out of the stables and trotted around the intellectual show-room as if it were a new and exciting concept, instead of being put out to pasture (or maybe put down and sold to a glue factory) as the reductionist, derivative, sloppy thinking it really is.
The claim that doubt is compatible with faith relies on a simple, obvious reductionist error that goes something like this:
Faith = Not having a sure knowledge
Doubt = Not knowing for sure
Therefore, doubt and faith are really the same thing.
Or therefore, doubt is the path to faith.
Yes, it is true that doubt and faith both involve a lack of knowledge. But saying doubt and faith are essentially the same because they both involve a lack of knowledge is like saying that falling and flying are really the same thing because both of them involve moving through the air without touching the ground. These words are not just expressions of position but of trajectory. They are vector values with both magnitude and direction.
Faith and doubt are both dispositions toward to a lack of knowledge or information, but they are incompatible opposite dispositions.
Faith = Trust despite insufficient information or knowledge
Doubt = Distrust because of insufficient information or knowledge
Insofar as you distrust (doubt) you cannot trust (have faith). That is why doubt is inimical to faith. Like flying or falling, they are mutually exclusive, inversely proportional dispositions.
Doubt is normal. Most people in the church experience periods of doubt. But doubt is something to be overcome, not cultivated and paraded around the ring like a lame horse.
As Elder Holland said in the previous conference of the church:
“When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.”
So let’s put this lame argument that doubt and faith are compatible out of its misery. Let’s aspire to Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the church that he has organized, and in the Prophets and Apostles he has called and authorized to guide and direct us.
See also: Watchmen on the Tower – On the Limits of Prophetic Fallibility
14 Responses to Vectors – Faith and Doubt are Incompatible in the LDS Church