Of course, you might be someone in between: a person committed to certain beliefs in excess of the empirical who nevertheless carries them, not with the triumphalism of certainty, but with the cross of doubt. But I nevertheless think that these two categories—the person of doubt and the person of faith—are a bit more meaningful than, say, the atheist-theist dichotomy.
There are, in other words, people who strike a pose of certainty in life (confidence men, if you will), and they can be atheists or theists, but their defining character trait is that they know that they are right and everybody else is wrong.
And then there are people of doubt.
I like the notion of a doubting community: a constituency for politicians to take account of. We’re here, and we value doubt over certainty—and see doubt as a virtue. If, afterall, we can refer to “the faith community,” why not the doubting community? We already have our patron saints: the existentialist Jesus of the Gospel of Mark, St. Thomas, Spinoza, Emily Dickinson, and Abraham Lincoln come to mind. And we have inspiring fables to tell our children, like the story of the boy who said that the emperor has no clothes. When you think about it, doubt has a rich tradition.
I think that there are already lots of doubting communities in the world, we just don’t call them that. Step on most any university campus and you find yourself among professors who collectively make up a doubting community. It’s not that you don’t find “confidence men” and rigid ideologues among professors—obviously you do. But for the most part, professors are characteristically doubters: they doubt things and hold their beliefs provisionally, and tend to apportion their beliefs to evidence. The Enlightenment philosophes of the 18th century constituted a doubting community.
Are you a member of a faith community or a doubting community? Or do you, perhaps, find yourself participating in one (or more) of each?
It’s time to start speaking of persons of doubt and the doubting community.