The Courage to Doubt Our Religious Beliefs

“Mature psychological health cannot exist unless we are capable of doubting any form of conceptual certitude about ourselves or anything else.”

~ Richard Moss, MD,
Contemporary American spiritual teacher
in The Mandala of Being


What can we really know with certainty about the mysteries of existence? Yet somewhere on the planet today, like too many days before us, because of his or her religious convictions an adherent of one god will bludgeon to death an adherent of another god. But let’s put this religious certainty into perspective.

At birth, we’re thrown onto a rock whirling through dark nothingness at 67,000 mph. We are born naked, knowing absolutely nothing, possessing nothing – not even the language which later encodes our learning. Later death strips us of every possession we presumed was ours.

Between birth and death, amid the infinite Mystery in which we live and move and have our being, we comfort ourselves – with certitudes. They give our fragile egos something to grip so very, very tightly for security while we pass our days atop a rock floating in infinite darkness. Certainty provides security; “not knowing” reveals our existential uncertainty.

While our certitudes are many, they also are fragile. How many unknown gods lie dead and forgotten beneath crumbled temples buried in sand? How many unassailable religious doctrines, like the earth is the center of the universe, have proven to be nonsense? The frailty of our beliefs stems also from the fact that beliefs are word forms seeking in vain to encapture the ineffable; at best they are metaphors.

The fragility of our certainties reminds me of a poem of the Persian poet Hafiz, “Someone Should Start Laughing”. To borrow from Hafiz, I would comment ‘if you think your tiny head can comprehend infinity, someone should start laughing, someone should start wildly laughing.’

In part, psychological maturation expresses as an ability to tolerate uncertainty and a willingness to encounter the truth of our experience as it is. Like Hafiz, I do affirm the magnificent Mystery which surrounds us! Yet neither do I presume to know anything of this Mystery other than what I may have personally experienced to be true, nor do I give my intellect permission to overreach my humanity by trying to comprehend the infinite.

Perhaps it is the very arrogance of our religious certainties shackle and bind the sacred, and prohibit its beneficent influence from leavening our humanity. In this regard, to my way of thinking, it serves us more to remember what is not known, rather than what is thought to be known.

When you go outside today, take a moment to recall that you stand, walk, and drive on the surface of a rock which floats in a spacious nothingness that expands infinitely in all directions.

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