Value of doubt

March 1, 2012


My father told me that we came from a long line of farmers and preachers. The first Bourland to come to America was my 5th great grandfather, Rev John Bourland (1740 – 1793) who fled religious persecution in Ireland, settled in America and had an enormous family: one of his sons, my 4th GGrandfather, Rev John O Bourland, was also a minister. My father was a minister and his grandfather was a minister.

What does this tell me? That my family has a long-lived tendency to think about spiritual matters, and when they learn about something they believe in, they tell those who are interested.

During high school and college, I failed to remember the last part of the previous sentence: “…tell those who are interested.” For a variety of reasons, and one may be genetic, I developed an early interest in all things having to do with religion, spirituality, metaphysics, mysticism, and the occult. I’ve studied Swedenborg, Annie Besant, Madame Blavatsky and all the Theosophists, Anthroposophy, the Urantia Book, the religions of the world, astrology, new age miscellania and whatever else seemed promising. No matter what it was, I had to tell everyone what I had learned. I couldn’t settle for just “faith”–I wanted to know.

Then, about seven years ago, I read a book called DOUBT, that stressed the evolutionary importance of doubt in the world. While reading it, I realized that one thing religions NEVER tell you is what happens if what they teach is NOT true? THen what? It had never occurred to me to doubt what I had learned and believed. Then, like a ton of bricks, doubt hit me full force. I won’t say I became an atheist or agnostic — both of those words have lost their meaning to me — rather, I embraced my fathers advice from long ago: don’t worry about it; it’s a mystery. So I became an IT’S-A-MYSTERY-ist. I just stopped talking about religion and grew increasingly uninterested in it. I went from being interested in all religions to the opposite. If anyone asked me what I believed, I would reply “I don’t know.” Like choosing their hair stylists and dentists, people don’t change their religious views quickly, so I’ve learned to steer clear of religious debate. But ultimately, I had to learn to live with the notion that this life is all there is. That was a tough one, but as a it’s-a-mysteryist, I eventually learned to live with the idea.

Two nights ago, I had an epiphany. It was a combination of getting good work done, having some down-time and alone-time to think about life, and a series of documentaries I happened to see that night. I suddenly realized that I do believe in what I ultimately learned in my spiritual research. And it’s not just faith: it really makes sense and is still a mystery. But I guess I had to learn how to truly doubt it and let it go first before I could realize that. The belief I had before my period of doubt made me a very optimistic person. During my doubt years, I had to learn how to become optimistic again in the face of trying to make sense of a new spiritless world.

I’m still reeling with this change.

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