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The Beauty of Doubt

Photo by Michael Caven

I grew up in a Christian environment where doubt was hardly encouraged. Faith was a virtue. Doubt was not. The foremost illustration of this is the biblical story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas who claimed not to believe in his resurrection unless he saw his risen body and touched his wounds. When Jesus did appear to him and erase his doubts, Jesus said, “Blessed are you because you see and believe, but more blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” And from those words sprung up an entire culture of faith, of not seeing yet fervently believing.

The first thirty something years of my life were spent aiming for this kind of faith. The urge to doubt would always be attributed to my human weakness or even to the wiles of the devil. But the deeper I went inside Christianity, the more discordant I would feel. Yes, there was always the heat of the moment in worship, and there were days when I felt that I was indeed in god’s loving arms. But these we’re also peppered by moments of doubt. I would always wonder if answered prayers weren’t just coincidences; if the faith I felt wasn’t just leveled up wishful thinking; or if the feelings I had for god’s presence weren’t just that — feelings.

Then a thought came to me: if I believe that god created me, then he must also be responsible for creating this machinery in me that makes me doubt and think and reason. And since this is so, why should I not then trust this thinking and reasoning of mine? What if all I ever believed in was just other people’s beliefs imposed upon society for generations? What if my doubts were the way to truth even if a lot of people (at least in my circles) didn’t seem to share them? Didn’t Jesus say that the gate was narrow and only a few people ever find it?

Ultimately, I was confronted with this question — would I be willing to let go of all I ever believed in my search for truth — yes, even Christianity, the bible and the concept of god that Christianity has imposed upon me? And for me, this was harder than it sounded. It was like being in the middle of the ocean hanging on to a piece of wood, without any land in sight, and deciding whether or not to let it go so I could swim faster to where I wanted to be. I also realized the irony of it — that it takes so much more faith to doubt than to believe. So I took a leap of faith and began my journey of doubt.

In that journey, I went to church less and less because church for me had just been a meaningless habit and the sermons were just rehashed ideas that I heard over and over throughout the years. Even the idea that “we go to church not to receive from god but to give him our worship” seemed stale because if god were everywhere, then I could most certainly worship him anywhere, even in the toilet. Conversely, I could be in church every Sunday with my mind wandering elsewhere and it wouldn’t amount to an iota of worship. So I decided to give up this false pretension and would not go to church unless I really wanted to, but not for reasons of appearances or habit or to “be a good influence” to my kids. (Yes, I got flak for this when my eldest daughter decided she didn’t want to go to sunday school also, but that’s another story).

I began to read books and listen to other teachings that were outside the norm of Christian propriety, and my horizons were widened and I realized that there were also a lot of people like me — much more than I thought there would be — and in the midst of my doubts, it was a reassuring thought. At this point, I also started my own blog ( where I compiled different stories that I found helpful, as well as my own reflections of my spiritual journey.

Of course, I could not avoid the whispers going on behind me — Christian friends, relatives and acquaintances talking about me, reading my blogs and saying that I was going astray — but I got most of this information third-hand. These people I heard about never approached me and asked me head-on what was going on with me — except for a couple of them — and I appreciated their willingness to listen and their acceptance (of me, not my way of thinking). Although hearing the words, “I’ll just pray for you,” is grating to my ears. I know they mean well but it just sounds so condescending — like “I know something you don’t. I’m someplace better than you, so I’ll just pray for you until you realize that.” I know they don’t mean it that way, but still, it does sound that way.

In the tail end of this journey (which means just about over a year ago), I discovered freethinking and a group called Filipino Freethinkers through a close friend of mine. And when I read about it, realized that this was me (I just didn’t know what it was called). Though this group has been closely linked to atheism, it actually isn’t and its members are a mixed bag of different believers and unbelievers. The basic creed of a freethinker is that you may have your own set of personal beliefs but you don’t go around imposing them on others as if it were THE truth. “To a freethinker, no idea is sacred; all truth claims are subject to skepticism, rational inquiry, and empirical testing.”

A freethinker embraces doubt as a way of life, for it is through doubt that one gets to really dig in and think about what one believes in — not just to swallow everything the church, priest, imam or rabbi says. One of my favorite quotes comes from Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest, who says “to doubt is infinitely more important than to adore. To question is infinitely more important than to believe.”

Some time ago I took a step of faith into doubt, and have never regretted it since. I feel more spiritually and holistically in tune with myself, my thoughts and my emotions than I have ever been before. There is less fear and guilt, and more love and compassion for me and for everyone around me.

Such is the beauty of doubt.

Posted in Personal, ReligionComments (2)

Atheistic Spirituality

spiritualityI once have a very pleasant tête-à-tête with a certain Canadian. This Canadian guy is a Methodist but what strikes me about him is his resentment with religion. Well, he never really said that religion pisses him off…but you can catch him on how he talks about religion. He keeps saying that religion is nothing more but symbols and practices. I can agree with his observations.

The conversation leads us to the subject of spirituality. He was surprised to learn that I am an atheist and keep asking me why I should label myself as an atheist. Well, that will be tackled in another subject. Anyway, he asked me if I believe that everything is all just about the physical reality and if I believe in the realm beyond the physical reality. Such question arises if the person asking question considers atheism is just mere materialism.

The concept of reality really varies but it’s not a matter of personal choice. Reality must be independent with human opinion, that is the rule, but sometimes human opinion creates his own “reality.” If you asked a person who believes in metaphysical mumbo-jumbos about reality, it would have been obvious for him to explain reality base on the belief system he accepted as true. He will describe a reality which includes parallel universes, invisible territories and palace in the sky. That is his reality. Some will even say to you that reality is just an illusion. Rationalist will say that reality is what the mind perceives and so on. So it seems “reality” vs. “what is real” is not really the same.

This Canadian guy seems not very familiar about the difference between abstract realities versus concrete realities. Well, he still clings with the supernatural so it’s an obvious reaction. He asked me “if everything is physical, what happened to love, emotions, beauty and pain?” He thinks that these are set from realities different and separated with the physical plane. Most people who are into esoteric teachings think that way. A kind of mind over matter stuffs. Abstract ideas are not independent to the material brain. You need a brain to perceive love, pain, beauty and emotion. These abstract things will not exist without the material brain and the material humans to interpret them.

He asked me if I derided the word “spirituality” and was surprising on my response. I have my spirituality and spirituality does not require a belief in a god or gods. Hmmmmm…maybe you are also been bolted from the blue with my answer?

You do not need to believe in a god to have a spirit. Ep! Ep! Ep! Not so fast! You think that when I speak about spirit, I am talking about this invisible, disemboweled, supernatural entities that comes out of a person when he died huh? Nope, the word “spirit” has other meaning.

The word spirit can also mean the fundamental emotional and activating principle determining one’s character; it’s not just about ghost. The best meaning I read so far about the word “spirit” is that the “spirit” is the “I” of the individual. It’s the one that makes him uniquely compares to everyone else.

Spirituality is a very misunderstood term. Most of us believe that the term spirituality means going to church every Sunday or spirituality is only achieved when someone read the Tanack, the Bible or the Quoran. Spirituality is a way of life. That every person is looking for happiness, you are entering the realm of spirituality. You are sitting alone in an empty room listening to your favorite music that is spirituality. As you are looking at your favorite artwork, eating your favorite food, talking to your friends or even doing your favorite house chore that is spirituality.

Spirituality transcends mere religion. It is a question of individual inspiration rather than external practices and rituals. It is the recognition of your identity as a conscious being. Spirituality does not necessary mean a search for the existence of a god. On the contrary, spirituality is more searching for the “I” on an individual. Spirituality is more of an inner affair. Spirituality is the search of your uniqueness as an individual. Religion tends to make spirituality from outside source. Priests and pastors teach their adherents that we can get spirituality from reading the Bible, going to church and doing good deeds. Some even says that spirituality is solely a religious term. Today believers look for “spirituality” at books written by men from the past, outside their time and space. It is not found on the pages of those books, nor is it found on what the priests or pastors discourse. It is found inside the person who is reading the book or the one who is listening to the priests. Spiritual experience comes from within you. It is your craving for knowledge, your desire for love, your experience and search for happiness. It seems that a person who connects spirituality on his religion is more lost than an atheist who accepts the wonder and beauty of his life.

Carl Sagan once said in his book “The Demon-Hunted World” that even science can be a profound source of spirituality. When we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that souring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is truly spiritual.

Spirituality is not mere faith. Unlike faith, spirituality is not an assurance of something or a hope for anything. Spirituality is embedded to anyone’s consciousness. It’s neither about Descartes’ dualism nor Christian tradition of the separation of mind and body. Years of research have already done away with it. Spirituality is about identity. The Buddhists even treat the subject of spirituality to be rigorously empirical not just a statement of metaphysics.

So now you know why an atheist like me still has a sense of spirituality.

Posted in Personal, ReligionComments (6)