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Dubito ergo sum

Last week the New York Times posted a short piece by Phillip Lopate about the relationship between doubt and the writing of essays. Lopate argues that the essay is a literary form especially hospitable to uncertainty. The essay is, or can be, exploratory, provisional, even self-contradictory. The word itself suggests an experiment (the French word essayer means "to try"). "The essays job is to track consciousness; if you are fully aware of your mind you will find your thoughts doubling back, registering little peeps of ambivalence or disbelief," Lopate writes. He cites Montaigne's motto "What do I know?" and laments that high school students are now encouraged to write as if they were more sure of themselves and their opinions than they have any reason to be.

Especially when it comes to the development of young writers, it is crucial to nudge them past that self-righteous inveighing, that shrill, defensive one-track that is deadly for personal essays or memoirs, and encourage a more polyphonic, playful approach. That may be why a classic essay technique is to stage an inner debate by thinking against oneself.

Doubtfulness is not only a literary virtue; it is a way of life, says Lopate:

Doubt is my boon companion, the faithful St. Bernard ever at my side. Whether writing essays or just going about daily life, I am constantly second-guessing myself. My mind is filled with yes, buts, so whats? and other skeptical rejoinders. I am forever monitoring myself for traces of folly, insensitivity, arrogance, false humility, cruelty, stupidity, immaturity and, guess what, I keep finding examples. Age has not made me wiser, except maybe in retrospect.

So a keen sensitivity to ambiguity is an unambiguously good thing, though Lopate acknowledges that it doesn't always lead to modesty: "The only danger, then, is becoming smug about ones capacity for doubt the essayists occupational hazard, to which I periodically succumb."

I wish Lopate had made more of this last point, since there is often a good deal of preening and self-congratulation involved in contemporary expressions of doubtan unbecoming confidence in the moral and intellectual superiority of those who are capable living with all those "yes, buts." It is one thing to register doubt, or to explore the best arguments against one's own beliefs. It is another to hold up one's exquisite doubtfulness for display. Uncertainty is of course part of the human condition, but it is no more a virtue than certainty. It can be the product of intellectual humility, but it can also be the product of pride: "Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men. I will not settle for easy answers." Nietzsche, the most eloquent champion of uncertainty, wanted nothing to do with intellectual humility. And who would accuse him of it? For him, pride and courage went together, and real courage was about the ability to endure uncertainty. It was not only that he refused to settle for easy answers; he wouldn't settle, full stop. Settlement was evidence of sloth and cowardice.

The question for a person of faith is: How do you make good use of your doubts without defining yourself by them? Doubt can be proof of engagementproof that one is paying attention to the way things actually turn out rather than just letting expectation determine experiencebut doubt can also be an excuse for disengagement. If you'll never commit yourself until you're absolutely certain, not only of what you believe now but of what you'll always believe, then you'll never commit yourself to anything. You'll neither make promises nor accept them. In that case, doubt will have made your life smaller by closing it off from the many experiences that are available only to those who first make a decision. The best way to make use of doubt is to try to settle it, and you do that by testing belief, not suspending it.

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If Socrates had written anything he might be known as the first essayist. Supremely confident that he knew that he knew nothing and neither did anyone else, in the end that got him killed. (Maybe a little touch of hubris would be a good thing? Just maybe? Maybe?)

"My own peculiar task in my Church and in my world has been that of the solitary explorer who, instead of jumping on all the latest bandwagons at once, is bound to search the existential depths of faith in its silences, its ambiguities, and in those certainties which lie deeper than the bottom of anxiety. In those depths there are no easy answers, no pat solutions to anything. It is a kind of submarine life in which faith sometimes mysteriously takes on the aspect of doubt, when, in fact, one has to doubt and reject conventional and superstitious surrogates that have taken the place of faith." Thomas Merton.To quote from my favorite philosopher:"Sometime I like to put sands of doubt into the oyster of my faith." Brother Cadfael

Hi, Matthew:I like the Draft series a lot, but I thought Lopate's entry was weak. 1) I prefer to think of essay more in the sense of assay. Try/assay/essay something as gold is tried/weighed/tested. Pick a topic, any topic, and assay it: perform a qualitative analysis of it. Put it on the scales and do a quantitative analysis. If the topic is examined honestly, there will be no doubt at the end.2) I prefer Montaigne's "It is myself I portray" to "What do I know" as a start-up for an essay. He was not doubtful. Worrying that high school kids are too sure of themselves is itself "deadly." I can't think of a worse approach to teaching writing than trying to convince the writer she should monitor herself "for traces of folly, insensitivity, arrogance, false humility, cruelty, stupidity, immaturity." The best way to learn to write personal essays is to read personal essays. The New Yorker would be a good starting point.3) You say, The best way to make use of doubt, then, is to try to settle it, and you do that by testing belief, not suspending it. I agree. Trust your instincts. If there's a question, the answer is probably NO.

"Uncertainty is of course part of the human condition, but it is no more a virtue than certainty."I think it is, actually, because it leaves the door open for additional information, for updates in belief.Doubt doesn't necessarily keep people from making commitments, it just makes making those commitments an act of courage .... that's what existentialism is all about.

Interesting post - so, let's walk through an exercise from an earlier post on rewriting history via Douthart (my response to his opinion piece can best be summarized as "laments that high school students are now encouraged to write as if they were more sure of themselves and their opinions than they have any reason to be.")Ms. Steinfels asked that folks respond and find the *errors* in Douthart's opinion piece and claims. Among 21 items that were outlined by me, you focused on one - decreases in major denominations.Okay - let's start with waht Douthart stated in the actual article:"There are millions of lapsed Catholics, but the church still has a higher retention rate by far than most mainline Protestant denominations. Indeed, it is difficult to pick out a major religious body where the progressive course urged by so many of Ratzingers critics has increased vitality and growth."My response (p) claimed that Douthart's claim was a false allegation. You *doubted* that in these words: "Is there anything else in the studies you cite that would support your claim that Douthat is wrong about mainline Protestantism having dwindled much faster than the U.S. Catholic Church?"There were then a series of responses or *doubts* (to cite Lopate). Of course, what was assumed is that we agreed upon the meaning of mainline Protestantism ....e.g. Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopalian, Baptists, etc. Provided any number of links to data and surveys that could provide answers to the *doubts*.....but, documentation indicated that data is inherently subjective; surveys are unreliable, and even data studies have to be based upon less than organized ways of gathering data. This link -http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/files/2011/08/ARIS_Report_2008.pdfprovided reliable data to show that *older* mainline Protestant denominations suffered decreases - in some cases, less than the size of the 3rd largest group which were non-practicing catholics. If you included pentocostal churces/attendance/growth as mainline Protestantism, then Douthart's claim can not be supported from the data. And you added the phrase - *more rapidly* - which again is open to how you parse the data; what is included or not in *mainline* denominations.So, in terms of *doubt* - guess it comes down to who doubts and that the *doubting process* is subjective. OTOH, agree significantly that doubting "is not only a literary virtue; it is a way of life"You never responded to the last data link or observations which brings another of Lopate's comments:".....often a good deal of preening and self-congratulation involved in contemporary expressions of doubtan unbecoming confidence in the moral and intellectual superiority of those who are capable living with all those yes, buts. It is one thing to register doubt, or to explore the best arguments against ones own beliefs. It is another to hold up ones exquisite doubtfulness for display. Uncertainty is of course part of the human condition, but it is no more a virtue than certainty. It can be the product of intellectual humility, but it can also be the product of pride"As I stated in the series of post repeatedly, what I stated were *claims* only in response to Douthart's claims and in choosing to respond to Ms. Steinfels' challenge I clearly said - *okay, I will take your bait*....my inadequate effort to do what you end this post with:"Doubt can be proof of engagementproof that one is paying attention to the way things actually turn out rather than just letting expectation determine experiencebut doubt can also be an excuse for disengagement. If youll never commit yourself until youre absolutely certain, not only of what you believe now but of what youll always believe, then youll never commit yourself to anything."Guess we each have our own way of *testing*!!

Supremely confident that he knew that he knew nothing and neither did anyone else, in the end that got him killed

Kierkegaard had a great line about there being a qualitative difference between a Socrates who says that all I know is that I can know nothing and young person beginning school saying the same thing to justify his or her own indolence.

While not exactly the same, I have always been consoled by the old contemplative notion that what we can say of God must be balanced against what we cannot say. This tension is at least as old as the Dionysian tension between the "names of God" and the "mystical theology." John of the Cross taught us that we can expect to pass through the dark night of the senses and then the dark night of faith.

"The question for a person of faith is: How do you make good use of your doubts without defining yourself by them? Doubt can be proof of engagementproof that one is paying attention to the way things actually turn out... The best way to make use of doubt, then, is to try to settle it, and you do that by testing belief, not suspending it.**********How does one "test belief" - especially those of the christian faith? There is no way to "test" any of it - one cannot do a test that "proves" that Jesus was also God. Nor that he "rose from the dead" and was "conceived by the Holy Spirit". etc, etc. There is no way to test even the basic premise that there is a God. It would be interesting, would it not, to use modern scientific methods to determine Jesus' "paternity" but, alas, there is no material to test.Is it time to reinterpret the words of the Nicene creed? Many in the pews either refrain from saying all of it, or cross their fingers in the manner of schoolchildren because they have doubts about the creedal statements taken literally (as they were catechised to do) - statements which cannot be tested, and so the doubts will remain. Does it not make sense to suspend beliefs (within the context of faith) that cannot be tested? Or does one accept that these beliefs cannot be tested - and thus one has a choice to suspend belief or to "take it on faith."

Michael Sean Winters and Oswald Sobrino deserve thanks for uncovering Mario Vargas LLosa's essay on the resignation of Pope Benedict (http://bit.ly/14y0j4w), which makes awfully good good use of an agnostic's doubts.

Anne,I think testing is much broader than 'modern scientific methods' which are limited to what can be observed and measured today. Much of human history, oral traditions and writings, cannot be substantiated by modern scientific methods with any degree of certainty.

I thought Anne raised a good question, and would like a more fleshed out articulation of how to test belief in what may be beyond observation.

Several "doubts" in Vargas Llosa's article are questionable, imho. One is this: "In this way, we can understand better his reluctance to accept the chair of St. Peter that was imposed on him eight years ago and to which, as we know now, he never aspired."Do "we" know this? How? What makes MVL think JR was reluctant to be pope? If he didn't want the burden the Escriva group "imposed on him," why didn't he say no, and let someone have it who wanted it?And what about this: "But it must be noted that thanks to him the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the Mexican from a satanic rulebook, finally received an official punishment from the center of the Church and that the group founded by him, the Legion of Christ, was declared to be under reorganization?" Why wasn't "the group" disbanded? Suppressed? What has the "reorganization" accomplished?Etc.

I agree with Abe. Anne does raise a good point, and I doubt I can give it the kind of answer it deserves here. As Bruce says, we believe many things that we haven't tested scientifically, and some that we cannot test scientifically. Most of the distant past is like this: we have records, which are a kind of evidence, but not the kind that you look for in a laboratory. But it isn't just history that's like this. A husband believes his wife loves him. Can he prove it? Certainly not in the way that medical reseachers prove something with clinical experiments. Nor could he prove in that way that what he means by love even exists. And yet I think it still makes sense to talk about testing such beliefs. Christian faith, like the belief that someone loves us, gives us a way to interpret our experience. Is it the best way? By trying to answer that question, we test our belief. We can always choose not to answer that question; we can assume, to save ourselves trouble, that it's already answered. We can deliberately stifle our doubts. (This is what the existentialists, following Nietzsche, would call "bad faith.") Trying to answer the question requires two things: first, that we pay adequate attention to our own experience, not ignoring or denying the parts of it that would seem to challenge our faith; and second, that we do justice to rival interpretations of that experience, trying to imagine what it would be like to understand our lives in a radically different way.

How does one test belief especially those of the christian faith? There is no way to test any of it one cannot do a test that proves that Jesus was also God. Nor that he rose from the dead and was conceived by the Holy Spirit. etc, etc. If a belief is put on one side of a scales and balanced with a belief of other religions, a determination or an educated guess can be made. E.g., if one's god was born to a virgin who had been overshadowed, and several other gods were conceived and born in a similar fashion, it becomes easier/harder to believe the story.And if one's god makes similar demands that other gods make -- animal/human sacrifice, a special caste of go-betweens, e.g,, the scales will balance. And if one's god comes from a similar background that gave rise to other deities -- thunder, e.g., that's another factor to consider. It's interesting, imho, to observe how people who lived at the time when old gods were replaced by the Christian God handled the transition. A ruler in Iceland, e.g., at the end of the viking period, believed in Jesus Christ, but still sacrificed and appealed to Thor for sea voyages and other important matters.

A brief and very small comment on a big topic. It's one thing to doubt whether some sentence p is true or not. It's a different thing to have doubts about oneself or other people, especially people who are important to oneself. It is a third thing to have doubts about whether some project or bet etc., that I, or you, is inclined to make is prudent, wise, etc.I would be foolish, I believe, if, after all these years, I doubt that my wife loves me. I would be wise to doubt whether some factual claims about the national economy are well founded. I might well be cowardly if I refrained from helping people in need because I have doubts about whether all of them really want my help or would be grateful for it.

Maybe there's some element of belief that has to do with choice. We just can't prove completely everything we do believe but it's difficult to go through life doubting all the things that cannot be proved, so we "act as if" many of them are true or not true. Kant wrote that the existence of God could not be proved (or disproved) but he said that most people do make a subconscious choice about whether God exists and that can be seen in how they live - they sort of "vote" with their actions. For most of my life I couldn't believe in God because I couldn't prove to myself he existed. Eventually I realized that even though I doubted he existed, I actually acted as if he did .... I would feel betrayed somehow whenrever something went terribly wrong, for instance, or I'd feel a sense of awe and joy when looking up at the stars at night, etc.

The title of this thread suggests that doubt is more than an obstacle to be overcome, but is deeply implicated in the very nature of human beings. I think that is right and, still more, that it is an aspect of all life.Rocks have a stolid certainty. "I'll just sit here for a million years, and let rain, heat, and lichens have their way." Plants face limited alternatives. "Is it better to grow straight up to the light or to branch out laterally?" Birds and beasts ask many questions and answer them more or less well. "Is that a leopard or a shadow over there?" "Is his tail long and beautiful enough?" "Where do we find the best nectar around here?" Life and death questions, but going no further than their own answer.We're apparently the only ones who ask how and why and then set out to answer those questions. In early days, it was "How does lightning work?" "How do plants grow?" "Why do children resemble their parents?" Good questions that we probably still haven't got to the bottom of. They are what scientists call "fruitful," meaning that each tentative answer opens up new lines of inquiry.That's a very good thing, if we can just get over the illusion of finality. The End of History. The End of Physics. The End of Faith. What a small world it would be if wewe!could figure it out. But no, at both ends of the cosmic scale, the inconceivably large and the small, we encounter mysteries stranger than anything that has come before. Even here in the middle, we have a sound theory about the diversity of life but still mostly speculation about its origin. And the citadel of our own brains is still untaken. Will it show at last that we are one substance or two?Our own records often raise questions of original error, faulty transmission, or current misinterpretation, to say nothing of deliberate lies. False prophets probably outnumber the true.[Caution: clashing metaphors ahead] I have begun to suspect that we will never be able on our own to burrow down to the core of reality and find the Answer. We are playing a game with imperfect information, more like bridge than chess. If God placed us in this situation, it may be that he wants us to seek him in the face of doubt and beyond reason. If not God, we must still set a course in a boundless sea.

I think we tend to under-estimate animal thought processes ... http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130207-can-animals-imagine/print

Some people think that metaphysics plus a bit of empirical data can prove the existence of a creator or an orderer of the whole of reality. But metaphysics is generally scorned these days, so few people know it well, so most people look to science for answers to ultimate questions. Unfortunately, as some important non-believers are starting to realize (see Nagel) science can't answer all questions. So what are the seekers to do?As I see it, the seekers can take page from the sciences, viz., the notion of a paradigm, and use it to find a reasonable answer, if not an extremely sure one. A paradigm is a hypothesis that best explains the patterns in the world as we find them -- not perfectly, but it is the best available hypothesis. (Notice, I didn't say the "plans" as we find them, I said *patterns*. At this point seekers can't rationally say whether or not there is a planner ("Orderer") because all they have found are patterns . But they do see patterns. Every scientific law is a pattern, every form of a work of art is a pattern, etc. It seems to me that many of the seekers (including me sometimes) rely on a sense of what *fits* the overall pattern of the universe. We are all, I think, inclined to a coherence theory of truth when it comes to matters of fact. (This is a very Humean notion -- truth = the sum total of propositions that are consistent with each other. It is the only kind of truth, actually that a great scientific paradigm has until there is a new scientific paradigm.)In other words, using the notion of a paradigm, what some of us find is a grand, over-arching paradigm -- an apparently ordered universe -- which goes past even scientific paradigms. Religious belief is acceptance of a grand paradigm that goes past the data of science, while (for some of us) including that data too. This acceptance of the best hypothesis that is consistent with the facts is no more an unscientific or anti-scientific procedure than scientists' own acceptance of paradigms. Different believers find different paradigms. For the Christian, the Nicene Creed is included in the Christian paradigm. For the Hindus the Vedas are closer to the truth, and so on. This results in many different concepts of God. Most believers (though not the materialist pantheists) accept a transcendent, spiritual reality as the best hypothesis to explain the matters of fact we encounter. Most often this transcendent reality is One who in some way knows and cares about people.And then there is some testimony of some of the mystics of the world's great religions, which can also be added to the paradigm. And, I would say, there are also sometimes little indications in our own lives that God does provide, shall we say, tailor-made graces that simply can't be accounted for by physics and mathematical probabilities. I mean the tiny miracles of grace, if you will. Further sometimes otherwise sane people even testify to big miracles, which, I think, cannot be dismissed out of hand. Yes, there are many reasons (much evidence) for the existence of God. But none of them is absolutely certain, and that is why we are said to have *faith* in God. Still, there is what Newman called "a convergence of probabilities" -- *sets* of patterns which alone cannot be called "planned" but which, taken as a group, indicate that the best overall hypothesis is that there is a Planner of it all.

I agree, Gerelyn, that animals are capable of solving many practical problems, including some that baffle us. I just don't think that there is much evidence yet that they spend a lot of time on ultimate questions. Maybe in their much longer histories they have found them to be unprofitable.

Sorry, I meant Crystal. Darn typos!

"Trying to answer the question requires two things: first, that we pay adequate attention to our own experience, not ignoring or denying the parts of it that would seem to challenge our faith; and second, that we do justice to rival interpretations of that experience, trying to imagine what it would be like to understand our lives in a radically different way."I am not sure, but I think Mr. Boudway states what I believe more clearly than I could have written. I would add a qualifier to "my own experience." I would say my own experience of seeking first the kingdom of God which Jesus announced is among us, even if it is not completely fulfilled here on earth as it is in heaven. My experience of meaning, my experience of giving and receiving love, my experience of finding meaning in my suffering of picking up my cross, my experience of miracles when attempting to live what most consider an impractical idealism, etc. etc. etc.Thanks for the post. I especially appreciate your insight about the pride some have in their existentialism, of their living with their doubt.

P.S. As a teacher I think you are correct about the error of h.s. students being asked to give reports as if they are experts. But why stop at that level. The same thing is true of undergraduate reports and even many doctoral dissertations.

Matthew: You wrote: "Uncertainty is of course part of the human condition, but it is no more a virtue than certainty. It can be the product of intellectual humility, but it can also be the product of pride."I count four propositions here. I wondered whether you--or your readers here--are certain of any of them.

Thank you for your comment, Joseph (9:08am). I have reached a stage in my own life where there is no certainty about anything in it, including about the validity of the four propositions you cite. It is a very uncomfortable place to be. Doubt is my ever present companion, it shadows all my days. Doubt about all that I was certain of for most of my life. I live with this doubt, but I can't say I'm "proud" of living with it. I have no choice - doubt has taken the place of certainty in virtually all important facets of my life, especially in my faith life. The exchange of certainty for doubt was not something I chose. I believe in God, because as Ann Olivier notes, it seems (to me) the only reasonable explanation for the existence of the universe and all that is in it. And the last smidgen of the faith I once had makes me "believe" that God is good - the essence of goodness. Defining God beyond that is beyond me. "God is the creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen". That I do not doubt. But, perhaps I "believe" this because I want to believe it, to hold on to the last bit of faith remaining. It seems (to me anyway) that the mystics - of all religious traditions - may provide the best spiritual path back to faith for those suffering from religious doubt. Creeds and dogmas - not so much.I much appreciate this post and the comments thread. All of you give me much to reflect on. Thank you.

Anne --Could you tell us what it is about the other/many/some dogmas that turn you off so? There are some moral teachings I think need revision, and certainly some of the practices of us Catholics need change. But what's the problem with the dogmas? Are they or some of them just downright wrong? Or insulting somehow? Or simply inadequate? Or irrelevant? Or incomprehensible? Or all of the above?? Or what?So many people complain about them I'd really like to have a better understanding of why.

Ann, would that the comment box be pages long! The only dogma that I have come to believe is "insulting" in a way is the one on Mary's perpetual virginity. The RCC's interpretation of the bible's frequent and clear references to Mary's other children stretches the linguistic issues and seems to be somewhat twisted, perhaps to support its views that virginity is a superior state, ontologically, thus demeaning the holiness of married life and married sexual love. Mary, in the eyes of these men, should not be "tainted" with experiencing normal married life. There are many church fathers to thank for this view, I suppose, not least Fr. K's favorite preacher, St. Augustine. However, the bigger problems are the basics of the creed - the nature of Trinity, the incarnation - just about everything that is mentioned after "seen" and "unseen" (which is what we still say in the Episcopal church that we now attend). But I stop right there and don't say the rest of the creed. We attend church because it's important to my husband. I would be a "none" or "SBNR" otherwise. But it is a great little church with two great priests - one of whom is a woman and that experience is a revelation all its own. Even as a docile young parochial school child in the 50s, I had trouble with three teachings: the Trinity - in spite of Sister's attempts to make it make sense by using a shamrock as a visual aid, EENS - which we were taught as Truth with a capital T (ONLY Catholics are eligible for heaven) and now labeled "heresy" I believe, and papal infallibility. "But, Sister, the pope is a human being. Only God is infallible". (Later, when I learned about Vatican I and Pius IX, I congratulated my young self for perceiving the untruth of that teaching at age 9). I learned, though, to stop asking questions which were not appreciated. I was ready to leave the church while a student in a Catholic college. But, a theology prof spent hours with me explaining the significance of Vatican II, the hope it promised, and I stayed. I suppressed questions and doubts for most of my life, relying on Vatican II's seeming support of "primacy of conscience." About four years ago, a wall came down and simply cut me off from "believing" the statements of the creed "on faith." I don't know why this happened. And I know of no way to "test" beliefs as suggested by Matthew B. Having doubt and living with it is nothing to be "proud" of - it is very uncomfortable and depressing actually. Maybe all those buried doubts from 3rd grade on finally broke through and I simply had to face the fact that I really did not know if I believed much of it, or any of it and had just gone along because I did love "the church" - the people, the traditions, the community, the shared experiences of growing up Catholic. I am not a scholar as are so many who comment on these threads, only an avid reader. Maybe my years of (very superficial) study of church history and development of doctrine during the first 1000 years (both informal reading and formal coursework), biblical scholarship (only books for non-scholar readers, not academic texts), the writings of some of the early church fathers, etc brought these doubts to the surface so that I could no longer ignore or suppress them. Maybe being totally disgusted with the hierarchy that enabled priests to molest kids, a pope who refused to hold bishops accountable, and a church which teaches officially that women are subservient to men by "divine will", etc. wore me down and allowed the underlying doubts on dogma to surface. They finally just burst through the barriers I had built to contain them, to avoid facing them. I don't know if these dogma are "right" or "wrong". Nobody does because it's not possible for any human being to know these things. (It didn't help the cause of "believing" the creed's dogmas to learn the history of the Council of Nicea either). They cannot be "tested' empirically. They are purely a matter of faith. Are some irrelevant? Perhaps - especially the Marian dogmas. Selective reliance on "Tradition" is one of the Catholic church's weakest points when it comes to its demands for "internal assent" to teachings. My interest in religion and spirituality also led me to an (equally surface) study of other religions, especially eastern religions. I have barely dipped my toes into those riches. As others have done, I could not help but note certain common themes in the teachings of the world's "great" religions, as well as the many common spiritual practices, all of which have survived for thousands of years. Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism are even older than Christianity. Like Christianity, all have mystics who are primarily teachers of the spiritual "way". Dogma and doctrine had become obstacles in the spiritual journey (for me, at least for now. Doubt has triumphed. But the mystics and spiritual writers don't focus on those and so I focus on them, especially Christian spiritual writers, as I also have come to believe that the teachings of Christianity embody all the "best" of the teachings of all the great religions - the most "complete" body of teachings are in the gospels. So, I do believe in the teachings of the gospels. I do not know that I believe that Jesus was God incarnate.

If anyone here knows of resources available on the statements in the creed that might go back to square one and re-explain the thinking underlying them at an adult level - but one that does not require an advanced degree in theology - please feel free to recommend them. For me, it's back to basics and I need more than a shamrock.