At the New Yorker, staff writer Amy Davidson explores the place of faith in the politics of rape and abortion. While most Americans who oppose abortion are willing to make exceptions for rape, incest, and a woman’s endangered health, Richard Mourdock, Indiana’s Republican nominee to the Senate, recently stated that rape victims should be denied abortion access because when pregnancy rape occurs “it is something that God intends to happen.”
Mourdock’s position has been denounced in most God-fearing quarters, but the theology behind the statement deserves further consideration, because — minus the abortion implication, perhaps — it is the sort of faith expressed in Christian houses of worship every Sunday. Don’t most Christians subscribe to Mourdock’s belief that “God controls the universe”? Don’t most Christians agree that every human being is a gift of God and bears the image or likeness of God? If so, then we share Mourdock’s problem of squaring this view with reality here on earth, no matter where we stand on the abortion debate.
Peter Rollins explores the interplay between belief and unbelief on his blog this week, with a post titled The Problem with Unbelief is that it Enables Us to Believe Too Much. Rollins says “It is all too common for people to think that the problem with unbelief is that it stands in opposition to belief, that it is that which prevents us from believing. However the problem with unbelief lies precisely in the dialectically opposing position: namely, it supports and sustains belief. In short it enables us to continue in our belief. To abolish unbelief then is to short circuit belief and draw us into a different mode of being that exists beyond religious belief.”
Rollins goes on to explore the implications of belief and unbelief — not only in fundamentalist communities, but within liberal Christianity as well.
“Someone might, for instance, believe that the universe is in ultimate harmony and that all things work to the good. This seems like a beautiful belief, but it is only beautiful because it is sustained by unbelief. If we removed the unbelief and fully affirmed it we would realise that it isn’t too far from the views of people like Pat Robertson. We too would celebrate genocides, hurricanes etc. It is only while the belief is disbelieved that we can gain psychological pleasure from it without having to confront its horror. In short, we avoid the true nature of the belief as that which prevents us from fully embracing our human, all too human, situation.”
Meanwhile, Mormon blogger David Twede formally cut ties with the Church of Latter Day Saints after receiving a letter threatening him with excommunication for publicly expressed doubt about some of his Mormon beliefs. Twede explores problems with Mormon belief and historical accounts on the website Mormonthink. According to Twede, he was also under fire for criticizing Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Twede told the Salt Lake Tribune, “While I’ve been in serious doubt about the veracity of LDS claims for some time, I had become so disillusioned with how my situation was handled that I just wanted to be free.”
Of course, the LDS Church is not the only faith group wrestling with how to handle the doubts of its members. Earlier this fall, Bitch Magazine published Alison Sargent’s expose Life on Mars Hill–which she nick-named Mark’s Hill, so tightly is the fastest-growing megachurch defined by its founder and pastor, Mark Driscoll. First-person descriptions from women who expressed doubts or failed to comply with the church’s model of female submission paint a picture that resembles a cult more than a Christian church. According to the article, Mars Hill actively discourages young women from attending college, pursuing careers, or using birth control. Those who express doubt are pushed out of the church, and other members are forbidden to have any contact with them.
Preeminent Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann once told me that the great enemy of faith is not doubt but certitude. “Settled certitude easily leads to cynicism,” he warned, “because it grows cold. You have to sit with it when it no longer has any energy and it becomes a cover-up for the real life of the heart.”
A healthy church is one that responds to doubt with encouragement rather than fear. Theologian James Luther Adams wrote, “An unexamined faith is not worth having, for it can be true only by accident. A faith worth having is faith worth discussing and testing. To believe that a fence of taboo should be built around some formulation is to believe that a person can become God (or his exlusive, private secretary) and speak for him. No authority, including the authority of individual conviction, is rightly exempt from discussion and criticism. The faith of the free, if it is to escape the tyranny of the abritrary, must be available to all, testable by all (and not merely an elite), valid for all. It is something that is intelligible and justifiable.”