Is it always bad to have self-doubt? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I was talking to someone recently who was struggling with some self-doubt and as I was talking, I had a thought about it. Yes. There are dangers of self-doubt, especially if it gets to the extent that you are paralyzed emotionally with fear. That being said, that doesn’t mean that it is also always bad.
If you’re on Facebook, think of someone you interact with who at least seems to have no self-doubt ever. I think especially of internet atheists. Of course, I mean a specific type of atheist by this. These are the atheists who spout nonsense like Jesus Mythicism or think that a simple meme constitutes a powerful argument. When I respond to these arguments, I usually get the laugh emoji which tells me this is someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. We often call it the Dunning-Kruger syndrome.
You know who doesn’t act like that? People who have self-doubt to some extent. People who are open to the possibility that they could be wrong and they want to make sure their positions are right. The more I look, the more it looks like the people who know the least think they know everything and the people that know the most think they don’t know anything.
At my seminary, I know of people in the PhD program who talk about impostor syndrome. These are people who are obviously highly intelligent to get in the program, and yet their fear is they will be found to be a fraud. I know before my debate with Dan Barker, I was nervous about how I would do, and so I read all that I could and I had a friend who did mock debates with me. When I got up there, I was in the zone and felt fine. (I also had this anxiety before my first and only funeral, my grandmother’s.)
For those of us with this kind of self-doubt, it pushes us to do more. We are pushed to study and work harder to make sure we are real. We are entirely open to the fact that we could be wrong on some points and we want to make sure that we are not.
I should say that a Christian who is sure they are not wrong in anything and cannot be is just as obnoxious to me if not more so than the atheist. There’s the old joke that our preachers aren’t always right, but they’re never in doubt. If only they were. I get super concerned when I meet a Christian who never doubts their faith. I rejoice when I meet one who does because I know they are taking it seriously.
The person who does not have this unfortunately has an invincible ignorance. They are making arguments that they think are humiliating to the Christian like myself. In a sense, they are, but not the way they think. I’m instead left wondering how they can argue so confidently an idea that is so dumb.
Also, I suspect this applies to any other situation. As a divorced man, I am working with a therapist in person from the counseling department of the seminary with learning social skills for dating. We all know a lot of men who have thought they were God’s gift to women only to hear the women wanting a return policy. If self-doubt pushes you to grow in an area, it can be a good thing. If it paralyzes you and keeps you from acting, that is a problem.
Doubt is not always an enemy. Sometimes, it’s a good sign. It can be a friend rather than an enemy.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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