The Journey of a Doubter

Do I consider myself a Christian? Do I believe Jesus is the son of God? Do I believe the Bible is the word of God? Do I believe in a God? Am I a nontheist, agnostic, atheist?

My many doubts began in the early 1960s—as a member of the Catholic Church and I began searching for answers. I explored Jesuit classes in Boston and attended Unitarian-Universalist Church services; my doubts persisted.

In 1976 I attended my first Friends General Conference (FGC) Gathering in Berea, Kentucky, and during that week had my "aha" moment. This, the Religious Society of Friends (unprogrammed), was where I spiritually belonged. In my gratitude for finding my spiritual home, I threw myself headlong into committees at FGC, New England Yearly Meeting, the quarterly meeting (Salem) and my monthly meeting (Beacon Hill). The doubts subsided.

With the arrival of the millennium year 2000, as I entered my 70s, the doubting questions about God, the Bible, and human- created religions resurfaced. I started attending the non-theism workshops at the FGC Gathering and was reassured by the presence of many questioners and doubters like myself. As I came out of my 2005 Gathering workshop, "Non-theism Among Friends," I was filled with many more questions than when I began. I headed for the bookstore, one of my favorite hangouts at the Gathering. On a table by the door, laying there waiting for me, was a lone copy of Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson, by Jennifer Michael Hecht (Harper, San Francisco, 2003). This was meant for me! Would this 500-page book help me resolve my doubts and identify what I believe?

Upon reading Doubt, I felt I was in the same place as other doubters—many of whom created historic change. This helped me realize it was okay to question, to doubt.

"Doubt," to quote author Hecht, "is part intellectual history and part showcase of ordinary people asking themselves the difficult questions that confront us all." Hecht celebrates the heroes of doubt—people such as Confucius, Socrates, Jesus, Hypatia, Galileo, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Emily Dickinson, and Margaret Sanger—"who drove history forward by challenging the powers and conventional wisdom of their time and heritage."

Hecht shows that the great doubters ponder the same ultimate issues as the great believers. She says, "We live in a meaning-rupture because we are human and the universe is not" and that both doubters and believers have to confront this rupture. She says that doubters bravely and inventively come up with their own answers to life’s big questions.

Today, my journey is one that challenges accepted religious beliefs—including the existence of God—and is one that is a progression of attempts to make sense of life, the natural world, and the self. Thanks to Hecht and her enlightening Doubt: A History, I no longer feel alone. I feel a kinship with the doubters of the world. The journey of this doubter continues.

Marcia L. Mason

Marcia L. Mason is a member of Burlington (Vt.) Friends Meeting.