Cicero ended his study, “The Nature of the Gods”, by picking a winner among the doubters and the tradition is worth keeping up. The contest I want to judge however is not between various doubters but between the great doubting tradition and all the other traditions of religious thought. Theistic religions all have in them an amazing human ability; belief. Belief is one of the best human muscles. It can be very good. The religions are all beautiful and horrible, filled with feasts, sacrifices, miracles, wars, songs, lamentations, stained glass, onion matzahs and intense communal joy. Everyone kneeling, everyone rocking, everyone silent, everyone nose to the floor.
The religions have also been the energy behind much generosity, compassion and bravery. The story of doubt however has all this too, it also has a relationship to truth that is rigorous, sober and when necessary, resigned. And it prizes this rigorous approach to truth above the delights of belief. Doubt has its own version of comforts and challenges. From doubt’s beginnings it has advised that if you create your own desires and model them after what you actually experience, you can be happy. Accept that we are animals, but ones with special problems. And that the world is natural, but “natural” is just an idea that we animals have in our heads. Devote yourself to wisdom, self-knowledge, friends, family, and give some attention to community, money, politics and pleasure.
Know that none of it brings happiness all that consistently. It’s best to stay agile, to keep an open mind. Anyway, if you live long enough you’d likely find yourself believing something that you’d never believe today, or disbelieving. In a funny way, the one thing you can really count on is doubt. Expect change, accept death, enjoy life. As Marcus Aurelius explained, “the brains that got you through the trouble’s you have had so far, will get you through any troubles yet to come”.
Throughout history many great thinkers have argued that the study of these questions could give life meaning, grace and happiness. Many heartily suggest, indeed insist that doubters should do some practices, some therapy, some art to tune themselves to a manageable relationship with a universe that very possibly has no humanness at all. Doubters in the modern world have all sorts of philosophies and communal experiences in which to engage and participate. And it is not uncommon for doubters to compose a sacred but secular for themselves out of reading philosophy of some sort, taking part in psychotherapy, art and poetry, meditation, dance, secular solemnities and festivals.
The only things such doubters really need that believers have is a sense that people like themselves have always been around, that they are part of a grand history. I hope it is clear now that doubt has such a history of its own and to be a doubter is a great old allegiance deserving quiet respect and open pride for its longevity, its productivity, its pluck, its warmth, its service to friend and foe and its sometimes ruthless commitment to demonstrative truth. I give the palm to the story of doubt.