Atheism: More than Disbelief — The Power of Doubt in a World of Certainty

The great figures I love the most are ones who continue constantly to question. They may decide for sure that they don't believe in God, but they don't decide for sure that they really know what the universe is all about. They decide for sure that questioning is for them.

— Jennifer Michael Hecht on Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett
January 8, 2009

Doubters. Throughout history they have gotten under the skin of the “knowers” - those who have said “this I know, now and evermore” about any number of strongly held beliefs. The doubters have asked questions, poked, prodded, analyzed and asked more questions. Because the religious have often been openly afraid of doubt, even to the point of putting warnings against it in their holy books, atheists are often self-congratulatory about their ability to reason and question but atheists seem to be just as likely to hold certain beliefs as sacrosanct.

We all go through this process, repeatedly over the course of our lives. We believe something strongly, are later convinced otherwise and change our minds, then promptly forget how strongly we held that belief and harshly judge anyone who still shares the previously held belief.

It’s one thing to disbelieve something. Anyone can do that. I don’t think it’s special to say as an atheist that I don’t believe in a god. But we can do better, we can take it further. Atheists have the opportunity to model a life that is not afraid of doubt, and in fact embraces it, allowing us to engage with others and the world around us in a deeper way.

Part of being a decent human being is recognizing we could be wrong, holding our strong beliefs with an open hand, peppering our conversations with a certain humility. But doubt can be so much more, it can take us so much deeper into the human experience. Weaving doubt into the very tapestry of our lives can enrich our experiences and even strengthen our relationships.

What do you think? How do you define doubt? How do you use it to enrich your experiences?


Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Doubt: A History on Point of Inquiry (audio)

Doubt: A History is a substantial book but a worthy read.

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