The Importance of Doubt

What do Metallica and Marvin Gaye Have in Common?

I don’t need the second week of Easter to shine a light on Doubting Thomas and all “ye of little faith.” Questioning faith is a year-round practice for me, and one I recommend to stay aligned with God. The hearty congregation of our beautifully edgy Greenpoint Reformed is rife with passionate doubters. In fact, a welcome sign on our front gate invites Doubting Thomases in. It’s not ironic. It’s not a challenge. Make yourselves comfy.

From the music we pick (and I’ll get to that in a minute) to the testimonies we share to the sermons by our pastors, our church is concerned with the honesty of our human condition. The real, honest answers to some of the tough questions can leave one feeling lost, but that’s alright. Being lost in a wilderness is essential to every person’s odyssey. The Bible is full of stories of people getting lost and then finding their way.

Sometimes no answers, only questions are necessary, even blissful. The state of “not-knowingness” can be meditative. Metallica’s frontman James Hetfield had some insight to this in his recent discussion with Marc Maron on the WTF podcast (January 9, 2017). Hetfield discussed his abused childhood in a rigidly Christian Scientist family, then started by explaining how his songs are fueled by his despair and distrust of authority, particularly of the religious variety:

“If I can get it out of my head, it makes it better. Better out than in! If I can put it into a song and question it… You know, I have no answers. I got a lot of questions. When someone identifies with your question, it’s better than them telling you the answer: ‘I identify with that question. I don’t know! Let’s find out together, or, let’s just ponder it together.’ That’s a higher power showing up. When the fans understand that question, I feel ok. That’s all I really want – is to feel ok, to feel validated and feel like I belong, and that’s what these lyrics do.” –James Hetfield

Maron had another great discussion recently with religious scholar Reza Aslan. They touched on atheism and how many of the people who consider themselves atheist actually conform to many of the same thought-structures and values that religious followers do. Anti-religion becomes a religion of sorts.

Humans have been at work for thousands and thousands of years to arrive at a definition of faith. Ultimately, faith is your own personal relationship with and definition of God. The only way to figure out your own definitions is to start asking questions, to think critically and know that those definitions will probably keep changing.

Critical thinking is one of the most important skills to develop–for a faith journey, a political perspective, everything. To do it, you need an internal dialog like a whittling knife to carve coherent form out of globs of information and nonsense.

The Milton Street Revival Band covered Marvin Gaye’s song “What’s Going On” at GR this past winter. The song encourages listeners to look and see the reality around them instead of just judging or blaming from a distance. It is important to ask, to look, to step outside of our comfort zone.

Although the song is 46 years old, I chose to bring it into church because it still feels very relevant to now. In 2017 many people are wondering what has become of the United States and much of our world. Decisions are being made in haste by our citizens and our leaders. Some claim to have “all the answers” to clear up problems but is it true? And what ramifications do their answers imply? Whether if you voted for Trump or not, what is the way forward? This is a good time to question authorities and think very critically about the onslaught of information hitting us on a daily basis.

Jesus had doubts and questions too. In fact, his ability to question the reality around him was what defined him. The Jewish and Roman order of his day was the authority of the land but he recognized only the authority of God. That required tremendous clarity and bravery.

Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’” (John 20:28-29)

The lesson imparted by Thomas’ doubt and revelation is that there is nothing wrong with doubt as long as you don’t give up your search for answers, to challenge what you think you know.

Music as social protest, like Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On or Metallica’s work, serves as a great gateway to critical thought, and it relates to the spirit – allowing questions to guide us without answers, to be open.

Music will always be a place where I can open my mind to alternate realities – just to the safety of questioning, and feeling less alone by questioning together with my favorite artists. Great art is: great answer = great question = great answer = great question.

The Milton Street Revival Band, lead by Music Minister Jason Benjamin, performs music services at Greenpoint Reformed Church every Sunday at 11AM.