Margaret Thatcher in 1990 brought the expression, “Don’t go wobbly” to the political table. At the time Saddam Hussein had invaded Iraq, Thatcher and George W. Bush were together in Aspen, Colorado discussing the ins and outs of a military response. As “W” appeared be equivocating, Thatcher told him, “This is not the time to go wobbly, George.” The opposite of, “wobbly,— going full speed ahead on a matter, throwing caution to the wind with utmost certainty–will always be appealing to many but the rigid certitude of such a stance often needs at least a tad of hesitation, a small dollop of what Shakespeare called, “the pauser reason.”
The relevance of this issue to our current political/cultural climate is obvious. And one dimension of this climate is the area of religion where “belief” is often held to so rigidly that many believers have found themselves “believing” themselves into a corner from which they can’t escape. This mind set avoids the wisdom of faith traditions that belief must be moderated with a bit of doubt here and there as when St Thomas prayed, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief,” or even Jesus when he prayed to his Father as the Crucifixion approached prayed, “Lord, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Following here is a lovely poem which speaks of the need of a touch of “wobbly” in a person’s faith:
Belief by Lia Purpura
wavy and particulate
other things or states
believe and can’t.
a wobble, I think
to take seriously
as a stance.
I recently saw a quip on Facebook that grabbed me, “Be a voice, not an echo.” I feel I have spent most of my life merely echoing what I have been taught and what I have been rewarded for thinking and believing. I have dutifully mirrored back what “they” have wanted in the interest of the approbation that is always promised for this behavior.
But, due to my own internal “non-sense,” I realized I wasn’t feeling the approbation in the first place. And I saw that I had been guilty of this spiritual “offense” and am finding that I live less in an echo chamber now. But notice I said “less.” We can never think with perfect clarity…unless we achieve deity; and if I ever have intimations of having done that I hope someone is nearby with a hypodermic of industrial strength Haldol! We always live and think in a context and we always have a human tendency to interpret things to fit with our old-brain, ego-template of the world. When this understanding comes to us, we can back off more readily with our “certainties” and allow some doubt to filter in, making room for others. I love that line from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets about the need to “live in the breakage, in the collapse of what was believed in as most certain and therefore the fittest for renunciation.”
I was taught in my youth that faith and doubt were incompatible. Now, I find they go hand-in-hand. I feel that faith without doubt is largely dishonest, or as Sartre described it, “Bad faith.”
And note what Unamuno had to say on the subject:
Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe in the God idea, not God himself. ~Miguel de Unamuno
Elif Shafak delves into faith in her book, Black Milk: On Writing, Motherhood, and the Harem Within. From her book, I think she would call herself a “Sufi” personally. But she makes a thoughtful distinction between atheism and agnosticism. She noted that she lacked the arrogance to outright reject the notion of God, as in atheism, but implied that she found herself agnostic at times. She described an agnostic as “befitting of people who were perpetually bewildered about things, including religion.” She described an atheist as “sure of his convictions, and speaks in sentences that end with a full stop. An agnostic puts only a comma at the end of his remarks…he will keep pondering, wondering, doubting.”
Shafak might describe me as an “agnostic.” Hmmm. But, I appear to have the gift of faith which perseveres through the tribulation of doubt. Though to reiterate on old refrain of mine, “I’ll take an agnostic ( or an atheist ) over the notion of blindly regurgitating what one has been indoctrinated with.”