The loss of faith is not an easy subject to discuss, though it arouses curiosity among the religious and non-religious alike. Moreover, personal experiences of losing faith differ greatly. I will make a distinction here between those relieved and those distressed by their loss in faith. This distinction serves little more than to filter those suffering in their faith (a ‘crisis in faith’) from those who are not. The purpose of this article is to reflect on a particular form of spiritual anguish.
The second cause is spiritual. Doubts of God, His qualities, of fate and other metaphysical realities, bombard the soul following unexpected or unwanted events, such as the loss of a relative, a job, or an opportunity (perhaps the greatest dramatization of this is Kieślowski’s Decalogue 1). Doubts may also result from unfilled needs or desires, such as the want of marriage or wealth. Irrespective of the claim, fate is on trial, and the jury is doubting God’s case. This, too, is a path well trodden. These individuals are told to find spiritual relief in submitting their will to God. Humility and gratitude are balms that cool the heart in times of distress. Gratitude especially, in ancient wisdom and in modern research, is a potion of great healing when ‘things simply aren’t going our way.’ The sufferer reviews his torment in a new light, recognizing the blessings embedded in all their experiences - good and bad. Crisis averted once again.
The final cause of distress in faith is far more complicated, bypassing the simplicity of cause-and-effect described in the first two cases: the intolerance of uncertainty, or anxiety. It lurks behind every thought like a phantom, and its impact in our lives is comprehensive. Uncertainty reaches far beyond the reach of faith, but that is where it is experienced the worst. The intolerance of uncertainty may in fact appear in the first two forms described above, but the crisis is neither remedied by intellectual clarification nor humility. It is as if, instead, these solutions only serve to exacerbate the suffering, provoking an endless cycle of pain and relief with increasing intensity. For the intellectual, the possible deconstruction of any argument or evidence for faith - as well as differences in opinion - becomes progressively disturbing. For the spiritual, he is overwhelmed by the possibility that God may reject his soul for his human and inevitable imperfections, or the prospect that God may never fulfill their deepest desire. Both cases share the inability to withstand uncertainty, the culprit behind the pain.
Individuals unable to withstand uncertainty, anguished by the inability to prove religion in absolutes, tormented by the imperfections of their soul or their fate, yet unable to imagine relief in the possibility of leaving their faith behind, suffer immensely. Compounding their tragedy is the inability for others - religious and non-religious alike - to see the cause of their religious crisis as anything but intellectual or spiritual. Instead, we constrain these poor souls to their suffering, entertaining the same vicious circles that have ensnared them for years.
There is absolutely no way to determine why someone is experiencing a crisis in faith. An individual may be struggling with their faith for the above-mentioned reasons, or others. Perhaps your distress is exacerbated by the social repercussions (i.e. rejection by friends, family) should the doubts become public. It must be said the religious communities can be quite stigmatizing of those who dare express religious doubts, irrespective if it's the source of profound suffering, intellectual curiosity or a means of controversy. But if the cause of your crisis is the intolerance of uncertainty, then know this: there’s no escaping this anguish.
Uncertainty is part and parcel of our humanity. If reality wasn’t uncertain enough (‘Am I a good psychologist?’), human beings have this absurd capacity to make certainties uncertain. Everything in your thoughts and perceptions can be put to question. ‘Is my mother really the woman who gave birth to me? What if she and others forged the certificates and tainted the blood tests? How can I really prove, with absolute certainty, that she is, in fact, my mother?’ Take note of Descartes who questioned everything in his existence. The only proof he had remaining that he exists was the very act of questioning his existence (hence is famous I think therefore I am]. We do not have to go so far.
You cannot escape uncertainty, nor can it be ‘treated’ with therapy or medication. Indeed, though the ultimate test is to find and live a life of purpose – which you may realize in the worship of God - you must also learn to withstand the uncertainty of the unknown. It is not easy of course, nor should it be. If you feel troubled by a crisis in faith, to me, that's all that matters. The object of my attention in this article is your distress, not your level (or possible non-existence) of faith. I have no interest in arguments concerning religion, so if your loss of faith is devoid of anguish, my writing is not meant for you. I merely extend my thoughts to those suffering in plain sight and offer myself as a witness, if only for a moment, to the doubts and anguish you experience. I urge you to find someone with whom you can share your anguish, and if all else fails, don’t hesitate to contact me either.