Advice For Anyone Who Has Ever Doubted Their Religion

Mike McHargue and Michael Gungor of The Liturgists Podcast joined HuffPost Religion to talk about this very common feeling.
Can doubt lead to good things? Mike McHargue and Michael Gungor certainly think so.
Can doubt lead to good things? Mike McHargue and Michael Gungor certainly think so.
Utamaru Kido via Getty Images

America is increasingly becoming a land of religious doubters.

The latest Pew Religious Landscape Study suggests that a full 34 percent of American adults currently claim a religious identity that's different from the one they were raised in. If you count the three major Protestant traditions (evangelical Protestantism, mainline Protestantism and historically black Protestantism) as separate groups, the number of Americans who have switched religions rises to 42 percent.

Author and speaker Mike McHargue, also known as "Science Mike," and musician Michael Gungor are hosts of The Liturgist Podcast, a Christian program that is dedicated to serving the "spiritually homeless and frustrated." They were both raised in evangelical traditions, but had their faith shaken to the core when they reached adulthood -- to the point where they questioned the existence of God.

McHargue told The Huffington Post that he spent two years as a closeted atheist, teaching Sunday School and serving as a deacon. He said he was consistently rebuffed by his former religious community whenever he put out feelers to see if they would accept his doubt.

Still, both McHargue and Gungor believe that their doubt has actually transformed and enriched the way they think about faith. They said it's also exposed them to a whole new community of spiritual people who are convinced that the big questions about God and about life don't always have easy answers. They've shared their thoughts on the importance of doubt in Christianity with HuffPost Religion below.

What makes someone “spiritually homeless” and how do you think they get this way?

Science Mike: Some number of the "nones" or religiously unaffiliated people, they miss some form of spirituality, but can't find a home in organized religions. Perhaps because they have gay friends, or they're concerned with racism within organized religions, or they just don't like the anti-scientific platform that the most popular forms of Christianity in America tend to be associated with. Then, there are people who continue to go to church, but don't feel like they belong there. They feel that there's a bigger, more expansive and open view of love and society. Those people feel alone, but they don't realize that there are millions of other people who feel the same way.

The disciple Thomas didn't believe in the resurrection until he saw Jesus alive again with his own eyes. Did you think about Thomas during your period of doubting? What do you think of him now?

Science Mike: I looked at the model of Thomas, but as I started to view the New Testament as primarily mythic, he just became a literary figure. At first, I admired Thomas' doubt, but as my faith fell apart, I actually felt like Thomas gave in to belief too easily after seeing Jesus. Maybe his doubt wasn't deep enough.

Michael Gungor: I certainly see doubt in Thomas, but also in the Psalms and in Lamentations. The Psalms in particular have always informed my music. There's something really honest about them. A lot of, "Where are you, God?" And beyond that, there's a whole thread of the "dark night of the soul" in church history and in the lives of the saints. There are people throughout history who have wondered. I don't know how you can have a life of hope and faith without doubting, sometimes. I think faith requires doubt.

How can someone doubt well, or have a healthy relationship with doubt?

Science Mike: Stop feeling guilty about it. Stop feeling like you're wrong or shameful. When you look at the world, at the problem of evil, the idea of a loving God seems nutty. To doubt healthfully is to be comfortable with questioning these ideas, but at the same time, holding out some kind of hope. Faith isn't just a matter of believing great things, but wrestling with what it means to be a piece of the universe that can look at the dark night sky and say, "Why is all of this happening?"

Michael Gungor: I think also having a little bit of humility about it. Recognize your own subjective nature. You can certainly exercise your mind to see from other perspectives, but I think there should be an ever present humility. Doubt is a gift towards that end.

What would you say to someone who is beginning to doubt their faith tradition?

Michael Gungor: I was very upfront with my community. If they hadn't responded with open arms, I really doubt that I would have stuck around. I'm sure if they'd tried to proselytize me or tried to show me the error of my ways or preached scriptures at me, I wouldn't have taken it seriously. The thing that kept me part of the community through all of that was love. That's the only option for Christian communities dealing with people who have doubts. All of that stuff doesn't matter, the only real power that you have is love.

Science Mike: Depending on your faith background, you may have to be careful. You may actually stand at some form of risk, or your relationships could be strained as a result. I'd encourage the doubting person to start by finding one person who is safe, who you can be completely honest with. Then, find another person. Once you've brought your close loved ones into that circle, the next thing is to find a community that accepts you exactly as you are, that is challenging for you and that helps you become who you could be. That may look like a building with pews. Or it could be a bottle of wine and a good meal with five to six friends.

Was there a thought or mantra that you held onto during your period of doubt that you still think is useful to you now?

Science Mike: My mantra is, "I don't know." The need for certainty is a human addiction. It's built into our psychology. I have found that the greatest joy in life is learning to kick that habit, to let go of the need to be certain about everything.

Michael Gungor: My entire worldview is still drenched in doubt. Not a crippling doubt, just more of a childlike wonder. Sometimes, my daughter will dress up like a doctor and come up to me and give me a checkup. She'll say, "Daddy, I need to listen to your heartbeat." But she's a child with a medicine bag. That's kind of how I feel about all of humanity. We're just a bunch of children walking around with medicine bags and phones and briefcases and we feel pretty clever, we pretend to know what we're doing. We're all really just kind of lucky to be here, but we don't have that much figured out. So what I've learned is to hold any of my views pretty loosely and pretty pragmatically. So I think -- does this belief lead me to a place I don't want to go? Or does it help lead me into living a life of love, lead me into feeling more connected to my neighbor, to God, more connected to everything?

The Liturgists have dedicated two of their podcasts to how they lost and found their faith. Check it out for more on the subject.

*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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