How Don Quixote Taught Me That it’s Okay to Doubt My Faith

I’ve got a guest post on doubt at Jason Boyett’s website today. Jason recently released O Me of Little Faith. It’s an unvarnished look at the doubt and skepticism that keep attaching themselves to his faith and how he came to terms with these unwelcome guests.

I thought I’d post my contribution to Besides the Bible, a book by the editors at the Burnside Writers Collective with guest contributions from folk like myself, Steve Taylor, Donald Miller, David Dark, Phylis Tickle, and Susan Isaacs and many others. This essay develops the ideas I tossed out at Jason’s website in more depth.

Don Quixote is credited by many as being the first Western novel of the modern period. With the exception of the Bible few books can rival the impact that Don Quixote has had over varied cultures in multiple centuries. The Nobel institute went as far to declare this novel “The Greatest Book of All Time.”

The book tells the story of Alonso Quixano, a retired country gentleman who passes his time by reading books about knights and chivalry. Alonso loses himself in his hobby, becomes obsessed, and eventually believes that he himself is a knight.

Initially, his insanity is harmless. He and his sidekick, Sancho, tilt at windmills and flocks of sheep. But eventually his delusion deepens and their adventures begin to affect others. Quixote’s madness gives him wide-spread notoriety. He chances upon some wealthy patrons who make him the butt of cruel practical jokes. The jokes have disastrous results that leave Quixote broken and depressed. The Delusion is shattered and Alsonso Quixano’s personality returns. He is again sane, but at the price of losing his will to live. He dies a tragic figure, a study in self-deception.

Don Quixote has enduring currency for Christians living in our pluralistic times. In this day of search engines, cable television, and cavernous bookstores, it’s impossible for a self-aware believer to think his religion is the only show in town. New media has shrunk our planet and Christianity finds itself crowded against the other world religions.

Additionally, 9-11 has recast organized religion as the disease and not the cure. The New Atheism movement makes it social acceptable to openly scorn Christianity. For most Christians, this all adds up having to deal with serious doubts concerning the veracity of their faith.

Unfortunately, most Christian communities aren’t equipped to deal with doubters. Hard questions about the reality of God or Jesus’ exclusive claims to be the means of salvation are often met with gasps and gossip. Doubters learn to take their concerns underground or they quietly walk away from the church altogether.

The truth is that vibrant faith and doubt are inseparable. Doubt is the resistance that the muscles of belief train against. The post-resurrection Jesus joined his followers at the very moment they doubted and transformed the moment into worship. It must always be this way. Don Quixote provides the warning for individuals and faith communities that to suppress skepticism: faith without doubt is insanity.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    James 1:6-8 he that doubts is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed.

    For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways.

    • http://www.larryshallenberger.com Larry

      I’m not saying that doubt is a place we want to stay. I’m saying that doubt is inevitable. If faith is a muscle then doubt is the bench press. Muscles don’t grow without being tested, torn, and rebuilt. Faith doesn’t either.

  • http://waynestocks.com Wayne Stocks

    Larry,

    One of my favorite verses, and one the God used in drawing me towards him, was 1 Thessalonians 5:21:

    …but test everything; hold fast what is good.

    God calls us to test our faith. He is a really really big God and can withstand every test. On our side, that doubt/testing results in a deeper and more vibrant faith.

    Doubt, when buried out of fear of people’s reactions, is like a seed of discontent. It will continue to fester and grow and can ultimately undermine a person’s faith. Expressed and dealt with, doubt will lead to testing which will lead to a stronger faith.

    Thanks for the great article. I have not read Don Quixote for a long time (I believe it was in high school), but it was one of my favorites when I did read it.

  • http://www.larryshallenberger.com Larry

    Wayne, that’s an ambitious novel for high school. Was it for a Spanish class or did you read the English version?

  • http://waynestocks.com Wayne Stocks

    Larry,

    We read the English version. I was in a very good Language Arts class which I didn’t really realize at the time (I think we called it English class back then :)). We read a bunch of the classics. There are plenty of books that we read that I couldn’t tell you anything about. Don Quixote made an impact even at that age. I remember reading the book and later watching Man of La Mancha.

    I saw your tweet this morning and clicked over to read the article. I am going to have to pick up a copy of Besides the Bible when it comes out. I’m curious to see what other people had on their list.

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