Image by sameffron
Fear believes, courage doubts. – Robert Green Ingersoll
Is fear the source of faith? Do we believe because we are afraid–of loneliness, ostracism, or perhaps death–and lack the courage to doubt? Quoting this line from Ingersoll, Timothy Mills recently asked how our own beliefs might be grounded in fear. It’s an important question that we would all do well to consider, but I have to challenge the assumed parallel between fear and belief, courage and doubt.
To be sure, belief can be fearful and doubt courageous. Just look to Iran, where those who doubt the results of their election show great courage and conviction, while their government attempts to force belief and acquiescence through fear. But the opposite is true as well: Without faith in one’s fellow protesters–without belief that justice can prevail over tyranny–such courage would be impossible.
When properly understood, belief is much more relational than intellectual. It means trusting in others–your family, neighbors, God–not merely assenting to a set of truths. Such faith is summed up by the psalmist: “Some trust in horses, and some in chariots, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Ps 20:7). This is faith as courage, abandoning any fear of death or abandonment. One need only think of Tehran’s nightly cries of Allahu Akbar to see the courage such faith can inspire.
On the other hand, cynicism can be as small-minded as the worst abuses of faith, and doubt itself can spring from fear. Fear doubts that justice will prevail, and stays locked indoors. Fear doubts that the woman loves, and hesitates to propose. Fear doubts that the landing is safe, and refuses to jump from the cliff. Courage faces an army with only a protest sign. Courage weds with no guarantees. Courage leaps without fear. Courage believes that life and love and joy require a leap into the unknown.
Fear doubts, courage believes.