But first, don’t deny your doubt.
According to Jan Nattier, all religions (in her essay American Buddhism is chosen as a case study) travel in three major ways: as import, as export, and as “baggage”. An example of religion traveling as import would be a college student who puts great interest in Zen Buddhism after reading a book about it then decides to buy a plane ticket and head off to Japan beginning to study meditation in a Zen temple. After years of experiencing Buddhist “awakening”, he returns and establishes a Zen center, teaching this form of Buddhism to other fellow Americans. This kind of Buddhism usually only reaches individuals to whom money is not a problem and leisure time is abundant, where like attracts like, those with higher academic status or in other words, bunch of intellects. As a result of this deliberate preference (usually made up in a settled scene of adulthood), the belief or religion is modified, doubt is made use to uproot the religion then is cultivated into a completely different soil, inclined to parallel one’s own cultural and social “climate”.
The second type, religion traveling as export is normally experienced by potential converts through missionaries coming to their land. Because the initiative belongs to the home institution, the potential convert doesn’t need money, power, or time to come into contact with Buddhism of this sort, only a willingness to listen. This evangelistic “marketing” could take place on a street corner, in the subway or even in one’s home. Nattier notes that this is thus something of a wild card, which means that it can attract a wide range of followers/believers, or it may appeal to no one at all. Doubt is a determining factor in buying into the evangelistic “product”, the take it or leave it attitude.
As someone who grew up in a country where we have to choose one of the five mainstream religions as an obligatory school subject and religion preference is required when filling up any personal information for bureaucracy, I belong to the third group. The “baggage” religion is also a transformation of the second type for this reason: I’ve never been in a direct contact with the missionaries who try to convert me nor in any relation with those enthusiastic religion “importers”. In other words, my religion had already been “chosen” for me. I have been “brainwashed” as much as those who have been taught the benefits of having no religions (atheism is not included as being “brainwashed” since to be an atheist is a conscious, usually a knowledgeable and well-thought decision, read this). Furthermore, Nattier describes those who belong to this third category as:
Buddhists who were simply born into their faith of their ancestors [...] only in Buddhist groups of this type that ethnicity serves as the primary defining feature.
If only I had been born in a Hindu family or any other mainstream religions in my homecountry, I would have lived up to each of its standards thinking that Hinduism contains the very truth, or even if I’m not a zealot, I would always be tempted to remain content, avoiding from questioning my own long-time traditional faith. That’s what happens when people believe in any religion, they stop questioning it (I don’t mean to generalize). Consequently, when one doesn’t even know much about his/her own religion, it’s justified to assume that one would not even bother to have interest in other religions and thus in any capacity to be tolerant of differences that stand in between. Nattier observes that this ethnic Buddhists:
tend to be deliberately monoethnic in membership at the outset, for they serve not only religious purposes but operate as supportive community centers as well. Such temples may provide language lessons, a place to network for jobs, and above all a place to relax with others who share one’s own cultural assumptions and to whom nothing needs to be explained.
In this case, culture and religion are treated the same. As culture is a social product that doesn’t need to be questioned, neither does religion. It is mostly in this “baggage” religious group that people treat doubt as taboo and reason as obstacle of (blind) faith. All this might have required me to step back for a while from any social status concerning religion, not being ignorant but more because I care too much about this. As much as I want to stick to a blind faith that can “move mountains”, I don’t want to inhabit a self-righteous state above other’s faith to the extent of labelling it as fallacy.
Therefore, why should we panic in the presence of doubts? It’s doubt after all, which stimulates us to discern true faith from sentiment. Let’s not repress doubt for it drives us to seek the truth among everything which confesses as “the” truth. On the other hand, I’m also aware of the potent danger of doubt, when it’s not deployed as a truth-seeking engine but instead being handed the total power and constantly fed to obesity.
About this kind of doubt, nobody says it better than Pi, the Indian teenager obsessed with religions in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi:
I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.
I might not move any mountains, but I stand (even if wobbly) on the solid surface of my black Gethsemane.