The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Crises of Faith, part 2

Ethics and Religion Talk received the following question, submitted to one of our panelists: “Have any of the panel members had a crisis of faith that led them into periods of doubt, or as some call it, ‘a dark night of the soul?’ If so, what brought them back to solid footing?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at InterfaithUnderstanding.org.

Eight of our panelists responded to this question. I shared the first four responses last week, and are are the rest:

Imam Kip Curnutt, Director of Religious Education and Associate Imam of Masjid At-Tawheed in Grand Rapids, responds:

“When it comes to the prospect of having a crisis of faith I think it is important to always keep in mind the difference between the foundational concepts of faith by which you interpret the world and the smaller details of faith doctrine. A true crisis of faith would be to doubt the validity of the entire faith structure through which you see the world and consider that the way you have understood things to be is not actually how they are. Fortunately, I have never had this experience because I am intellectual convinced of the truth of the fundamentals of my faith and only took them on after deliberation and reflection. However, what I have experienced is that sometimes you can come across a smaller detail of your faith doctrine that at first may not add up. This often leads to a bigger crisis of faith of the first type but it doesn't have to. If I am convinced of my faith as an entire framework and certain of its fundamentals than I need not fully understand every minute detail in order to keep that larger framework in place. I won't tear down the entire building just because I haven't understood the role of one brick. This is similar to the way that theoretical physicists take on an explanatory model even without working out some of the smaller details. Rather they table those details to be fully investigated at a later time out of a trust in the validity of the model as a whole.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“The very first time I experienced a significant sense of spiritual doubt was when I was 13. I was a rather devout Roman Catholic. I started analyzing the most important dogmas of the Church, and concluded that I no longer believed them. I still believed in God, loved Jesus and enjoyed being a Catholic. But I never looked at this as a ‘crisis.’ It was almost like believing in the morning that it will rain tomorrow, then re-evaluating the forecast data and by evening believing it won’t. I decided that I would continue to maintain my Catholic Christian identity, as I had nothing to replace it with.

“At 15 I discovered Hinduism. After many years of study, I fully embraced that tradition. Over the years that I’ve been Hindu I have had times of ‘spiritual dryness.’ This is when during meditation it becomes difficult to become centered or feel the presence of the Divine. But, knowing that this is just a normal part of the spiritual life. One should just plow through, knowing that such experiences are temporary.”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“A few years ago, I had a crisis of faith due to a serious health concern, major corrective surgery and a difficult road to recovery. It was during the recovery when all progress forward stalled and the delay brought me to my breaking point. I was asking for help but even that would require another month plus of waiting and I was desperate.

“At rock bottom I went for a walk with my dog and ran into a neighbor, she asked me how I was doing. I was honest. I told her I could not swallow without choking, I was weak, losing weight fast and mentally depressed. I needed a speech therapist to teach me how to swallow again and the first appointment was months away. She told me she was a speech therapist and that she would come to my house later in the day to offer help. More importantly she had complete faith in my recovery. Her pure faith in my recovery restored a glimmer of hope in me. My gratitude for life returned. My faith was restored.”

My response:

I have had significant challenges in my life, both personally and professionally. But because faith is not central to my religious tradition, I didn’t measure the quality of my connection to Judaism in terms of my faith, connection, or attachment to God. In addition, because I don’t understand my practice of Judaism to carry any explicit or even implicit promise of reward, I did not experience my emotional and spiritual pain as a rejection of my religious practice.

Judaism believes that the primary measure of one’s attachment to the religion is through one’s behavior, not one’s belief in God. So one can go through a period of agnosticism, skepticism, or outright non-belief, but still remain a practicing Jew. During the challenging times of my life, it was my attachment to Judaism and its rituals and practices that sustained me, to a large extent because those practices were intentionally designed to connect the practitioner to community and address feelings of alienation and disconnection.

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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