(Source: Collection of Robert N. Essick, Blake Archive)

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Scale of Doubt Quiz

Hecht has crafted a playful quiz to determine how much of a doubter you are. See where you rank on the scale of doubt.

Selected Readings

Selected Readings from Jennifer Michael Hecht

We've isolated two clips of Hecht on her poetry, listen and read along:
"History"
"No I Would Not Leave You If You Suddenly Found God"

About the Image

Engraving by William Blake titled "Job Rebuked by his Friends" from Illustrations of the Book of Job, 1825.

(Source: Collection of Robert N. Essick, Blake Archive)

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Comments

Your program is wonderful. I listen as much to online recordings as to the program itself, as it airs early on Sunday, which is a day whose mornings are devoted to worship. I am an active Episcopal layman, and I find that your program has enriched my life. For example, I've purchased Prof. Zornberg's books on Genesis and Exodus, and am working my way through them, with the Old Testament books in my Pocket PC for reference. So technology serves spirituality. I love it.

My religion professor at the University of Redlands, a Baptist clergyman turned academic, Doug Eadie, taught me to not to trust those who want to posit doubt as the opposite of faith, something to be avoided. He said that the opposite of faith is fear. This distinction has stood me in good stead at several points in my life, and I hold to it still. Thank you.

I finished the book about 10 days before the interview with JM Hecht was broadcast on July 14, 2004. I enjoyed the book very much, and I think it took great courage to take on so broad a topic. The book challenged me to examine some of my own assumptions; perhaps like many readers I rummaged around in the book, seeking the set of philosophies that best suited my own tastes and tendencies. Mostly I applaud Dr. Hecht's championing of doubt: that it is perfectly acceptable to confront the Great Questions by saying "I'm not sure, I don't know." She shows us that, throughout history, some of the wisest men and women have been the most doubtful.

I heard parts of this show as I was drifting off to sleep. It made much sense as I'm not only doubtful, but fail to understand the folly of those who follow any doctrine blindly. It must be the reality that one must have some reason—no matter how nutty—to explain their lives. I will buy the book. Ms. Hecht is most articulate.

Thank you for your wonderful program today! I am fascinated by the dilemmas of belief and doubt. How strange it still seems for a true believer, raised from infancy to believe comprehensively and with full commitment in the fundamentalist Christian God, to have achieved a satisfying state of doubt! My doubt at this point is certainly close enough to atheism as to be indistinguishable from it in practical terms: I merely do not fully commit to the belief that there is no God; rather, I now assume it.

I spent my childhood actively assimilating evangelical fundamentalist Christianity as it was practiced and believed by my family. Part of my childish brand of acquiring this deep belief was asking questions about the elements that puzzled me, and I tried on the answers I got with full enthusiasm.

It is just that the questions have never gone away. How do you really know that God is there, or that He is speaking to me or guiding me? The feelings I have change, so I must have to resort to my thinking. Heresy. Faith is the answer. But if faith is the only way to know God, why did He give me a brain that wonders? That is the question that eventually led to the ruin of my faith and the blossoming of a spreading skepticism — tinged with a little cynicism.

By the time I was ten, I was asking those questions aloud, and by the time I was twelve, I had learned not to. By fifteen, they were well suppressed, but by twenty, a full crisis began to surface. It lasted for years, and I longed for something like "Fundamentalists Anonymous" so I could find someone who shared my experience and who could help still the maelstrom.

It was what I l learned in seventh grade science that eventually rescued me, although it kept me living in distinctly separate and parallel worlds of science and religion for a very long time. I learned that inquiry, especially systematic inquiry, and particularly open-ended inquiry, is a very good thing. I learned, slowly, to harness some of the arguments in my head.

The very hardest thing has been to understand morality in the absence of an absolute moral Authority, or, in fact, of any moral authority. It doesn't really do to just make it up as we go along, because any competing standard has equal force. And gliding along with tradition carries the danger of repeating endlessly the mistakes of the past. Science has helped again, this time in the thinking of evolutionary psychology, a field of study that posits a subtle genetic foundation for the way our brains are wired and way we make decisions. Basic morality, the concepts of right and wrong, fairness, and altruism, appears to be rooted in our biology. It isn't necessary to believe in an external, non-demonstrable being to explain the pervasive sense of right and wrong that virtually all humans share.

I am careful not to actually "believe" in science, although I accept and practice scientific principles. Some other means of asking questions and explaining the world will eventually replace science as we know it, just as science has largely superseded religion as a practical explanatory and exploratory system of thought, and if I am alive to see it, I will use my carefully nurtured ability to keep asking questions to espouse it: I will make a leap of doubt into the next way of wondering.

Doubt is the yeast of faith! I put no trust whatsoever in the so-called "faith" of any adult who has not encountered at least one spiritual crisis in their lifetime. If they've changed religions a few times, I trust their faith even more. Religious doctrine and practice can be taught and passed down through generations, but true faith can only be discovered, forced through the sieve of one's own questions, doubt, and soul.

If an adult practices the religion of their parents because it is what they were "taught," or how they "were raised," then they have memorized facts on command, without the experience of faith. In our culture and current political, I see far too many people in positions of power practicing the religion of the head, instead of giving witness to the faith honed by doubt and born of the heart and soul.

I turned off the radio this morning, sick of hearing about the spider hole in which Saddam was found. I picked up a book recommended by my therapist, The Question of God by Armand Nicholi, hoping for an objective presentation of the beliefs and arguments of Freud and C.S.Lewis, only to be discouraged by the author's obvious bias, starting with his premise that there are two basic assumptions: the universe is random and life a matter of chance or an "Intelligence beyond the universe" provides order and gives life meaning. Well, I don't believe in that "Intelligence" but think that life nonetheless has meaning.

I put down the book and reluctantly returned to the radio this afternoon and was thrilled to hear the interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht—at last a position I can relate to: one can question and doubt in order to find meaning; doubt is not nihilistic; morality, integrity, wonder, ritual, community, mystery, the feeling of faith and the magical quality of the human experience do not belong to any one doctrine.

I am going to the bookstore first thing tomorrow (after the plumber locates the source of the leak that has made a hole in my bathroom ceiling—from the ridiculous to the sublime?) to get Hecht's book, Doubt: A History. Thanks to Speaking of Faith and Host Krista Tippett for the excellent and inspirational program and insightful interview. Thank goodness I tuned in when I did—a happy and meaningful coincidence!

I enjoyed the program, and the viewpoint and scholarship of Jenifer Michael Hecht. I was raised in the Wisconsin Synod of the Lutheran Church that believes that the Bible is literally true, married in the Methodist Church; and my wife and I left all churches in the early eighties and have gone our own way.

Having gone my own way, I do not think that doubt is a correct description of my views. I now strongly believe the same things I actually think. One of my beliefs is that there cannot be a God as a solution to the question of where all this complexity came from, because a God would have to be more complex and, if created have come from a being even more complex. Evolution works fine for me — all of the principles can be seen in more rapidly reproducing organisms and genetics is a powerful science with real applications.

Another of my beliefs is that man is the creator of God and belief systems. God-creation is the job of the theologian, the pastor, the story-teller, the movie maker, and everyone, to some extent. God can always be invoked to explain mystery and, yes, it can provide some ideals.

I resonated with the statements in the program that said that skeptics are not the opposite of religious people. As a viola and violin player, I often participate in other people's religious services and weddings. Somehow, I am okay with participating in the music but do not participate in any creeds and still hate almost all sermons because they stand unrebutted.

Though I am not the opposite of religious people, I generally see religion as a negative force in the world. All these spiritual and religious and ecumenical people, especially if also political are regularly "confessing" their belief in things that aren't so. They can easily be led by those with selfish motives (or even those who seek a modest living) or by who those who seek power.

As a spiritual non-believer, I found this show on Doubt to be among the best "Speaking of Faith" I have ever heard. I never realized that I needed a history,.. yea, even a bible,... of my own to help me work through my doubtful take on existence. I am delighted and excited to find this subject being talked about with such respect and intelligence.

Most of the world's geniuses have been doubters, it seems, and it makes me feel so good about my beliefs to have them on my side.

I frequently listen to "Speaking of Faith," even though as a "doubter" much of what is said I feel somewhat estranged with. I do appreciate the show when discussions around faith, ethics, and moral questions are focused upon. I am not always in agreement with what is said, but I am very glad that SOMEONE is discussing these very important issues because I don't hear anyone else in the media talking about these things.

I found Dr. Michael Hecht's insights very confirming for where my own thinking has gone over many years of study and reading, and I look forward to reading her new book. I was especially glad to hear her confirm for me the idea that doubters are not "just" atheists or agnostics. I do think that most of us who lean toward a skeptical/doubting way of perceiving the world are far more open to other ways of seeing the world than in the past when there was an atheistic dogma that was as narrow as any fundamentalist. I also agree that moral questions are NOT the exclusive territory of the church/clergy/religious arena. I appreciated her discussion of the third century BCE Greek philosphers, Diogenes, Epicurus, etc. and how their thoughts have shaped a rational way of looking at ethics.

Please include more discussions like this. I am thinking of a "debate" between Dr. Michael Hecht and someone on the faith side would be an interesting program. Keep up the good work!

I was glad to hear, during the discussion of Epicureanism, the idea that we should be in touch with our senses and work to experience the present as fully as possible, and also that happiness is goal of paramount importance. Our own Constitution places The Pursuit of Happiness on the same high plane that supports Life and Liberty. It is refreshing to me to hear this affirmed. As the rock group the Eagles say in the song 'Already Gone', "So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key".

Your program "A History of Doubt with Jennifer Michael Hecht" was a great gift and a joy to hear. It showed me how I have internalized the idea of the narrow the labels of various (contemporary) religions, agnostic, or athiest. I really thank your guest for her clear thoughts on this ridiculously limited way of thinking about the choices of how to think about and present the vastness of the actual issues of human thought about the nature of existence. And for her historical review of the great doubters. I will buy her book, and I thank-you for the exceptionally interesting and deep program.

According to the Catholic Catechism, two kinds of doubt have to be distinguished. The first is involuntary doubt. We see this in Mary in the Gospels when she said "How can this be, since I do not know man?"" It is when one has trouble believing what we are asked to believe, we need help and explanation. "Help my unbelief."

Voluntary doubt is a willful decision to not believe something that has been revealed by Revelation.

You seem to confuse doubt, which can be of either kind, with willful unbelief. For example, the current atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, etc.) do not doubt: they are sure there is no God. How are they sure? I don't know. But their doubt is of the second kind, not the first kind.

Doubt of the first kind is human, part of the human condition. Doubt of the second kind is often sinful, obstinate, dogmatic in its unbelief. It's often said that Mother Teresa doubted, but only in the first sense, not the second sense. And the difference is critical.

I feel that this picture is showing that we should never have doubt because anything is bound to happen in life.

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Voices on the Radio

teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at The New School in New York City. She has written two volumes of poetry and three books of non-fiction, including Doubt: A History.

Production Credits

Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Managing Producer: Kate Moos

Production Assistant: Nancy Rosenbaum

Online Editor/Producer: Trent Gilliss

Senior Producer: Mitch Hanley

Production Intern: Amara Hark-Weber

Associate Web Producer: Andrew Dayton

Associate Producer: Shiraz Janjua

Producer: Colleen Scheck

Associate Producer: Rob McGinley Myers

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