The Pagan Heart
Myth, Magic, and Madness

September-October 2005 Issue

Dealing with Doubt

By Axiom


Doubt is an insidious emotion that seeps through the soul when you're not watching. It's hard enough to deal with when you have doubts of your own. Add to that the chorus of doubting Thomases in your family and friends, and it becomes well nigh impossible. So how do we confront and defeat the doubt of others? Especially over something so personal and complex as our beliefs and desires. For anyone who has converted to a religion different from the "family" belief, that question is of paramount importance. Add to it the burden of following a path as controversial as Paganism, and you're asking to be drowned in the screams of anguished doubt as your loved ones try to change your mind and reclaim you for their god.

Their problem lies in the requirement of blind faith. Once a religion demands that it opens the door to doubt wide open. When faith is blind and unquestioning it has no way to respond to challenge except dig in its heels and refuse to be moved. And so often the harder we fight to keep something, the sooner it slips away. Doubt grows when blind faith is questioned - and that leads to anger and defensiveness. Often the result is an attack upon your faith - mirroring in a way the internal confusion the "believer" is experiencing. You may not think you have questioned anyone's faith but your own - however the moment you stepped outside the family faith and took another path you challenged their beliefs. How inerrant can their faith be if you doubted it and left?

I think a significant part of confronting the self-doubt other people try to raise within us at our choice of religion has to be understanding the reasons behind it. And they are complicated - at least to my way of thinking. Faith is such an intricate and personal experience - hard to define and pin down, yet strong enough to destroy nations or build communities. However, most reasons to try and instill doubt in you about your choice come back to one of two things - a sense of betrayal or self-doubt in the one attacking. By trying to destroy your confidence in your path, s/he hopes to alleviate these feelings.


This is the great emotional blackmail card - by converting away from the family faith you betray everyone. It may be that you have now doomed your children to hell by deciding to raise them as the little Heathens they truly are. It may be the "fact" that this choice of yours will be the death of your grandmother - for how is she to bear the tragedy of knowing her loved grandchild will never climb to heaven? Or how about those whose families have been involved in fighting for their religious beliefs? What would great-great-great-grandfather think? He fled persecution to preserve his faith, and now you've thrown it on the garbage dump.

The goal is to convince you that your conversion is a betrayal. An act of deliberate malignance towards your family. You are choosing to hurt them, to cast dirt upon their beliefs, and to make Baby Jesus weep. Your choice is a selfish one - religion is not a personal, intimate thing, and you are not free to make choices like an adult. When we feel strong in our choices we know this is all rubbish - a guilt-trip and not true at all. But it is hard to cast aside years of indoctrination - no matter how loving and supportive - in following the family line. Those who do no feel some doubt when under attack are few and far between.

It's hard because in most cases your family genuinely believes you are doomed by choosing Paganism - they are trying to save your soul. What they do and say they do from a conviction of the soul - and from love of you. Mind you, there's also a healthy dose of "you don't know what you're doing" thrown in. As if you were an uneducated child trying to read a science book.

When it comes to faith, somewhere along the line the idea of a personal connection with the divine has been lost and the concept of one path to god, and one path only took over. Discovering and claiming the right to know your own soul, your own connection to the divine is your right - just as it is your family's. Keep reminding yourself, the only real betrayal is to ignore your inner desire to connect with the gods in your own way. Making your children grow up Jewish, Moslem, Christian, or any other faith if you believe in a Pagan path - that is betrayal. Many established religions follow the tradition of a priesthood - a learned sect whose role is to lead and guide the sheep. And the sheep accept this role. When a sheep suddenly stops following and heads off alone, the fear of the flock (and shepherd) is that a wolf will take it. Or it'll fall off a cliff.

What they need to realise is that we are not sheep. We are a very different animal. And while we may be sociable and inclined to like organisation, we are also highly individualistic. And faith - as more and more people are learning - is an individual calling. Trust in yourself to know what you are hearing and follow what calls to you.


It may not seem like it at the time when your father is red-faced and furious with you, but there's a significant chance the reason behind his doubt of your path is doubt of his own. Cognitive dissonance is a scary thing indeed. It exists in the minds of people who believe on faith things that reason and logic show to be false or impossible. When a believer lives a life that demands the application of doubt and challenge to anything illogical, but follows a religion that insists upon blind faith on matters that are clearly illogical, the believer needs to divide the mind.

Doubt creeps over from the logical mind to infect the faithful side - the best way to confirm faith is to convert others. After all if lots of people believe the same illogical things, there's a greater chance that those things might be real - since so many people believe in them. This is known as circular reasoning, and in itself is both a symptom of cognitive dissonance and a result of the effort to harmonise the two sides of the mind.

Knowing that you rejected the illogical nature of their faith reinforces the logical side of their own mind and they face greater self-doubt as a result. Not a comfortable experience in any way, and the best way to resolve it (from their perspective) is to convert you back. This would reconfirm the "truth" of their faith. However, it's not a desirable outcome for you - or them. Forced faith is not faith, and to follow a religion through fear, doubt, or peer pressure is to pay lip service only.

Doubt is scary, but it has a role to play in helping us become better people. What we doubt, we question. Why should our faith be inviolate? Studying and testing belief shows the flaws and the strengths of the path. What is flawed is discarded so that the truth might become further revealed. Questioning faith is the reason many Pagans turned to Paganism in the first place. So celebrate the role of doubt in helping you find your path. Just don't crown it ruler. Return to those who lay doubt upon you their rightful reward - a healthy heaping of questions. If their doubt is so strong that it weakens their faith, then perhaps they need to think it through a bit more.... I am certain one of the reasons Jews and Buddhists don't seek to convert people is that their philosophy or faith actively encourages self-questioning and inner examination.

You may not feel comfortable openly questioning and testing your family's faith when they are attacking you - but don't let their self-doubt become yours.

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