Doubt and the "Evil" of Nonbelief

Many believers admit to having doubts. In fact, probably most do. It is so common a phenomenon that whole books have been written about it, and in The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel interviews the author of one of them, Lynn Anderson.

Strobel asks him, “Can a person be a Christian and nevertheless have reservations or doubts?” Anderson’s answer is a definite yes: “where there’s absolutely no doubt, there’s probably no healthy faith,” he tells Strobel, adding that he rejects “the ‘true believer’ mentality — people with bright smiles and glassy eyes” who never have any questions about their religious views. Strobel also mentions other thinkers who claim that “having doubts isn’t evidence of the absence of faith; on the contrary, they consider them to be the very essence of faith itself.” Neither Anderson nor Strobel, then, see religious doubt as a problem.

In another chapter of The Case for Faith, however, Strobel asks Ravi Zacharias how it could possibly be fair for a serial killer like David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz — who like so many former criminals has now “found” Christ — to go to heaven, while someone like Mahatma Gandhi is presumably suffering in hell.

Zacharias’ reply is that “there are worse things than death or murder.” According to Zacharias, “the worst thing is to say to God that you don’t need him.” In other words, those who aren’t followers of Christ are effectively telling God they can do without him, and that’s worse than anything Berkowitz did. (Keep in mind that Berkowitz merely shot and stabbed innocent people at random. Gandhi, on the other hand, shockingly did not believe Jesus was God!)

Strobel approvingly quotes all of this — which means that on his view, nonbelief is worse than mass murder. How, then, can he and others like him have no issue with doubt? If failing to believe is worse than murder — if it is, as Aquinas held, the greatest sin one can commit — then questioning those beliefs should at the very least be a reason for great concern. Presumably, Strobel would view someone who doubted the wrongness of going on a killing spree as a person with a very serious problem. Shouldn’t he think of all believers who have doubts as more worrisome than that?

Franz Kiekeben is a former lecturer in philosophy and the author of two books on atheism, The Truth about God, and Atheism: Q & A. He has also written for Skeptic magazine and published academic articles on determinism and on time travel.