I am always sad to see people give up on the sacred when they stop believing in God. The symbol “God” is like a compass pointing to the mysterious intelligence that pulses throughout everything. Cosmic intelligence doesn’t itself have to think or be conscious. Any pattern is a kind of intelligence. The whole point of religious symbols is to point us to this heart of life. Getting upset about whether that creative power is actually in a human shape is very sad.
Doubt is actually an indispensable aspect of faith. It is the refining fire which purifies our beliefs and prevents them from becoming dogmas. Paul Tillich used to say, “Serious doubt is confirmation of faith. It indicates the seriousness of the concern, its unconditional nature.” Our specific ideas about God are only helpful if they point beyond themselves to an experience of the unknowable sacred. I call the ground of our being “sacred” not because I believe it is a person like me, but because I have reverence for it. To this end doubt is every bit as important as belief.
A problem comes when doubt becomes a belief system. When doubts become self-sustaining they can be as idolatrous as any other dogma. A militant atheist can be a fundamentalist without the bible. The answer to doubt is not to pretend to believe. The answer is to turn doubt on itself. Is it really possible to explain your experience without any ground of intelligence? Just because it isn’t a human being does not mean it isn’t wonderful. When we have the courage to doubt even our doubts, an mysterious intelligence shines through with a light of its own.
The real problem in life is not intellectual doubt, but is instead our lack of trust in life, in ourselves, and in reality. This is why we need the symbols of the sacred- to escape the hell of emptiness and to discover the intelligence which shines through our experience. Again, the solution to doubt is not to pretend to believe in something that your mind doubts. The answer is, in the words of one sage, to: “Release the dogs of doubt on doubt itself.”