The Sacredness of Questioning Everything
by David Dark
265 pages (paperback)
I often ask my students if they are afraid of questions. At first, no one is willing to admit to a fear of questions. After all, shouldn’t everyone be willing to test the veracity of any belief? It usually does not take long, however, before I find the line they are unwilling to cross.
Is it possible that the Bible does not condemn abortion? What if we found (beyond a doubt) Jesus’s tomb with body, would you leave Christianity?
David Dark’s The Sacredness of Questioning Everything is a praise of the questioning enterprise. “I believe deliverance begins with questions,” says Dark. “It begins with people who love questions, people who live with questions and by questions, people who feel a deep joy when good questions are asked.”
I like the idea of feeling a deep joy when asking questions. Life and worldview changing questions are often framed as the thing of rebels—those who refuse to submit to God. They are an unhappy venture. But as I see it, to love questions is to resist atrophy. It is to love the gift of the brain and the desire to see all of life as a classroom.
God is not made angry and insecure by an archaeological dig, a scientific discovery, an ancient manuscript, or a good film about homosexual cowboys. Nor would I imagine God to be made angry or insecure by people with honest doubts concerning his existence. God is not counting on us to keep ourselves stupid, close off to the complexity of the world we’re in.
God’s people, however, are not always this strong. In my experience, questions are welcomed so as long as a specific answer is allowed to punctuate it forever. From this perspective, doubt is something to be cured.
This reminds me of Emilio’s words in Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow.
The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds…If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God.
Contrast this with a woman who once told me that she was flipping channels when she came across a show that dealt with the historicity of Jesus. “I quickly turned the channel,” she told me. I asked her if she knew what the program was about. “No,” she replied. “I just turned it quickly so as not to entertain blasphemy.”
“If we aren’t reaching toward a fresh understanding of the world through the questions we ask, we remain pretty well zombified in the cold comfort of a dead religiosity,” writes Dark.
Fear of damnation is not the only motivator for rejecting questions. We human beings tend to find comfort in some false sense of personal infallibility. There is the person who acts as if he or she has the red phone to God’s ear. They know exactly what he thinks and wants them to do and believe and that goes for everyone else as well. They are his prophet.
This is what Dark refers to as “imagined infallibility.” The historian in me cringes at any supposed infallibility. Anyone claiming to have the God’s-eye view of world history—that Katrina was judgment on a specific group of sinners, for example—lacks a healthy view of their own limitations. This is the sort of thing that fuels the delusions of the guru of the apocalypse, Harold Camping.
“Imagine backing down from our imagined infallibility and assuming the mantle of a mere human,” writes Dark. We should reject having “pretensions to Godlike knowingness.”
In his The Discarded Image, C.S. Lewis sees these questions as a normal part of life. Medievals, argues Lewis, lived by a cosmology that made sense given what they knew and what they believed theologically. New questions were raised and with them the universe was turned upside down and secrets were spilled across the carpet of the mind. The old soiled image, a model for understanding the universe, was discarded for a better one.
Rather than accept the answers, however, many cling to their images. It brings them comfort and security. When you upset that universal order, it is akin to raising questions of mass destruction.
Similarly, I was reminded this week of a quote from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. “The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization.”
Dark’s book is a good apology for healthy questioning and rising above our limiting spheres. Chapter by chapter he deals with questioning God, questioning religion, our passions, our language, our interpretations, our history, our governments, our future, etc. This Spring I am using this text as a good introduction to the idea of questioning. Keep in mind that this book is not a history of questioning as much as it is a personal reflection on questioning. Most of Dark’s illustrations are from pop culture, which has its value now, but may limit some of its impact for the future. (Though I sincerely hope that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert stick around for years to come).
For those of us who have embraced the life of questioning, Dark’s book may not be so much a revelation as it is a confirmation that someone else out there sees value in it too. Questions are sacred, and as I see it, they are an essential part of the liturgy of life.