Reasonable Doubts Blog

Lessons in Religious Doubt from Mother Teresa

Posted in Uncategorized by Cheryl Berman on the August 12th, 2010

Recently my attention was drawn to an article in Time Magazine dated August 23, 2007 entitled “Mother’s Teresa’s Crises of Faith.” The article speaks of a book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, which is a compilation of Mother Teresa’s correspondences, many of which she requested be destroyed upon her death. The Catholic Church overrode her wishes and published the letters in order to teach some important lessons regarding religious doubt.

It seems the very same Mother Teresa who accepted a Nobel Peace Prize in December of !979 with the declaration that God is everywhere actually felt bereft of God’s presence for nearly half a century. Her letters to various priests and church officials are replete with pleadings from them to pray for her because while God has a special love for them “[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak …” The crises became so extreme it drove her at a certain point to doubt the existence of heaven and even God himself.

Mother Teresa’s pleadings went essentially unanswered for decades until a Christian theologian by the name of Rev. Joseph Neuner provided her with some comfort. He explained three things to her. He said that a)that she was not responsible for her religious state and she could do nothing to affect it b) “Feeling” God is not the only proof of His existence and the fact that she sought Him so desperately was a sign of his hidden existence c) God’s absence was part of the spiritual side of her work.

I must admit I was very impressed with the church’s willingness to publish these letters. Historically, Christianity has banned books that  countered its beliefs and here is an example of a Christian Saint declaring her religious doubts, and the church bent over backwards to bring it to light. The church was making an important point in publishing the book, a point that Jews have recognized for centuries. Religious doubt is a part of faith. It is not something you need to conceal, it is something you need to recognize and deal with.

Judaism has also faced circumstances where some of its adherents began to doubt and it has not been intimidated by it. The Book of Iyov is dedicated to religious doubt, the stories of Acher appear in the Gemara, and the Rambam wrote his Moreh Nevuchim to a student who had religious questions. It seems though that in some segments of Orthodoxy doubt has become stigmatized. People are afraid to ask questions, and to be frank, many rabbis and teachers have lost the ability to give appropriate answers. Fortunately, there are groups out there dealing with these issues. There are books being published. But we aren’t there yet. We need to reach a place where doubters can feel safe enough to start asking their questions … out loud, not just anonymously on the internet. If the Catholic Church can figure this out, why can’t we?

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