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A Journal on Doubt

| 31.8.02
A Journal On Doubt, by Bennett Wade Kilpela

A Journal On Doubt, by Bennett Wade Kilpela leaves me profoundly ambivalent. While his openness allows us a sometimes touchingly intimate look into his personal demons as he struggles to make sense of his deep-seated doubt in conservative, evangelical Christianity, the longwindedness of his manifesto and the almost neurotic way in which he swings and leaps from one somewhat shallow conclusion to another left me wishing for less length and more depth. This work could definitely use a good editor who's willing to cut chapters and pages of repetitive entries, distilling and highlighting some of the truly moving moments of self-discovery within the text.

If you're looking for first-person narratives by people leaving Christian fundamentalism behind, there are much more well-written stories out there. (One that comes to mind is http://www.theheretic.com, which unfortunately is no longer online.) What drew me to Kilpela's story, however (and what kept me reading) was that he and I share a common background and a common struggle, although we've dealt with it in different ways.

Both Kilpela and I were raised in the ultra-conservative, pietist sect called the Apostolic Lutheran Church of America, and both of us left it for greener pastures shortly after confirmation. Both of us have struggled with extreme cases of doubt in the childhood version of the faith, trying to reconcile it with what we perceive as its deficiencies, brought to light by the modern worldview. While this seems very typical in the stories I've read online of people who've left fundamentalism, I think that it reveals a great strength and a great weakness in fundamentalism in general --it is able to inspire deep feelings of loyalty and commitment, but also creates a great sense of cognitive dissonance when confronted with compelling contradictory truths from the outside world.

What makes Kilpela's story unique is his unwillingness to ever make a complete break with the basic fundamentalist propositions he was raised with. While I actually self-identified as an atheist for awhile before having the existential spiritual experience that reconnected me with the Christian faith in a liberal-leaning, post-modern way, Kilpela hangs on by the edge of his fingernails, though despair, depression, divorce, bankruptcy, and more. While he doubts aplenty, Kilpela never repudiates --he's too afraid of hell-fire to do so. Thus his eventual transformation is lesser than it might have been had he actually hit rock bottom in terms of the inadequacy of his prior formulation of Christianity.

The bottom line of Kilpela's story is this: before his period of doubt he demanded nothing less than a religious formulation that was totally unassailable by any logical argument. Now he's willing to accept that no position is air-tight, and calls a truce with ambiguity by making a "bet" on what "makes sense" to him. This "modified Pascal's wager," while not eliminating Kilpela's doubts, makes them more manageable and easier to deal with.

WEBSITE: A Journal On Doubt, by Bennett Wade Kilpela http://www.msu.edu/user/kilpela/doubtpref.htm

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