LAST WEEK, I CAUGHT the current play at Pioneer Memorial Theatre — "Doubt," by John Patrick Shanley. Shanley bills the play as "a parable." And, aware of the danger of taking theater people at their word. I still decided that was how I'd view it.

The story takes place at a Catholic school, but the "doubt" of the title isn't just religious doubt. It's a story about the way we worry and wonder at everything. In an early sermon, Father Flynn explains that "doubt" unites us. We all doubt, and our doubt not only makes us human but brings us together.

But then Shanley's not the only one discussing such things. "Doubt" has become a hot topic.

My friend Scott Cairns has a book of poems called "Theology of Doubt."

Paul Toscano just released a collection of essays called "The Sacrament of Doubt."

Mother Teresa is more famous these days for her doubts than for her faith.

For many, "doubt" is the new "faith." Doubt is revered. The atheist curmudgeon Christopher Hitchens even talks of a "turning point where people don't automatically think of faith as a virtue."

It's an interesting thought.

But is it really true?

Everyone doubts. No news there. But if doubt is good, why do we praise the young tennis player who puts aside her doubts and finds the will to win. Isn't her faith still seen as a virtue?

Or the young bridegroom who doubts his ability to be a good husband and father, but out of courage and commitment pushes aside his fears and shoulders his new life.

Don't we honor people for showing such faith?

Don't we still see doubt as a dead end? No football coach would spend halftime reminding his team of their weaknesses and his own failings. Like a minister, his job is to promote faith.

The truth is, Christopher Hitchens aside, people still actually see faith as a virtue — with one glaring exception: in religion. And the problem there is non-religious people don't understand religious faith. They call themselves "rationalists," as if to say they had finally figured things out while religious folk remain lost in a mental fog.

But religious faith has never been about "figuring things out." It has always been about "trust" — trust in oneself, in others and, like people in those 12-step programs, trusting that something more amazing than our own puny brains is afoot in the universe.

The opposite of faith isn't reason. The opposite of faith, or trust, is suspicion and fear.

In the final scene of Shanley's play, the head of the Catholic school, after getting Father Flynn drummed out, meets up with one of her young nuns. In her last line she confesses, for the first time, to having "doubts."

It's a powerful moment. And it's meant, I believe, as a "conversion" moment. She has found Shanley's truth: Everyone doubts. Doubt is good. It unifies us and makes us human.

I believe in the other side of that coin. I say the thread that binds us and makes us human — from football coaches to columnists — is not doubt, but "faith."

Faith stirs us into action and helps us forge caring relationships.

Doubt freezes us up and leaves us alone and bitter.

And, I must say, I doubt anyone really wants that.


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