Doubtful Christians Make Queer Saints!
by Dr. Ralph Blair
A shorter version of this text was presented by Dr. Blair at connECtion83 during July, 1983, at San Juan Bautista in California and at Kirkridge in Pennsylvania.
(PDF version available here)
Doubtful Christians make queer saints. Do “queer” Christians make doubtful saints? To too many of us, Christians who are full of doubt certainly do seem to be queer candidates for sainthood. And, no doubt, so do “queer” Christians about whom so many conventional Christians are full of doubt.
At the beginning of the Darwinian controversy,—a time that was as disruptive to the 19th century evangelical world as the gay controversy is to the evangelical world of our own day—Christian geologist and evolutionist Henry Drummond took note that “all religious truths are doubtable.”  As a scientist, he also knew that all scientific truths are doubtable. Less than a century later, a writer for Science 200 confesses that the “sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance [is what] represents the most significant contribution of 20th century science. … We are at last,” he says, “facing up to it. In earlier times, we either pretended to understand how things worked or ignored the problem, or simply made up stories to fill the gaps.”  Science was late to copy religion in this respect.
There is not very much evidence that people in either religion or science these days have become as frank about their ignorance as the writers just quoted. Cocksure fundamentalist absolutists still abound in both religion and science, as well as on the general secular scene, and this has been nowhere better illustrated than in the matter of homosexuality and Christian faith. As Lutheran historian Martin E. Marty appraises the current picture, “the fundamentalist worlds are still overconfident about their absolute hold on absolutes, too pouncing and predatory in eagerness to press their advantage in the name of a very belligerent cocksureness-producing God. They grow by attracting the nostalgic, the frightened, the misled, the besieged.”  Religious liberals or “mainliners” offer no better reality since, as Marty says, many of them “still waver in conviction, are apathetic about belief, or are ‘merely’ tolerant as they settle for passionless decline.”  No better reality is offered in this regard by those whose commitment to scientism judges evangelical Christian faith to be a most unsophisticated heresy.
Drummond recognized that some doubts are simply intellectual problems and, as such, he said that “It would be a pity if all these problems could be solved. The joy of the intellectual life would be largely gone.”  Some doubts are honest difficulties, what Drummond called “can’t believe.” But other doubts are really unbelief or what Drummond called “won’t believe.” He saw the former “doubt [as] honesty” but, he said, “unbelief is obstinacy.”  He recognized that in both religion and in science, “Heresy is truth in the making, and [honest] doubt is the prelude of knowledge.”  Honest doubt is natural, inevitable and can be productive. As Drummond observed, “We are born questioners. … The child’s great word when it begins to speak is, ‘Why?'” He said that “That is the incipient doubt” in our very nature. “Respect doubt for its origin. It is an inevitable thing. It is not a thing to be crushed.” 
Evangelist D. L. Moody spoke of Drummond as “the most Christ-like man I ever knew” but Moody had to fight off the criticism of less gracious Christians who constantly objected to Moody’s repeatedly offering the Northfield platform to this queer Christian evolutionist and proponent of higher criticism of the Bible. Apparently Christ-like people can be seen as mighty queer Christians.
According to George MacDonald, another queer 19th century Scottish Christian—booted out of the established church because his doubts were unacceptable: “Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood. … Doubt must precede every deeper assurance.”  C. S. Lewis considered MacDonald to be his “master.” Lewis attributed the conversion or baptism of his own imagination, as he put it, to the “holiness” of MacDonald’s “greatest genius” for troubling “oldest certainties till all questions [were] reopened” for his pilgrimage to Christ. 
Well why do so many of us seem so afraid to exercise doubt of this healthy, even “holy,” variety? Fundamentalists of all stripes try to dispel all doubt. They try to do this by changing the spelling from D-O-U-B-T to D-O-G-M-A. It spells doubt just the same. Intellectuals can especially weary of doubt. Out of his Sturm und Drang, Goethe somewhere insisted: “Tell me of your certainties, I have doubts enough of my own.” Out of his Roman Catholicism, G. K. Chesterton complained that “Moderns permit any writer to emphasize doubts but let no man emphasize dogmas.”  Agnostic restriction in the name of doubt can spell dogma just the same. Read more →