Thomas Moore

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Editor’s Note:

 Traditional Unity teachings distinguish belief from faith, a distinction that Moore does not use. Unity teaches that belief is the first degree of faith and as belief matures it eventually can become a living faith. It is this very process of maturation that can be served by the concept of unbelief provided in this article.

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 When belief is rigid, it is infinitely more dangerous than unbelief. And belief thus becomes thick and rigid so frequently that it is often difficult for a very thoughtful person to want to believe or admit to being a believer.

Some people believe too strongly. Of course religious leaders will say the opposite, that faith can never be too strong.

But a person can be so full of belief that be is blinded to the unorganized, raw, and chaotic life all around him. He spits out his belief, but it is irrelevant in a world infinitely more complex than his beliefs. Even a small amount of unbelief gives life a chance to proceed.

On the other hand, a person of no belief lives an unconscious existence as though he were in a river that he has never observed from the banks. Belief gives daily life the hesitancy of reflection and a little air. Maybe just a dot of belief would save the secularist from absorption in his culture, and a dot of unbelief might save the great devotee from drowning in his faith.

I remember the day I had an interview with the prior in my monastery just six months before I would have been ordained a priest. I had stuck it out for almost thirteen years, living a life of many rewards but just as many sacrifices. He said to me with simple logic, “If you have any doubt about going ahead with your ordination, you will have to either withdraw or postpone it.” I thought for just a moment. I had come to him with some misgivings but without a decision. Faced with the situation as he presented it, I had no choice.

It has never made sense to me to postpone something so big. I have been a master procrastinator all my life, but I have been willing to make decisions in the crunch. “Of course I have some doubt,” I said. Nothing ever seemed—nothing even now ever seems pure and completely certain. So I decided then and there to leave the life to which I had been dedicated for many years.

People often ask me why 1 left the religious community and gave up the opportunity, so close and so hard-won, to be a priest. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that the reason had nothing to do directly with my external life. I could have gone on pursuing my ideals. But something else was being born in me. I could feel it, though I couldn’t name it. It was an embryo. I hadn’t chosen it; it had come to me. I couldn’t refuse it because it didn’t exist on a plane where you accept or deny. It was like my hair turning gray or a mole appearing on my skin . It was only a spot of doubt, but that tiny particle was a life form I couldn’t ignore . It generated all the life that followed.

I had been a true believer in my vocation for many years, and the new life that began to flow in the minute I left my prior’s office found entry only through the tiniest speck of self-questioning . I had not spent my life as a monk struggling with the decision to stay or leave. I had considered it seriously maybe twice. My doubt at the end was minuscule but life-changing.

But what about belief in God or in your spiritual path? Is there room for doubt there? W. B. Yeats spoke of gyres that intersect, where opposites are reconciled as one passes into the other. He quotes William Blake: “There is a place at the bottom of the graves where contraries are equally true.” I’m reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s last thoughts about religion and secular life and at its strongest point find God there, but perhaps not mention Him . If we don’t doubt God and our spiritual path, we are out of the gyre. There is no more hum, no music, no movement. We may enjoy the peace of not having to struggle with belief, but that silence may signal the end of spiritual vitality

M aybe doubt is not the word. Today people don’t seem to struggle with belief as much as they ask what’s in it for them . Doubt may he too much an expectation in an age of unconsciousness. The real threat to belief may not be doubt but sheer lack of interest in anything beyond the immediate gratification of the moment. This is not so much unbelief as nonhelief. Today people look for meaning in success and money, and experience both belief and unbelief from the underside, as they are clobbered by all the symptoms of faith ignored. Only then, in the midst of suffering and confusion, in a life falling apart, do people begin to wonder.

Wonder is a sign that we are intellectually and emotionally alive.

But we can’t wonder if we don’t ask questions. Only the most nervous belief would criticize spiritual wonder. I find every reason to live as though God were a personal presence in my life and world, but every day I wonder if I am deceiving myself. I live as though the human soul were immortal in some way, but I feel challenged by friends and colleagues who declare themselves materialists on this point. I wonder about Jung’s enigmatic yet considered statement, when asked about life after death, that he doesn’t believe, he knows. Is Jung the deluded Gnostic, alchemical Fascist, self-important guru as many characterize him today, or is he the gifted, intelligent, open—minded magus I take him to be?

Can I trust that Jung knew something about the soul more directly than I have ever experienced? Can I place some credence in the story a friend tells of a classic near- death experience? Are they genuine forays into wonder about the greatest of all mysteries? Or are these merely instances of spiritual materialism—giving more empirical evidence for what is essentially a matter of faith.

These questions and this wonder about the mysteries of God and immortality at the very least deepen my thoughts and have a strong impact on my values and way of life. I don’t expect ever to find answers or to feel that I have come to an end of my questions. But this gyre of wonder paradoxically leads me over to the gyre of tranquil faith. It allows for a vibrant peace that would be impossible with simple belief. Maybe the secularist today would benefit from a little doubt about his belief in capitalism and self-realization.

A nd so I enjoy reading about Emily Dickinson’s penchant for unbelief—this in a person who deeply trusted and loved the life and world in which she found herself. Her questioning was a scandal to some, but out of it she created a kind of scripture of the soul—her poems that is trustworthy for its strong questioning confidence in life. To me she is a prime example of the holy fool, a woman who followed her muse toward a lifestyle that many still find very highly eccentric, and toward a poetic style that her contemporaries felt compelled to correct.

It is important not to believe: to criticize, be skeptical, and enter life so fully that belief is put off until later—but only if belief has its day and is implicated subtly and mysteriously in our unbelief. 1 don’t trust unadulterated belief.

Where is its humanity? Where is its weakness? Where is the voice that argues against God and in that puny expression of individuality and humanity makes the dialogue that is the essence of the religious spirit? Nor do 1 trust pure unbelief or nonbclief. What’s the point in living a wonderless life?



May/June 2003

Vol. 183. No. 3 (pgs. 8 - 9)

                    Unity School of Christianity

1901 NW Blue Parkway,

                    Unity Village, MO 6465


From: THE SOUL’S RELIGION © 2002 by Thomas Moore.

Published by arrangement WIth HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

                                         Thomas Moore was a monk in a Catholic religious

                                         order for twelve years and has degrees in theology,

                                         musicology, and philosophy.


A former professor of psychology, he is the author of Care 0f the Soul, Soul Mates, The Re-Enchant--ment 0f Everyday Life, The Education of the Heart, The Soul of Sex, Original Self, and The Soul’ s Religion.

                                         He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two


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