Doubt and the Mind of the Believer

In my reader, I stumbled across this piece on famous people who were admitted into an asylum.  The case of John Thomas Perceval interested me most, both because he wrote a book which was helpful to the field of psychology about his time in the asylum, and because the man suffered from a religious mania.  I was curious about the specifics of this religious mania.  One example of religious mania I read about prior to this occurred in a friend of Samuel Johnson, who would pray at random moments during his day, even in the middle of a public square.  Johnson felt that there had been no need to incarcerate him because the insanity was rather harmless.  He also opined that people who did not pray at all were more crazy.

Samuel Johnson.  According to Boswell, the coolest cat in 18th century London.

Samuel Johnson. According to Boswell, the coolest cat in 18th century London.

Anyway, back to Perceval.  His insanity centered around hearing voices which offered him two choices.  One of which was alleged to be the voice of the Holy Spirit; yet, making a choice between the two or refusing to do either was always represented later to him as wrong and evidence of his ingratitude to God.  He would hastily act or speak at the prompting of these voices.  For example, he would hear the voices say “That is Samuel Hobbs if you will.  If not, it is Herminet Herbert.” In his book, he says that he began to realize that his inability to accept doubt was part of his malady.  He learned to wait for someone else to confirm the person’s name.  Three years of treatment, the most effective remedies of which came from within, cured him.  Here is his story.

St. Bartholomew is the patron saint against nervous and neurological disorders.  Also, ironically, the patron saint of tanners.  Read about him to understand the irony.

St. Bartholomew is the patron saint against nervous and neurological disorders. Also, ironically, the patron saint of tanners. Read about him to understand the irony.

This leads to the question of what part does doubt have in the life of a believer.  The tragic flaw of Shinji Ikari in the third Evangelion Rebuild movie comes to mind. (*Spoiler Alert*) Against the command of Misato, he comes to the conclusion that he must pilot an Eva.  Furthermore, he doggedly holds to his final mission in the movie despite the doubts which form in his co-pilot’s mind–who actually convinced him to undertake the mission in the first place–and the urgings of Asuka.  His co-pilot’s doubts turned out to be well founded, and Shinji’s perseverance on the wrong course produced dire consequences.

Should have connected, Asuka.

Should have connected, Asuka.

The Desert Fathers have named pride as a cause of insanity.  Doubt seems to then be part of humility.  Our ignorance is abysmal–even in the case of those deemed brilliant.  And so, we rely upon others’ advice and the learning process never ends.  However, how is doubt reconciled with faith?  Many atheists probably think that believers practice a Shinji-esque stubbornness, but this is not actually the case with faith.  Believers often have doubts.  Once during the sacrament of Reconciliation, a certain young man humiliated himself by admitting that he had doubts concerning God’s goodness.  Curiously, the perfection of the priest’s advice coupled with that confessor’s subsequent inability to console his soul convinced him that Our Lord Himself had borrowed the confessor’s lips at that moment–as priests admit occasionally happens.

zacchaeus2

The point of this anecdote is that God himself acts to remove one’s doubts.  Can one imagine how the young man’s confidence was restored by this intervention?  God, curiously, wants us to trust Him even when we have no confidence in Him.  Our Lord told St. Gertrude that a lack of confidence prevented in no way prevented one from praying “Even if God cast me into hell, He will save me” or “Even if He slay me, I will trust in Him.”  This almost seems cruel; yet, it is impossible that the Heart of God can be cruel.  Everything will be clear one day.  I suppose, as the song goes, one needs to be cruel to be kind sometimes.

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Legens, scribe sententias tuas.

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