Let’s give him props for honesty:
The archbishop of Canterbury — the spiritual leader of the world’s 80 million Anglican Christians — has admitted he sometimes doubts whether God actually exists. Justin Welby made the comments during a relaxed interview in front of an audience at Bristol Cathedral, in England.
“There are moments, sure, where you think, ‘Is there a God? Where is God?‘” The archbishop, who is also the leader of the Church of England, added that his admission was “probably not what the archbishop of Canterbury should be saying.”
Welby said he found himself doubting the existence of God during a recent jog. “The other day I was praying over something as I was running and I ended up saying to God: ‘Look, this is all very well but isn’t it about time you did something — if you’re there.’
I gather from what I’ve learned about Welby that his is a “happy” doubt, a way of transforming the cognitive dissonance that must lurk in many believers into a pressure-relieving acceptance of religion’s perplexity. In other words, it’s a letting-go of rigidity and dogma, while holding on to central precepts of the faith, like the existence of Jesus.
If that’s true, that makes Welby’s state of mind very different from that of another religious celebrity who lost the faith — Mother Teresa, who spent the last fifty years of her life in spiritual misery while any hint of God’s presence eluded her.
There must be angry Anglicans who think that Welby has committed betrayal, but I submit that his expression of doubt won’t hurt his Church and may very well help counter its long-waning popularity. Thanks to the Internet, information about religion is at everyone’s fingertips. A lot of it is highly critical, and a lot of that criticism is relentlessly logical. For believers who are honest and open-minded, doubt is the new normal. I’ll bet that, in terms of finding followers, a church leader who cops to sometimes wondering whether God is real will have an easier time than dogmatic authoritarians for whom doubt is the devil’s work.
Welby strikes me as sincere, but if his public admission was in fact dreamed up by, say, the aggressive freelance spinmeisters employed by the Church of England, it’s probably a pretty effective public-relations strategy.