The Beginnings of Doubt
by: John Tyrrell
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This month marks the beginning of the 20th year of this website. It's a long time to keep such an endeavour going — it would have been impossible without the positive feedback over the years, and all the written contributions which kept the content growing even while I was having a dry spell — and there have been a few of those. I appreciate everyone's support over the years.
I also this month have had a birthday - one of those which ends with a zero. I now enter a decade in which it is impossible to lie to myself that I'm only middle-aged. The numbers tell me I've suddenly become old. And I won't be able to continue doing this forever. But I do expect to keep it up a while longer.
My involvement with the site is somewhat reinvigorated over the past month as my serialization of old works forces me to revisit the website and update more often than once a week. This month's work — Some Mistakes of Moses by Robert G. Ingersoll — is very readable for a 19C book. I commend it to you.
But back to the subject I intended to write on when I gave this article a title — my own beginnings of doubt.
I've written elsewhere that this website — and its name, Universal Church of the Apathetic Agnostic — go back to 1995. I personally started calling myself an Apathetic Agnostic while in university — in 1965. But where did it begin for me?
My earliest independent thought on religion was when I was about eight or nine and I realized that all my friends attended Sunday schools of different denominations than I attended. And wondered "Why are they going there? Don't they realize they are wrong." At that age, I didn't have any idea what the doctrinal differences between Church of England, Presbyterian, Methodist, United, Baptist, etc., were — but I knew that doctrinal differences existed and that somehow they who were not CofE were all wrong. After all, everyone couldn't be right. And my upbringing had to be right.
It wasn't long after that I learned the simple version of the origins of my own denomination — so a king could get a divorce! And that was enough to make me to start questioning the validity of CofE. Out of that, I was able to recognize that what I'd been brought up with could possibly be wrong; and I could recognize that the beliefs on my friends in the correctness of their own church's teaching could also be wrong. While everyone could not be right, everyone could still be wrong.
It was a still a while before I would come across the idea of agnosticism and be able to determine I was an agnostic, but still the basis of that agnosticism lay in the early questioning of my friends' beliefs, which then turned into a questioning of the background of my own beliefs, and by extension into all beliefs. And those were the beginnings of my doubts.
There's a critical jump involved which not everyone is able to make — which is why so many remain in the faith of their parents. It's not enough to question what others believe — you have to make the same critical judgement on your own beliefs.
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