Much of this, as I've written about before, has to do with how modernity has affected religious belief and practice. In a pluralistic and hyper-connected world religious belief is no longer a cultural given, something taken-for-granted, an inherited legacy from our forebears. Rather, in modernity faith is experienced as a choice among a suite of competing options. Between the denominations of Christianity. Between the world religions. Between faith and the varieties of unfaith (e.g., atheism, agnosticism, ignosticism). And this is a choice--simply because it is a choice--that has to be routinely revisited. This makes faith feel fragile, tentative and provisional. Consequently, doubt is a consistent aspect of our religious experience. We doubt because we chose faith and because we chose faith we'll never escape doubt.
So doubt is ever-present. And yet, something seems to happen at this point that I'd like to comment on. The relationship between doubt and cognitive rumination.
Yes, doubt is ever-present but some of us seem to be able to accept this and move on, cognitively and emotionally. And by "moving on" I don't mean we turn our back on doubt and put it in the past. I'm talking about how our minds regularly revisit doubt (see above) but do not linger there long. We're always reminded of and coming back to doubt in the flow of the day or week, but we don't obsess, fixate or dwell upon the doubt. Our mind lands on the doubt, rests there, but then moves on. The doubt isn't ruminative.
Cognitive rumination is repetitive thinking about negative personal concerns and/or the implications, causes and meanings of those concerns. Of interest here is that cognitive rumination is often triggered by negative emotional states (such as depression or anxiety). But cognitive rumination also brings about and exacerbates negative emotional states. This creates a feedback loop between rumination and negative mood, each exacerbating the other in a downward spiral. Adding to this is the fact that people often engage in rumination because they think it will be helpful. The belief is that the intellectual activity involved in rumination will create new insight or understanding. Thus, rumination is self-perpetuating, despite its negative emotional consequences.
I'm bringing up cognitive rumination because I've talked to many, many people who struggle with religious doubt. And having talked to all sorts of doubters, a lot of the doubt out there might be better described as cognitive rumination. Especially when that doubt is accompanied by negative emotional states like depression and anxiety.
There is doubt and then there is ruminating doubt. There is the simple intellectual recognition that faith is provisional, and then there is the cognitive and emotional obsession over that fact. There is a doubt that doesn't bring about negative mood, and then there is the ruminative doubt that creates or exacerbates depression and anxiety. And the sad thing here is that the person engaging in ruminative doubt is doing so in the hope that rumination, if engaged in long enough, will "crack" the faith problem. But as we noted above, this isn't a problem that is going to be "cracked." Thus all that mental and emotional energy is being expended for no purpose. The wheels are spinning and spinning but no forward momentum is gained. All that is gained is increasing depression or anxiety. Which simply exacerbates the rumination.
My point in all this is simply to note that doubt isn't just an intellectual exercise. There is a also a mental health aspect to doubt that needs to be attended to. For there are times when intellectual discussion about faith is important. But there are other times when more discussion is just feeding and exacerbating the rumination. And in those cases, it's better to let the mind and the doubt come to rest.