The Sacrament of Doubt
by Paul James Toscano
Hardback / 174 pages / 1-56085-146-5 / $21.95
Paul James Toscano embraces his doubts—doubts that spring from an awareness intimately connected to faith. His doubts extend beyond the incidental aspects of Chrstianity and Mormonism to the fundamentals of faith.
“I fear that Jesus, whom I love so much, may be a fiction,” he writes. Even so, he explains that he cherishes the idea of Jesus “as a king in disguise among his people, eating of their limitations and drinking of their disappointments, yet able to descend into the abyss and rise again, pulling out of meaninglessness both soul and cosmos. If Jesus was not the Christ,” he declares, “he should have been. If he is not God, he should be.”
At the same time, “if Jesus is real, where is he? Certainly he is neither clear nor accessible. And his gospel, as compelling as it is inscrutable, seems to sanctify least those who make it their career.”
Toscano also celebrates LDS founder Joseph Smith’s awe-inspired view of the universe. In Smith’s writings, the Old Testament patriarch Enoch “saw in vision the vast expanse of eternity” and “it shattered his belief. He was undone. He couldn’t believe its creator could care about the microbial humans that inhabit this small speck of earth.”
Thus we see Toscano’s encompassing view of a God who is so far beyond our ultimately petty concerns, he could not care about such things as pedigree—a God who loves everyone equally. However, according to some modern LDS commentators, “the full weight of salvation is upon us”; God’s love is “conditional.” If we err, we are lost.
“This is not good news,” Toscano asserts. “It is not the gospel. It is legalism.” It is not the gospel of a God who cleanses us from corruption—something far and away beyond our own ability—and asks us only that we forgive our neighbors’ trespasses. This God “does not require certainty or purity as conditions of his deliverance, merely that we recognize our lack and long to be filled.” Such divine love transcends even Toscano’s doubts.
“Doubt and faith are twin offspring of genuine spirituality. True spirituality is a free mind that practices irony and compassion. Without doubt, faith hardens into arrogance. Without doubt, we cannot doubt ourselves, our assumptions, aspirations, expectations, and predispositions. Without self-doubt, we cannot question our righteousness; we cannot repent; we cannot forgive. Without doubt, we cannot tolerate the unfamiliar. Without doubt, we cannot criticize the power structures that serve us and afflict others.
“Perhaps faith is to give God the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps doubt is to restrain the narcissism of certainty. For me, the bread of doubt is as sacred as the water of faith. Together they form a Eucharist of hope, a wellspring of charity—a love that is neither partial nor sentimental, but simply the heart’s desire that God’s love fall like rain in equal measure upon the just and the unjust, that no one claim a blessing one would withhold from another or impose a burden one would not bear oneself.”
Paul James Toscano is a former staff editor at the LDS Ensign magazine and author of The Sanctity of Dissent, as well as co-author with his wife, Margaret, of Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology. He lives with his family in Salt Lake City ,where he is a practicing attorney.