In praise of doubt
Praised be doubt! I advise you to greet
Cheerfully and with respect the man
Who tests your word like a bad penny.
I’d like you to be wise and not to give
Your word with too much assurance
Read history and see
The headlong flight of invincible armies.
Wherever you look
Impregnable strongholds collapse and
Even if the Armada was innumerable as it
The returning ships
Could be numbered.
Thus, one day a man stood on the
And a ship reached the end of
The endless sea.
O Beautiful the shaking of heads
Over the indisputable truth!
O brave the doctor’s cure
Of the incurable patient!
But the most beautiful of all doubts
Is when the downtrodden and despondent
Raise their heads and
Stop believing in the strength of their oppressors.
(excerpt by Bertolt Brecht, 1932)
I’ve been thinking about Doubt a lot lately. Everything seems to scream and mock from every corner that there is nothing good about doubt. The remedies are many, none more so than having faith it seems which seems to plunge me into the darkest of abyss or on a blind path, like anything can be contained so neatly. As if God could only find me pleasing if I have faith.
And then this poem, it was like every nerve ending stood to attention. At last something I could relate to. It seems to me that Doubt can be BOTH a ‘gift’ and a ‘curse’. Its curse is the continuation or other half of this poem, if you choose to read it to its end. Its curse seems to be a universal human condition of always being certain of one’s own treasured beliefs, holding tightly onto a faith that will not be shaken, even in oneself.
Perhaps it’s not as I have always believed an either… or… but rather a Faith that walks hand in hand with Doubt, both necessary to each other.
Perhaps doubt is rather a Divine gift urging us on to seek and search our inner most beliefs, shaking something deep within ourselves, challenging us to doubt what we have always believed, our certainties, actions, the status quos in this world, enlarging and forcing us at last, to recognise the light within the darkness of ourselves.
Bertolt Brecht was a German playwriter and poet who made popular Epic theatre. The purpose of which was to force the audience to see their world as it is, by using historical contexts and connecting them with current social or political issues. He wanted his audiences to think. He seemed to think we could change the world because to quote him he said (another excerpt) “General, man is very useful. He can fly and he can kill. But he has one defect: He can think.”
Trusting in Doubt