Thursday, August 26, 2010

In praise of doubt

Among Graham Greene's voluminous body of work there is a charming little book that generally slips under the radar -- Monsignor Quixote -- a takeoff on the great Cervantes classic. Our new Quixote is a simple country parish priest, and Sancho is the crusty, Marxist, atheist ex-mayor of Quixote's village. Together they go on a picaresque jaunt about Spain in the priest's dilapidated old Seat automobile -- named, of course, Rocinante -- all the while debating their respective faiths.

And their doubts.
The Mayor put his hand for a moment on Father Quixote's shoulder, and Father Quixote could feel the electricity of affection in the touch. It's odd, he thought, as he steered Rocinante with undue caution round a curve, how sharing a sense of doubt can bring men together perhaps even more than sharing a faith. The believer will fight another believer over shades of difference: the doubter fights only with himself.
It was good to spend of few days last week in the back seat of Rocinante, listening to Father Quixote and the Mayor muddle their way through life, committed to their respective world views, each confident that his way is better than any alternative, but open to the possibility that they might be wrong, and, if only inadvertently, to learning from the other. What a relief from the stridency and certainty of the True Believers of all stripes who presently dominate the American media, and, as always, world affairs. Father Quixote makes a distinction between belief and faith. One can't always believe, he says, but one can have faith. His own faith is hedged with doubt, which is not a comfortable place to be, but at least he is not picking a fight with anyone but himself. "Oh, Sancho, Sancho," exclaims the man of faith, "it's an awful thing not to have doubts."