What is Doubt?

Stephen Dedalus defines Aristotle’s two classically recognized “tragic emotions” pity and terror as: “Pity is the feeling that arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the human sufferer. Terror is the feeling that arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the secret cause (Campbell, 58).” Now—I am going to ask you to work a little– take a moment and substitute the word ‘doubt’ for ‘pity’, and the word ‘certainty’ for ‘terror.’  Doubt can unite us with the’ grave and constant,’ of our own convictions, while our own convictions and certainties unite us with the ‘secret cause,’–our doubts.  The struggle with doubts, faith and certainties is a cyclical process, much like Sister Aloysius’ evolution throughout the play.

Is there a sense of terror and pity within one’s own doubt? Are they the foundation for one’s own faith? Should we not be afraid of certainty?

A common factor throughout humanity is our sense of mortality; our mortality is an inevitable certainty. We cannot doubt our mortality; however, we can doubt the faith of one’s own decisions, convictions and moral obligations before mortality is reached. As father Flynn says… “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty.”  There is a tyrannical rigidness that lies beneath certainties (especially with Sister Aloysius), because once a certainty is established there is no room for error, or questioning. To question is to doubt.

Director Whitehill mentions in his Director’s notes that, “The foundation of our faith is founded on the doubt that made it so.” Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad were all stalled by doubts before reaching the tenets of their faiths. Religion, whether it is Christian, Judaic, Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhist etc…, the common ground among them is their pluralistic nature and the multiple possibilities within their traditions (Moyers, 6). The struggle between doubt and faith in God has crossed many a mind keeping us human. As director Whitehill says… “They are inseparable and one cannot exist without the other!”