chapter  5
16 Pages

Uncertainty and Religion: Ten Provisional Theses

ByStephen Pickard

In the popular mind uncertainty is rarely associated with religious claims, particularly in an age of religious fanaticism and fundamentalism. This chapter examines the nature and function of uncertainty in religion. It does so by way of ten provisional theses: five general theses regarding religion in contemporary society and five theses exploring uncertainty from within the Christian tradition. In the first seection the theme of uncertainty is considered against the background of fundamentalism and the accompanying lust for certainty; the impact of appeals to certainty with the rise of the modern sciences from the 17th century and the religious response; and the relationship between faith, doubt and uncertainty. This section highlights the essentially negative way in which uncertainty has operated for religious traditions in the modern period in the West. The second section offers a constructive and positive account of the nature and role of uncertainty from the perspective of Christian theology. Critical here is the link between uncertainty and the long tradition of innovation and creativity that has generated such diversity and richness in the modes of expression of faith. This very diversity opens up new problems and ‘undecidables’ and imports a great deal of uncertainty into the religious life. This positive account of uncertainty calls attention to the need for communities of fundamental trust wherein uncertainties can be held and life can be lived with hopefulness and faith.