A Crisis of Faith in America

This country faces a crisis of faith.

ByColumn By Matthew Dowd <a Href="https://twitter.com/matthewjdowd">@matthewjdowd</a>
May 15, 2014, 9:38 AM
PHOTO: An exterior view of the Capitol building in Washington.
An exterior view of the Capitol building in Washington.
ABC News

&#151; -- "The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty."

Though the origin of this quote is uncertain, there is no doubt in its application to today's political interactions and conversations. The reason we have such incredible dysfunction in Washington, DC and around America is not because we are confused about what solutions might work, but because too many on each side of the aisle are certain about their positions.

It is uncomfortable to accept our doubts, sit in our confusion, and allow uncertainty to exist within our hearts and souls. Faith is having doubts and believing anyway. At a time when we think we know all the answers and have what seems like infinite information, we miss the importance of pondering more fully the questions. And that is the wise course in leadership. We have an abundance of knowledge today, and a lack of wisdom.

In today's politics certainty reins, and doubt is pushed aside as a sign of weakness or naïveté. And because certainty is the standard, this country faces a crisis of faith. We seem incapable of holding for any period of time any doubt about what might be the right answer. We jump quickly to the answer and don't allow time for unknowing to provide a way.

If we would allow for more doubts in our conversation and be more open to alternative approaches and we might actually come closer to finding solutions that are out there, but can't be found through all the certainty that exists among members of both major political parties. And by holding ourselves longer in an uncertain space, we can begin to rebuild faith in our political leadership. Today, we seem to be going in the opposite direction of real faith.

Many people today are victims of their own confirmation bias. They so badly need the right answer fast that they seek out only information that confirms their opinions, and ignore information that may raise doubts. And when these opinions are only reinforced with gathering confirmation in a biased way, they become "facts" (or certain) in their own minds. And once somebody feels their position is a fact, there is no way to have an open conversation.

We have media outlets representing each side of the aisle that contribute to this crisis of faith by confidently and consistently expressing the certainty of their positions. Not allowing for any real debate or discussion, or more importantly, doubt to emerge in discovering a way forward for our country. They assert with unmitigated certainty the rightness of their position, or the wrongness of the opposing side. Each side sees America in a black and white way with no room for grays (or doubts).

Our human nature is to seek the solid ground and find the answers, and we tell ourselves and others that is where strength comes from. We think leadership is reflected in the certainty of a particular position or communication, and real leaders have no doubts and are totally confident. We think winners are certain, and doubters are losers.

For me I have come to believe the opposite. I want a leader of faith. Not faith in some certain religion or political party, but a faith that is the opposite of certainty. That can sit in the doubts and still believe the truth will emerge through a process that respects all opinions. A leader who has faith and strength enough not to need quick certain answers, but can trust in a way forward however murky or uncertain it seems. I believe real confidence comes from the strength to stand in the unknown, and not have to be right.

Yes, we need more faith in politics. But not the kind of faith so many folks communicate in our discourse. I want more leaders to emerge who believe, through the doubts and uncertainties, in the faith of the American public to point the way. Leaders who can sit more quietly in the doubts of the world and with openness listen to the wisdom that comes from diverse discussion. And in that space is where our answers will come from. I am not certain about that, but I believe. I have faith.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent.

Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.

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