Fifty Years of Doubt

On the morning of Friday, November 22, 1963, I was living in a black and white world.  Any questions that arose were answered by my parents or the nuns at my grade school and, at the wise old age of 13, I believed them.  I knew that America was always right and that Communism was the work of Satan.  I knew that Catholicism was the only true religion and that those who adhered to other beliefs would not be allowed in heaven; Jews, in particular, were unworthy of salvation.  I knew that man was God's chosen species, created in his image and given dominion over all lesser creatures on planet Earth.  Most of all, I knew that I was fortunate to live in a white, middle-class suburb of the wholesome Midwest, far from urban crime and the influence of liberals on either coast.  All of that innocent bliss would begin to unravel by early afternoon.

That evening, at a prayer service for President Kennedy, I wondered for the first time why God would allow such tragedies to occur, especially to our first Catholic President who, we knew, was a devoted husband and father.  Subtle doubts began to arise, fed by disagreements over the Vietnam War, Civil Rights and the nature of religion itself.  During my college years at a public university, exposed to the views of students from other States and countries, my commitment to intellectual honesty took hold and the black and white world of my youth was abandoned for the colorful, if less comfortable world of personal independence.

Fifty years later, I recognize that doubt plays a crucial role in our development as mature, thoughtful human beings.  Indeed, all human progress depends on our willingness to question the status quo, to develop our own ideas and to subject them to the rigors of scientific investigation.  For me, the tragedy of the Kennedy assassination, still fresh in my mind, set that entire process in motion.