08/30/2007 06:06 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mother Teresa's Doubts

At a recent dinner with friends, someone at the table recalled a conversation she had with an Episcopal priest who told her that he didn't really believe in God -- and that, in fact, few priests he knows do. My devout dinner companions all solemnly shook their heads, but I was unfazed. In fact, someone once accused me of not believing in God, and, given what I knew of that person's conception of God, I didn't argue.

I suspect that what that priest meant was that he no longer believed in an idea of God that many of his parishioners, likely just for lack of interest or time to think about these matters, still seem to hold. Along these lines, seminarians typically experience a very difficult second year (of three) as they find out they no longer believe in the idea of God they had when they came in -- something I underwent, right on cue. Then, once we become priests, we think so much about God (not to mention attempt to reconcile our notion of God with all the pain we're exposed to in our parishioners' lives) that we find ourselves developing still a different idea of God than the one we left seminary with.

All of which came to mind when I heard about Mother Teresa's doubts. My initial response to the news was to wonder what God she thought she ought to believe in. I remembered that I thought for a time that I didn't believe in God and, in addition to beating myself up over it, wondered how I could keep on in this profession. But thankfully some friends and colleagues taught me that my move away from the more "classical" and so-called "orthodox" conception of God didn't mean a move away from God.

While I have no idea what God Mother Teresa thought she should believe in, and while I hate to sound vaguely like Christopher Hitchens, I wonder whether she questioned her belief in God partly because her church demanded she cling to an idea of God that she eventually found senseless. God knows (or not) I probably wouldn't pass a heresy test with the Roman Catholic Church -- but I'm quite sure I still believe in God.