Today's New York Times book review section features a review by Lauren Winner in which she writes about Eric Lax's book Faith Interrupted. Winner notes that Lax, who writes of his lost faith, seems unable to handle the idea of a faith imbued with ambiguity and doubt:
Yet Lax does not seem interested in cultivating a spiritual life shot through with doubt. He doesn’t want an ambivalent (or, one might say, mature) faith; rather, he writes, recalling the aftermath of his parents’ deaths, “what I wanted to have was what I’d always had, but the faith I had accepted without question and could articulate with catechismal rote could not be recaptured.” Of course, many of us come to a place where such faith is neither possible nor even desirable; I suspect my own small Episcopal church would be largely empty on Sundays if anyone who ever questioned the Creed, anyone whose faith life included seasons of aridity, stayed home.Based on those comments, Lax comes across as someone who Marcus Borg would describe as having made the transition from "pre-critical naivete" to "critical thinking" without ever found a way towards what Borg calls "postcritical naivete". I think it might be worth asking why it is that a lot of people make the first transition but not the second (and there are many people with religious upbringings for whom this is the case--Bart Ehrman comes to mind as famous example). Lax, as described in the above quote, wistfully longs for the dogmatic certainty of his upbringing, and so perhaps the answer in his case is that he would find a religion of ambiguity and uncertainty to be unfulfilling because it would not address this desire to return to a childlike sense of certainty. On the other hand, I often tend to think that people often stop at the "critical thinking" phase not so much because of what they want but because of their own limitations in defining religion--their conception of what religion necessarily is encapsulated in that childlike conception and in some sense it just doesn't occur to them that a religion can be anything else. Certainly a lot of the New Atheists subscribe to this simplistic notion of religion.
Perhaps there is a little of both going on. When many atheists are confronted with progressive or non-theistic forms of religion that don't conform to their stereotypes about religion, two common responses are either to deride such religious ideas for being vague or ill-defined (thus indicating a strong attachment to a dogmatic certainty that resembles the childlike religion that Lax was attached to), or to simply pose the question, "What's the point of such a religion?" While the former objection is rooted in an attachment to the notion of dogmatic certainty as a religious virtue, I think the latter question in particular expresses the problem that a religion of ambiguity or uncertainty doesn't seem to be particularly attractive to some people.
I wonder how much of this is all interrelated. Maybe sometimes, if you are attached to the idea of a religion offering childlike certainty--whether you reject that religion or not--then maybe the reason that a religion of ambiguity and uncertainty can in some sense be so under the radar that is that there are many who, like Eric Lax, find any themselves wistfully attached at some level to a religious certainty that their thinking minds know is not a valid option. Any other kind of religion is thus out of the question. The result is that they are left with no sense of faith at all.