‘Faith After Doubt’ author Brian McLaren to speak on finding faith, building cultures of empathy



Faith has almost always been a part of Brian McLaren’s life. Conversely, so has doubt.

“I am a committed Christian, but doubt has been my companion really throughout my whole life,” McLaren said.

Faith and doubt are the highlights of McLaren’s latest book, Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It, which came out in January. 

McLaren, although born one hour east in Olean, New York, in 1957, will make his first in-person visit to Chautauqua. He will present his lecture “Studios of Empathy: Why, What, and How?,” at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2 in the Amphitheater, the first of three Interfaith Lectures for Week Six themed “Building a Culture of Empathy.”

His recent book is deeply personal to him, he said.

“I grew up in settings where doubt was something to be ashamed of, maybe hidden or covered up, and I came to understand in my own life that doubt wasn’t the enemy of faith, but pretending wasn’t good for your faith,” he said. “On a personal level, that’s important.”

Although raised in the church, McLaren felt himself drifting away from Christianity during his teenage years. 

Then, one night changed his life.

“I was lying under a clear, starry sky one night and had an acute sense of not just looking up and seeing beauty, but of being seen by that beauty, seen and known and loved,” he said. “I felt that love fill me, so powerfully that it felt a little scary — more than my human heart could handle.”

Later that night, McLaren saw his friends with the same level of beauty and love.

“From that night forward, I have felt in my deepest self the truth of what John said in the New Testament, that God is love, whoever lives in love lives in God,” he said. 

His career since then has been focused on helping people find the most loving versions of themselves, he said. He was a pastor for over 20 years, and he is currently a faculty member at The Living School for Action and Contemplation. McLaren has received two honorary doctoral degrees, one from Carey Theological Seminary in Vancouver in 2004 and another from Virginia Theological Seminary (Episcopal) in 2010.

For all these years, people have come to McLaren, bringing with them their questions, problems and doubts. He’s seen a steady increase recently, though.

“In the last six or seven years, I’ve just seen an almost tsunami of people needing to talk about their questions and doubts,” he said. “People are watching the way a lot of Christians have been involved in politics, culminating really on Jan. 6 when we saw ‘Jesus Saves’ flags not far from gallows being raised to hang somebody. All of this created somewhere between a crisis and catastrophe for many people in their faith.”

McLaren sees empathy as a way forward. As he is the first interfaith lecturer for this week’s theme, he wants to set a theological, psychological and historical framework about empathy.

“I want to talk about the possibility of our faith communities across religious traditions becoming places that actually build a culture of empathy,” he said. 

He calls these studios of empathy, meant to help the community at large. 

One of the issues with empathy right now is that nobody necessarily thinks it is their job to wake up each day and figure out how to build a culture of empathy, he said. He hopes people walk away with a sense of wanting to create that culture.

“I would hope each person who is present goes away feeling like, ‘This is my job,’ ” he said. 

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The author Max Zambrano

Max Zambrano is a recent Western Kentucky University graduate in his first season at Chautauqua. At WKU, he served as editor-in-chief of the Talisman magazine and website, majored in political science and minored in journalism writing. Max has traveled to Australia and Morocco, and he hopes to visit all 50 states (28 to go). This summer, he will report on interfaith lectures and sacred song services. Let him know if you want to play backgammon on Bestor Plaza.