Thoughts on Confidence and Certitude

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between confidence and certitude. These are not yet fully developed ideas but rather a few random thoughts that will likely develop into something more substantial in time.

I have railed against certitude. I think certitude is the fundamental problem of fundamentalism. Certitude is knowing something with absolute certainty. It is firmly believing that something is true. Emphasis on the firmly. When someone believes with certitude, he or she knows without any possibility of being wrong, without any qualification, without any doubt.

Certitude is rigid. And it produces a rigidity of lifestyle, both for the person with certitude and projected upon the people he or she comes into contact with. I make the case in Fundamorphosis that certitude produces legalism which, in turn, produces judgmentalism. Certitude is unbending, unwavering, unquestionable. It seems to me that certitude puts its focus on the person who knows. I am certain. Certitude knows.

Confidence, on the other hand, seems a bit different to me. Confidence is an act of faith. It is the attitude of a person who puts his or her trust in something. It believes the thing to be true but it does so with more fluidity. It has an object outside of itself. I don’t know, but I believe. I’m not sure, but I hope. Against all odds, I will trust with optimism and confidence. Certitude knows, but confidence hopes.

I write all this because I don’t want people to have the impression that my rejection of certitude is a rejection of truth or the Bible or God. It is not. It is a rejection of a philosophical system that helped produced a ecclesiastical structure that for me ended up being dangerous and detrimental. I am no longer certain, but I am still confident, not in myself but Jesus.

I like way Bono puts it in U2’s song Stand Up Comedy:

I can stand up / For hope, faith, love
But while I’m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road / Like a little old lady


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  • A

    So, I think I understand the distinction you are attempting to draw. I would likely agree with the negative impact that some have caused in carelessly wielding their certainty.
    But, I struggle with drawing this line and rejecting certitude entirely, even if it is swapped with confidence.
    I think John’s letters, especially the first one, reference certain things that we can know, and know for certain, and the result of that knowing is confidence.
    It also seems that the point of God revealing Himself to us is so that we can know Him, and know something about him. If we can only be confident in Him, and only hope that we know accurately, then have we failed to grasp what God has intended to reveal about Himself?

  • bryson456

    The fifth paragraph helps me understand your opinion a bit better. I’ve always been able to separate the abuses of fundamentalism’s certitude from actual certitude itself. If you’re not doing that, I appreciate your opinion regarding confidence. I don’t see the distinction, but I can live with the semantics.