The gospel of doubt | Casey Gerald


There we were, souls and bodies packed
into a Texas church on the last night of our lives. Packed into a room just like this, but with creaky wooden pews
draped in worn-down red fabric, with an organ to my left
and a choir at my back and a baptism pool
built into the wall behind them. A room like this, nonetheless. With the same great feelings of suspense, the same deep hopes for salvation, the same sweat in the palms and the same people
in the back not paying attention. (Laughter) This was December 31, 1999, the night of the Second Coming of Christ, and the end of the world as I knew it. I had turned 12 that year and had reached the age of accountability. And once I stopped complaining about how unfair it was
that Jesus would return as soon as I had to be accountable
for all that I had done, I figured I had better get
my house in order very quickly. So I went to church as often as I could. I listened for silence as anxiously
as one might listen for noise, trying to be sure that the Lord
hadn’t pulled a fast one on me and decided to come back early. And just in case he did, I built a backup plan, by reading the “Left Behind” books
that were all the rage at the time. And I found in their pages that if I was not taken
in the rapture at midnight, I had another shot. All I had to do was avoid
taking the mark of the beast, fight off demons, plagues
and the Antichrist himself. It would be hard — (Laughter) but I knew I could do it. (Laughter) But planning time was over now. It was 11:50pm. We had 10 minutes left, and my pastor called us
out of the pews and down to the altar because he wanted to be praying
when midnight struck. So every faction of the congregation took its place. The choir stayed in the choir stand, the deacons and their wives — or the Baptist Bourgeoisie
as I like to call them — (Laughter) took first position in front of the altar. You see, in America, even the Second Coming of Christ
has a VIP section. (Laughter) (Applause) And right behind the Baptist Bourgeoisie were the elderly — these men and women whose young backs
had been bent under hot suns in the cotton fields of East Texas, and whose skin seemed to be burnt
a creaseless noble brown, just like the clay of East Texas, and whose hopes and dreams
for what life might become outside of East Texas had sometimes been bent and broken even further than their backs. Yes, these men and women
were the stars of the show for me. They had waited their whole lives
for this moment, just as their medieval predecessors
had longed for the end of the world, and just as my grandmother
waited for the Oprah Winfrey Show to come on Channel 8
every day at 4 o’clock. And as she made her way to the altar, I snuck right in behind her, because I knew for sure that my grandmother was going to heaven. And I thought that if I held on
to her hand during this prayer, I might go right on with her. So I held on and I closed my eyes to listen, to wait. And the prayers got louder. And the shouts of response
to the call of the prayer went up higher even still. And the organ rolled on in
to add the dirge. And the heat came on to add to the sweat. And my hand gripped firmer, so I wouldn’t be the one
left in the field. My eyes clenched tighter so I wouldn’t see the wheat
being separated from the chaff. And then a voice rang out above us: “Amen.” It was over. I looked at the clock. It was after midnight. I looked at the elder believers whose savior had not come, who were too proud to show
any signs of disappointment, who had believed too much and for too long to start doubting now. But I was upset on their behalf. They had been duped, hoodwinked, bamboozled, and I had gone right along with them. I had prayed their prayers, I had yielded not to temptation
as best I could. I had dipped my head not once, but twice in that snot-inducing baptism pool. I had believed. Now what? I got home just in time
to turn on the television and watch Peter Jennings
announce the new millennium as it rolled in around the world. It struck me that it would have
been strange anyway, for Jesus to come back again and again based on the different time zones. (Laughter) And this made me feel
even more ridiculous — hurt, really. But there on that night,
I did not stop believing. I just believed a new thing: that it was possible not to believe. It was possible the answers
I had were wrong, that the questions themselves were wrong. And now, where there was once
a mountain of certitude, there was, running right down
to its foundation, a spring of doubt, a spring that promised rivers. I can trace the whole drama of my life back to that night in that church when my savior did not come for me; when the thing I believed most certainly turned out to be, if not a lie, then not quite the truth. And even though most of you
prepared for Y2K in a very different way, I’m convinced that you are here because some part of you has done
the same thing that I have done since the dawn of this new century, since my mother left
and my father stayed away and my Lord refused to come. And I held out my hand, reaching for something to believe in. I held on when I arrived at Yale at 18, with the faith that my journey
from Oak Cliff, Texas was a chance to leave behind
all the challenges I had known, the broken dreams
and broken bodies I had seen. But when I found myself back home
one winter break, with my face planted in the floor, my hands tied behind my back and a burglar’s gun pressed to my head, I knew that even the best education
couldn’t save me. I held on when I showed up
at Lehman Brothers as an intern in 2008. (Laughter) So hopeful — (Laughter) that I called home to inform my family that we’d never be poor again. (Laughter) But as I witnessed this temple of finance come crashing down before my eyes, I knew that even the best job
couldn’t save me. I held on when I showed up
in Washington DC as a young staffer, who had heard a voice
call out from Illinois, saying, “It’s been a long time coming, but in this election, change
has come to America.” But as the Congress ground to a halt and the country ripped at the seams and hope and change
began to feel like a cruel joke, I knew that even
the political second coming could not save me. I had knelt faithfully at the altar
of the American Dream, praying to the gods of my time of success, and money, and power. But over and over again, midnight struck, and I opened my eyes to see that all of these gods were dead. And from that graveyard, I began the search once more, not because I was brave, but because I knew
that I would either believe or I would die. So I took a pilgrimage
to yet another mecca, Harvard Business School — (Laughter) this time, knowing that I could not
simply accept the salvation that it claimed to offer. No, I knew there’d be more work to do. The work began in the dark corner
of a crowded party, in the late night of an early,
miserable Cambridge winter, when three friends and I asked a question that young folks searching
for something real have asked for a very long time: “What if we took a road trip?” (Laughter) We didn’t know where’d we go
or how we’d get there, but we knew we had to do it. Because all our lives we yearned,
as Jack Kerouac wrote, to “sneak out into the night
and disappear somewhere,” and go find out what everybody was doing all over the country. So even though there were
other voices who said that the risk was too great
and the proof too thin, we went on anyhow. We went on 8,000 miles across America
in the summer of 2013, through the cow pastures of Montana,
through the desolation of Detroit, through the swamps of New Orleans, where we found and worked
with men and women who were building small businesses that made purpose their bottom line. And having been trained
at the West Point of capitalism, this struck us as a revolutionary idea. (Laughter) And this idea spread, growing into a nonprofit
called MBAs Across America, a movement that landed me here
on this stage today. It spread because we found
a great hunger in our generation for purpose, for meaning. It spread because we found
countless entrepreneurs in the nooks and crannies of America who were creating jobs and changing lives and who needed a little help. But if I’m being honest, it also spread because I fought to spread it. There was no length
to which I would not go to preach this gospel, to get more people to believe that we could bind the wounds
of a broken country, one social business at a time. But it was this journey of evangelism that led me to the rather different gospel that I’ve come to share with you today. It began one evening almost a year ago at the Museum of Natural History
in New York City, at a gala for alumni
of Harvard Business School. Under a full-size replica of a whale, I sat with the titans of our time as they celebrated their peers
and their good deeds. There was pride in a room where net worth
and assets under management surpassed half a trillion dollars. We looked over all that we had made, and it was good. (Laughter) But it just so happened, two days later, I had to travel up the road to Harlem, where I found myself
sitting in an urban farm that had once been a vacant lot, listening to a man named Tony
tell me of the kids that showed up there every day. All of them lived below the poverty line. Many of them carried
all of their belongings in a backpack to avoid losing them
in a homeless shelter. Some of them came to Tony’s program, called Harlem Grown, to get the only meal they had each day. Tony told me that he started Harlem Grown
with money from his pension, after 20 years as a cab driver. He told me that he didn’t give
himself a salary, because despite success,
the program struggled for resources. He told me that he would take any help that he could get. And I was there as that help. But as I left Tony,
I felt the sting and salt of tears welling up in my eyes. I felt the weight of revelation that I could sit in one room on one night, where a few hundred people
had half a trillion dollars, and another room, two days later, just 50 blocks up the road, where a man was going without a salary to get a child her only meal of the day. And it wasn’t the glaring inequality
that made me want to cry, it wasn’t the thought of hungry,
homeless kids, it wasn’t rage toward the one percent or pity toward the 99. No, I was disturbed
because I had finally realized that I was the dialysis for a country that needed
a kidney transplant. I realized that my story
stood in for all those who were expected to pick
themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they didn’t have any boots; that my organization stood in for all the structural, systemic help
that never went to Harlem or Appalachia or the Lower 9th Ward; that my voice stood in
for all those voices that seemed too unlearned,
too unwashed, too unaccommodated. And the shame of that, that shame washed over me like the shame of sitting
in front of the television, watching Peter Jennings
announce the new millennium again and again and again. I had been duped, hoodwinked, bamboozled. But this time, the false savior was me. You see, I’ve come a long way
from that altar on the night I thought
the world would end, from a world where people spoke in tongues and saw suffering
as a necessary act of God and took a text to be infallible truth. Yes, I’ve come so far that I’m right back where I started. Because it simply is not true to say that we live in an age of disbelief — no, we believe today just as much
as any time that came before. Some of us may believe
in the prophecy of Brené Brown or Tony Robbins. We may believe in the bible
of The New Yorker or the Harvard Business Review. We may believe most deeply when we worship right here
at the church of TED, but we desperately want to believe, we need to believe. We speak in the tongues
of charismatic leaders that promise to solve all our problems. We see suffering as a necessary act
of the capitalism that is our god, we take the text of technological progress to be infallible truth. And we hardly realize
the human price we pay when we fail to question one brick, because we fear it might shake
our whole foundation. But if you are disturbed by the unconscionable things
that we have come to accept, then it must be questioning time. So I have not a gospel
of disruption or innovation or a triple bottom line. I do not have a gospel of faith
to share with you today, in fact. I have and I offer a gospel of doubt. The gospel of doubt does not ask
that you stop believing, it asks that you believe a new thing: that it is possible not to believe. It is possible the answers
we have are wrong, it is possible the questions
themselves are wrong. Yes, the gospel of doubt means
that it is possible that we, on this stage, in this room, are wrong. Because it raises the question, “Why?” With all the power
that we hold in our hands, why are people still suffering so bad? This doubt leads me to share
that we are putting my organization, MBAs Across America, out of business. We have shed our staff
and closed our doors and we will share our model freely with anyone who sees
their power to do this work without waiting for our permission. This doubt compels me to renounce the role of savior that some have placed on me, because our time is too short
and our odds are too long to wait for second comings, when the truth is that
there will be no miracles here. And this doubt, it fuels me, it gives me hope that when our troubles overwhelm us, when the paths laid out for us
seem to lead to our demise, when our healers bring
no comfort to our wounds, it will not be our blind faith — no, it will be our humble doubt that shines a little light
into the darkness of our lives and of our world and lets us raise our voice to whisper or to shout or to say simply, very simply, “There must be another way.” Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “The gospel of doubt | Casey Gerald”

  1. I do understand you sir: you eighter go with the flow and expect others to know best or wake up and relize its not about them but about you and finding that you are the source of wisdom, the one who create the future, the one who know best. All other is just made up. Kinda hard to explain

  2. The way he is talking sounds very sophisticated. Although, what he is saying is simply agnosticism. I'm a bit confused, I thought TED talks are more scientific of nature, but that one seems to be a testimony (vividness problem…).

  3. 18 seconds in and I've heard 'soul' and 'church'. If this gets spiritual I'm going to be pretty depressed, TED.

  4. Bravo! An eloquent, sermon-like speech befitting the title, well written and delivered with steadfast passion. One of TED's best. It takes courage to ask "why" and learn something new.

  5. As is customary in the western world, those who view this speech will stare, marvel and opine on the hand pointing and completely ignore that at which the hand is pointing.

  6. This man is a superb speaker. Very self aware, sincere, and honest. Many people, myself included, have been what you might call the victim of various belief systems- religious, political, academic- by being incentivized by those that wish to make us our feudal serfs.

  7. Grow up, Casey, leave the lie of capitalism and welcome socialism. Everything you have known is a lie, the answer is fairness, imposed by government.

  8. Excellent.  I've watched a lot of Ted Talks and this was excellent.  I could listen to this guy all day.  World, if you haven't already, discover this guy.

  9. To believe is to live as though it is so already, but then as man we connect a time/date by which it much become reality – isn't this the definition of planning (and plans failing)? True believe has no time limit.

  10. But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. Matt 24:36
    Faith is the ability to be without belief.

  11. Could someone tell me what happened to the Leman Brothers in 2008?
    (Sorry if I was ignorant when I was 10, I'm not an American so I'm not sure about your politics.)

  12. Started it and expected some awful religious garbage. Ended with a decent talk about how people believe in things that didn't really have anything to do with religion at all.

  13. I will have to watch again later to be sure but did he just give one of the best speeches I've ever heard to espouse the point, 'I tried to help. It didn't work. I don't know how to fix the problem. You do it.'

  14. Why do we have slow minded racist idiots running for president and not people like this guy? Could someone please enlighten me?

  15. Circle logic. The end of his presentation is which came first, the chicken or the egg. He was living his faith, as a child, through other's personal relationship. Jesus never said he would return in the year 2000, He said He would come when no one is expecting (Matthew 24:36, 44). As for capitalism and the free market, these worked very well in a "religious" (Christian) society. 
    John Adams:

    W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.(Source: John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co. 1854), Vol. IX, p. 229, October 11, 1798.)
    The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shalt not covet," and "Thou shalt not steal," were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.(Source: John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), Vol. VI, p. 9.)
    John Q Adams:
    The law given from Sinai was a civil and municipal as well as a moral and religious code; it contained many statutes . . . of universal application-laws essential to the existence of men in society, and most of which have been enacted by every nation which ever professed any code of laws.(Source: John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams, to His Son, on the Bible and Its Teachings(Auburn: James M. Alden, 1850), p. 61.)Benjamin Franklin:
    [O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.(Source: Benjamin Franklin, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, editor (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore and Mason, 1840), Vol. X, p. 297, April 17, 1787. )There are many more quotes that show the Founders of America knew this nation had to remain moral Biblically to survive.
    Once leaving the laws that gave us morality that forbade stealing, lying and murdering, then mankind has to search for new laws to create morals since they refused the original set, but this leads to much more bondage and suffering. All mankind has to suffer to some degree as it is part of our punishment. This life requires growing and growing is painful.

  16. There's a difference between doubt caused by good reason and doubt caused by fear and pride. Most doubt is of the latter and is a demon we must all conquer.

  17. iGuess your chuch failed to tell you to read your bible, it says NO ONE KNOWS THE TIME OR DAY OF HIS COMING. Just saying.

  18. Wait so he became successful through hard work and innovation which led him to believe that hard work and innovation isn't a viable solution…

  19. I don't understand why I just watched that all the way through, but the end was kind of depressing. This speech was just pseudo-optimism: Have hope in a lack of hope for anything, because you can guarantee that nothing is certain.

  20. Why is it that you believed it what your pastor said and never doubted him to try and find out if he's right? I know that you were a child back then and you didn't know any better but if your pastor or your read the bible correctly you would have noticed that no one knows when the christ is going to come back. He will chose the day and come on that day. If he was to announce the day of his coming, people would just live their lives in sin and when the day comes, pray for repentance and hope to be saved. We would all be hypocrites. One of the reasons if not the main reason why we think Christ was to come again in the year 2000 was because of one man. Harold Camping he made the predictions and through some logical explanations, people believed him, but he was just spreading lies.

    No one knows when christ is coming, and I've had my fair share of doubts but never stop believing in what I was raised upon. For those who do not believe in Christ, I respect you just the same as for those who do, but let me leave you with this: If you are right and God isn't real I don't owe you anything the day we pass, but if I was right, you owe me your life. Currently one of my friends knew exactly what I meant by this.

  21. To Casey Gerald: Don't allow the spirit of doubt to discourage you or cause you to disbelieve in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here are some Scriptures that may help you:

    Numbers 23:19– "God is not a man that He should lie…has He said, and will He not do?…

    1 Thessalonians 5:2- For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.

    Matthew 24:36, 37- "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.

    2 Peter 3:3-4, 9- knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming?…The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

    Matthew 14:31– And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

  22. This is so , I'm sorry, idiotic that I find it kinda funny that this guy is blaming others for not getting things right. When himself right now is being so ridiculously obtuse !! … The Bible clearly states that no one knows exactly when the world is going to end. So if Mr. Ted, like a good Christian, had created a personal relationship with the Lord, he would have known beforehand that any prediction of a precise date of the end is going to be wrong. But now he is adding, to that failure on his part a more spectacular goof up by assembling a roomful of folks and, oh heavens !!, confidently, and condescendingly waxing eloquent about how clueless he was and still is about the scriptures !! … I HOPE NO ONE ACTUALLY STAYS BELIEVING THIS ERRONEOUS APOSTATE !!

  23. GOD SAID NO ONE KNOWS THE HOUR THE SON OF MAN WOULD RETURN…….

    THIS TELLS ME THIS GUY DOES NOT KNOW HIS BIBLE…….
    HE BELIEVED IN HIS PASTOR NOT GOD

    GOD SAID ONLY TO STUDY THE WORLD OF GOD AND BE APPROVED OF HIM NOT MEN……….

    THIS GUY TO ME FOLLOWED MEN NOT GOD……

    MANY FOLLOW THEIR PASTORS NOT GOD ….

    THE GOSPEL IS ABOUT THE FAiTH WE ALL HAVE TO BELIEVE IN GOD PERSONALLY..

    MANY BELIEVE WHAT THEIR TOLD NOT STUDiED WHATS WRITTEN. IN THE WORD OF GOD..

  24. Open minded skepticism with friendly heart is best approach. Like my old boss always promised a forklift
    would be there soon to load trucks, Forklift never came. Always us men had to lift. I could not believe him blindly anymore.

  25. As of right now, 19 January 2019 – 06.30 (UTC+3), there are 107 thousand views, two of which are mine: I watched it when it came out and I just watched it again. Anyways, feels good to be one of the lucky 50-100K people who experienced this.

  26. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBLL8ThhPbw
    somebody genious turned this man's wise words into techno masterpiece

  27. I think you should study Islam, there is no god but God, God is God without doubt.

    We all of a preconceived notion of God, those notions become our god.

    You my friend sound like a Muslim and seem introduced personally with the desire to find Allah

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