I’ve been vaguely aware of something called ‘The Dreyfus Affair,’ but never looked into it, until a friend recommended this book by Robert Harris. It’s a fictionalised account of the grave injustice done to French army officer Alfred Dreyfus.
In 1894, he is convicted of spying for the Germans, and sent to Devil’s Island.
Soon afterwards, George Picquart, also an officer in the French army, is appointed to head up the counter espionage unit that had investigated Dreyfus.
It’s not long before Picquart has a case to get his teeth into, when informants pass on scraps of letters that appear to be communications with a foreign government. The guilty party appears to be a general, and his handwriting is very similar to the handwriting on the documents that were key evidence in the conviction of Dreyfus.
It’s not long before Picquart begins to have doubts about the case against Dreyfus, but hampered by the unwillingness of the army heriarchy to admit they made a mistake, it is a very long time before the truth is revealed.
There’s a lot to take from this, but the thing that I want to highlight is the importance of doubt. It’s not until Picquart has doubts about the safety of the conviction that he starts to investigate further.
As I think about the journey of life, it seems to me that we mature and grow when we are confronted with the compost of doubt. A mindset that is fixed and certain – for example one that denies the reality of the climate emergency, can only change when some element of doubt is sown.
Every development in human thought has come when someone started to doubt what had, up to that point, been accepted as true. For example, the ‘Galileo Affair’ ended with the trial and condemnation of Galileo by the Roman Catholic Inquisition for his support of the theory that the earth and the planets revolved around the sun.
But … having doubts can be tough. When you have been brought up with a belief system of certainty – for example the belief that God created the world in seven days, which many sincere Christians believe, it’s going to take some courage to take a different view. To doubt something that your community believe strongly is a risky business. And … it’s only through listening to the whisper of doubt that it’s possible to move on.
In a world of increasing nationalism where unquestioning allegiance, and the certainty of the cause is demanded, it might not be too far off the truth to say that only doubt can save the world.
Grae and Peace