The Pride of Skepticism

Perhaps the primary origin of subjectivism today, at least in America, is the desire to be accepted, to be ‘with it,’ fashionable, avant garde, ‘in the know,’ rather than ‘square,’ ‘hokey’ or ‘out of it.’
We all learned this as children – to be embarrassed is the absolutely primary fear of a teenager – but we put more sophisticated, scholarly disguises on it when we become adults.
– Peter Kreeft

The evidence of God’s existence and His gift is more than compelling, but those who insist that they have no need of Him – or it – will always find ways to discount the offer.
– Blaise Pascal

I don’t like to look stupid. I’ve gotten pretty good at laughing at myself, but any ten-cent psychiatrist will tell you that’s just a defense mechanism. Á la Eminem at the end of “8 Mile,” the easiest way to avoid ridicule is to beat them to the punch. I am also proud, and I like to think that my beliefs and opinions are based on something substantial, not just feelings or hearsay. Accepting things based on “authority” has always been difficult, because in that situation the facts are only as reliable as the source, and how well do we really know anyone, much less their motives? I would willingly label myself a “believer,” but in actuality I have a hard time believing a lot of things.

Confession: I am a skeptic. I like to see things, feel them, taste them. I don’t care that everyone says fried mushrooms don’t taste like mushrooms (or anything at all, really) – I don’t like mushrooms. No, not even these mushrooms. I can’t accept that this politician truly is honest – such an idea is out of my range of experience. And, although I certainly accept that they can – and even do – occur, I have a really hard time believing your mystical or spiritual experience. Miracles have been worked in my own life, and yet I am skeptical whenever I hear of those in someone else’s. Is that what really happened? Was anyone objective there to witness it? Is there proof?

And yet, that makes me like the man who prayed for just $100 dollars to pay his rent. If I can just get that, he pleaded with God, then I can make it. When he went to the mailbox, there was a forgotten refund check for $100. Never mind, God, I’ve got it, he said. It is much easier to believe that I did it, that it was coincidence, or that it was (gasp!) karma or fate. It is the pride of skepticism: I am smarter/stronger/better if I can claim responsibility for my own life. And what I cannot attribute to myself must be the result of nature, or physics, or statistics; therefore, it cannot be helped anyway. This is the same pride that hates to be mocked, to be made to feel inferior.

“But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets…” – 2 Chronicles 36:13

There is a particular form of this pride that I feel requires special attention: the misogyny of the skeptical husband. Misogyny technically means “the hatred of women,” but since the term is used colloquially for any offensive action or thought directed towards women, I will use it in the same sense. The Bible clearly commands that the man be the leader in his home and of his family, especially spiritually. But where there is a void in leadership, someone will rise up to take the mantle. This is why there are so many women who lead the charge for the family to go to church and be actively involved, with the husband/father grudgingly following along.  Many men go to church to “keep the peace” at home, not out of any personal belief or conviction. They often write off their wives’ faith as an emotional response or need, and fancy themselves “above” such frivolity.

This is the masculine pride. As a man, we believe ourselves to be more intellectually capable and less subject to emotional experience or involvement. We are reasonable and levelheaded. We are skeptical, unwilling to accept a proposition without evidence and unable to accept illogical presumption. We can accept that our women do not subscribe to these same requirements, and nod approvingly at their fancy. It is such a dangerous and hateful pride, because it attributes qualities to women that we would never express out loud. It is dismissive both of their intelligence and their reasonableness. Intelligent and inquisitive men would never marry women like the ones they suppose must be capable of believing in the Christian “myth.” And yet, church after church, pew after pew, are all filled with women and their children. The husband is absent, if not physically then mentally and emotionally. Women believe and lead in the church because the men have failed to, not because they are more susceptible to some deluded mirage promised by the panacea of Christianity.

And she prayed for him, that he might see her strength, and know Him from whom it came…

The danger in practicing Christian apologetics is that we can succumb to the desire to win the argument, when it is truly the heart we are after. A debate won swells the pride and the head, and creates a desire to find another victim. This is obviously true of any defended idea or ideal, but the desire is most wicked when the pursuit should be one of love, not intellectual conquest. And yet, pride is the primary weakness of all people; when we are proud, we feel powerful. The pride of skepticism is the belief that we are beyond credulity, that we can surpass – at the very least – all those intellectual dwarfs who, even for a second, allow faith to become part of their worldview. But this is a misrepresentation of faith, and a bastardization of intellect.

Sir Isaac Newton, quoting an old maxim, said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This was a reasonable humility in that we would all be unable to achieve anything meaningful if every individual had to start from scratch. We take the vast majority of what we believe on authority, and yet we deny that very idea when we are faced with an uncomfortable truth. The Gospel is an example of an uncomfortable truth: we are told that we are not, in fact, good people, and that we need a savior. Jesus Christ presents Himself as that Savior, and asks only that we relinquish our pride and accept His sovereignty and forgiveness. It was pride that led to Lucifer’s rebellion, and it is pride that inaugurates our own.

“But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” – Luke 22:32

Last weekend, I was able to spend a few days in the company of a group of Christian men on a retreat. A small part of the time was spent sharing stories of the obstacles we had overcome and the temptations we had conquered, only through a power that was beyond our own. We heard stories of miraculous changes in people’s lives, and witnessed the Holy Spirit working in the midst of a group of intelligent and capable believers in Christ. These were men I knew, whose stories I did not have the luxury to be skeptical about, because I know them. I am one of the witnesses, and I have lived many of the same experiences I saw and heard about.

Skepticism is tiring; the skeptic spends so much time seeing through things that he often doesn’t realize that the point of seeing through things is to see something else on the other side (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). As a skeptic, I miss out on much of the joy and peace that comes from sharing a changed life. My skepticism is actually inside-out: I know what is possible and true intellectually, but I have a hard time convincing my heart. My life is a miracle, but it is hard to accept the testimony of another. If you want to argue the evidence, so be it. If you want to debate the disparate accounts of changed lives, fine. If you want to doubt the existence of absolutes, I understand. Just realize that there are giants on both sides of the fence, and the intelligence and ability is not disproportionally distributed. Mocking the person is no better than bullying, and does not signify an unassailable argument. The conversation is valuable only when it is respectful. Skepticism is beneficial only where it is reasonable.

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6 Responses to The Pride of Skepticism

  1. Laura says:

    I work in the legal field and, as such, my line of work requires skepticism. However, there must be a sense of analytical logic which allows one to give credence to or refute allegations, regardless of which side they are on. I believe that, as a Christian, one must be more skeptical of his/her skepticism, because the foundation of our beliefs is faith, leaving no room the negativity that is derived of skepticism. This is not say we should be naive in our trust of others, but in exemplifying Christ, I do not believe there is room for skepticism in the working of the Lord in someone’s life. Were we to ask someone for the medical records that evidence that the cancer was there and then disappeared, what would that say of the reality of our faith? What of God’s work in the life and recovery of a drug addict? Positive outlook, address, and acceptance, make a world of difference in one’s ministry to draw others to Christ (not to mention making for a much happier self in the process).
    God bless you for your honesty, and may He be with you always in your future analyses of the life and testimony of another, and reflection on your positive influences as believer in our Lord Jesus Christ.

    • ajfits7 says:

      Thanks for taking a look, Laura – I am always blessed by your comments in the other arena where our paths cross! I don’t know if you have ever read “The Last Battle,” which is the final book in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, but for a children’s series it offers great insight in the form of fictional narrative. Near the end of that book, the Dwarves have become so hardened by their desire not to be “taken in” by some scheme or lie that they become unable to see the truth. Once bitten, twice shy, I suppose. I think sometimes that is where some of my skepticism comes from: I have seen so many lies, misrepresentations and exaggerations that I am slow to accept any stories that reek of mystical or supernatural experience. This goes for the entire range from paranormal to spiritual, and unfortunately has made me overly cynical. However, both from experiences in my own life and those close to me, I am slowly being able to discern honest recollections from those borne of a desire for attention and wonder, which I feel are the basis for most of the more mythic ones.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      • Laura says:

        Soon . . . when there is a bit more time, I will tell you the story of many people, which you will see most would consider “coincidence” or “self-made,” but which are truly evidence of God’s hand. Be blessed!

  2. Barry, I can’t really say how much I found this line to be an absolute gem “The danger in practicing Christian apologetics is that we can succumb to the desire to win the argument, when it is truly the heart we are after.”

    I think it should be the motto of an apologist. Thank you for writing this. God bless you.

    • ajfits7 says:

      I wish I could say that it is my own, but it is a summation of things I have learned from Ravi Zacharias, Timothy Keller, et al. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but is one I am trying to really focus on. It was this idea that led me to find some of the “Hip and Thigh” posts I have read a bit distasteful. There seems to be little regard for the heart of the opponent. Of course, I had the same problem for a while, and it is still sometimes a struggle.

      Thanks, John!

  3. Pingback: Common Complaints and Rebuttals, Part II – An Accident of History | Another Jesus Fish in the Sea…

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