Skepticism – Means or an end?


SkepticismI seem to recall that in the introduction to at least one of his books, C. S. Lewis offered the caveat that he was not a theologian. In a similar vein, prior to the material below, I must offer the caveat that I am not a philosopher nor the son of a philosopher.

In a post reflecting on the death of Christopher Hitchens, one commentator drew a contrast between skepticism as a pathway to truth and skepticism as a destination. In the former, skepticism is a methodology for seeking truth. In the latter, skepticism makes the statement that there is no truth to find.

It is one thing to be suspicious of truth claims and seek to verify them before believing. It is another thing entirely to reject all truth claims. A piece of lyric from a Rush song comes to mind, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” To maintain skepticism as an end or destination is an attempt to remain as a spectator on the sideline, but ultimately it fails. Skepticism is a choice in itself.

It seems obvious to me that man is born to believe in something. As evidence of this I would point to the various religions that can be found around the world. Pantheistic, polytheistic, or monotheistic, there is quite a variety of beliefs. While the various religions are in fundamental disagreement on the particulars, they all are a function of belief.

But there is evidence that the irreligious also have a need to believe. Politicians, actors and musicians are followed with a devotion that borders on worship. Sports teams also function as a focus of belief. I live near the city of Philadelphia where a loss by the beloved Eagles (a frequent occurrence this year) is mourned like the death of state leader. Whether it is politics, music, sports or hobbies, many are caught up in these things with a religious fervor.

It seems to me that skepticism as a goal is a dead end. But is all skepticism wrong?

If you want to point to some of the foibles of the church throughout history as a reason to distrust religion, you are welcome to do so. The church, like her individual members, is not perfect and we get it wrong some of the time. But as Thomas Gilson points out in his thoughtful post on the death of Christopher Hitchens, it is important to make a distinction between God and religion. In my mind, some level of skepticism about the ability of the church to live out her relationship with God is healthy. We do not have a perfect track record.

I would ask those who are skeptical about the church to judge by the standard and not our inability to live up to it. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) I encourage the skeptic to do the same.