Definition of Skeptical Believer–Part 2

14 July 2011 2 Comments

(This continues the discussion of the definition of the term “skeptical believer” begun in the last post. It repeats that last paragraph as a transition to this continuation)

The are millions of skeptics in the world. And billions of believers. But how many skeptical believers (or faithful skeptics)? The word ‘skeptical’ isn’t often linked with the word ‘believer.’ A skeptic is skeptical. And a believer, well, isn’t.

Unless you are.

The two concepts can, and often do, go together because we live in a fallen world where knowledge of the truth is always partial and often distorted. Skepticism is a form of protection against believing too much. Belief or faith is a protection against believing too little. Skepticism keeps us from believing lies. Belief keeps us from failing to believe truths. If I have no skepticism at all, I will be a sucker for anything. If I have no belief at all, I will be an even bigger sucker for skipping the possibility for meaning.

So, is it good to a skeptical believer?

Not necessarily. It is simply one way of believing (and one way of being skeptical). It is not the best way, there being no single best way to believe. It is, in fact, a rather precarious way to believe. Skeptical believers often have their skepticism overpower their belief. They are prone to dark periods where belief, if possible at all, hangs on a thread. They often are plagued by an incessant grinding of the mind that leaves them weary and paralyzed. Their faith is prone to being theoretical and attenuated, rather than practical and robust. Encouraging spiritual highs are followed by new rounds of analysis and doubt-filled lows.

I don’t think I would choose to be a skeptical believer if I were given a choice. I would rather be the Peter who walks on the water than the Peter who almost drowns beneath the waves. But I take some comfort that the water-walker and the denier and the apostle and the martyr were all the same person. Peter was both skeptic and saint, and that’s a combination that holds out hope for me.

And I must admit that skeptical believers are among my favorite Christians. They are the Pascals and Flannery O’Connors and Apostle Thomases of the faith. They do not take kindly to Smoke Blowers. They ask uncomfortable questions when everyone else is smiling vacantly. They take clichés, intellectual and spiritual, as a personal affront. They tend to be more honest even if they are sometimes more prickly. Skeptical believers sometimes make lousy members of church committees, but they can be first-rate spiritual warriors. As long as they are allowed to say their piece before battle.

We didn’t much use the term skeptic in the churches I grew up in. We called such people doubters. Sometimes blacksliders, or carnal, or lost, but mostly doubters. I didn’t really know exactly what a doubter was, but I knew pretty early that I was one. And I knew enough to keep it to myself, sometimes I even kept it from myself. Now, even though I write books about it, I’m not a champion for doubt. I’m willing to argue, however, that there’s room for us doubters, us skeptics if you will, in this story we call faith.

There are a few things that make it more possible for a skeptic to also be a believer, not all of which occur to the average skeptic.

First is to remind the skeptic to be skeptical about skepticism.

Second is to invite doubters not into an argument, but into a story.

Third is to give doubters something to do.

This book (in progress) will explore all three. But it will not do so as a traditional book of apologetics. It will offer, in small units, some arguments and a fair number of assertions, but it will mostly proceed by way of reflection and rumination and storytelling. Some people will not be interested in the stories until they have had their brain itch scratched. Others will nap through the arguments and only wake up for the stories. And a few perhaps will find both argument and story mutually illuminating. (Yada. Yada. Just get on with it.)



  • Redhead In Rapid said:

    Good stuff. action… what sort of action? I wait for your response.

  • DanielTaylor (author) said:

    Not sure exactly what part of the post you are referring to, but as a general principle I would say the actions we should pursue are those that flow out of Jesus’answer to the question of which is the most important commandment: love God, love your neighbor. Any list of specific actions that flow from those would be both way too long and way too short. But anyone can find DAILY (hourly; minute by minute) chances to do something specific and concrete in the world in light of those two (one) commands.

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