The Double Standard of Christian Skepticism
I applaud many Christians on something that self-proclaimed “freethinkers” often overlook about certain religionists: the quality of their skepticism. I laud the way that a Christian can systematically dismantle their religious rivals, yet at the same time I praise those same rivals in their endeavours to knock down the Christian religion. Christians, as well as other religious adherents, definitely have a healthy dose of skepticism, defined as someone “inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions” (OED).
Many Christians doubt not only evolutionary theory, but also the actual physical evidences for it (certainly a radical skepticism indeed!). Christians, by necessity, doubt not only Hinduism, but also its philosophically astute and more universal descendant, Buddhism. If they can doubt such a sophisticated and ancient religion such as Buddhism, then certainly New Religious Movements, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Latter Day Saints, that call themselves “Christian” are certainly no match for those of “sound theology”. Furthermore, scores of Christians doubt that morality apart from God is not only improbable, but completely impossible. And almost every Christian doubts that the universe can be explained without a divine presence. I celebrate such skepticism!
But why do Christians stop there? I understand the skeptical world-view, as I was deeply ingrained with a distrustful outlook of non-believers in my youth. Of course, those non-Christians were merely “lost,” whereas it was the true deceivers – the “cults” of Christianity and other religions – that were much more dangerous. Following my apologetic heroes of past and present, I utilized a combination of seething cynicism and Biblical prowess to combat such spiritual and intellectual duplicity. Many other Christians do the same. But why stop there? Why can we laugh at the Latter-Day Saint’s mention of the angel Moroni and the reforming teachings of Joseph Smith’s new scripture? Why do we immediately rebuke the Islamic prophet Mohammad’s revelation? Why is this possible, yet such vehement, mistrusting, pessimistic, suspicious skepticism not leveled at one’s own religion?
Faith has become a great many things, but it perpetually appears to be belief without doubt before anything else. Doubt has been and continues to be viewed as a poison to many. In my own family, doubt is held under great suspicion – such irony! Some individuals that have commented on our blog have even attributed doubt as Satan’s influence in our lives! I suppose a Christian’s doubt of everything non-Christian comes from their God: how very convenient for them. How this works for the de-convert I am unsure. I am certain someone will tell me that my own doubt crept in because of some spiritual shortcoming. How ye doubt my sincerity and former righteousness in the eyes of the Lord! How skeptical you are!
My own de-conversion came before I had ever even heard of Dawkins, Hitchens, or Dennett, or before I started taking Darwin or contemporary evolutionary theory seriously. It came before I read a word of Ehrman, Funk, Mack or any other so-called “liberal” scholar. I was not stabbed in the back by a church member or rubbed the wrong way by an uncomfortable sermon. I may have been disappointed with the hypocrisy of Christians, but that was my very impetus for attending a Bible College: to be on the forefront of a Biblical revival, one that was passionate about the Word and not based solely on the shallow emotional sensationalism I have witnessed. Although far from perfect, I lived a rather dull life and was not given many opportunities to commit any serious grievances against my Saviour – perhaps it was my self-righteous pride that led to my downfall? Yet, what I feel led to my de-conversion was the realization that my own hypocrisy was found on the double-edge sword of apologetics: what good was my faith if it could not stand up to the same rigorous criticism that I held others to?
Slowly but surely, my beliefs rotted away as I found that I had not only been deceiving myself, but I had deceived others. I too had given pre-packaged answers. In my younger years, Josh McDowell gave me fuel, later it was C.S. Lewis and William Craig. Still later, I found a deeper, more profound faith in the works of Tillich and Kierkegaard. Yet none seemed capable of explaining the obvious shortcomings I continually found in my skeptical inquiry of Christianity, whether in the historicism of the Bible or the philosophy of religion. The radical faith I found in the Christian existentialists could only last so long. Whether it was something as mundane as the choppy seams in the Gospel of John, or as major as the lack of Biblical or philosophical evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity, I found that the evidence which held my beliefs together was as shaky as the honest Mormon who tried to convince me that there really was a golden book that only Joseph Smith could read, or the Muslim who passionately argued that an angel really did appear to her founder, correcting the perversions of Judaism and Christianity.
I think this is a very hard thing for us to do. Not only is empathy, to walk around in another’s shoes, extremely difficult, but to actually critique and question your own views on virtually anything sometimes feels like pushing a camel through the eye of a needle. While we sometimes whine and complain about the country or city we live in, we will often defend it by bragging any exaggerated feature – this is easy for me as Vancouver has been repeatedly rated as the most livable city in the world by The Economist. Now imagine if we extend that to something much more controversial, such as our religion. Many not only live their entire lives based on these supernatural beliefs, but also stake our eternal being on such faiths.
Many of the articles on this site, including the recently reposted Easter special “Is He Live or Is He Memorex” by HeIsSailing, deal with what happens when some Christians start to question their literalistic, or even symbolic, faith. Certainly the resurrection, as written about in the that article, is key to the Christian faith, but what about the rest of the story? I have not only heard of, but also espoused many of the pre-packaged, shallow, non-skeptical answers to blatant contradictions through out the Jesus narratives. The historical and sometimes ideological anti-semitism of Christianity has led Christians to such a deviant understanding of the early Christian scripture that is horrendous by any rational standards. The Jewish authors of those text that we now include in the New Testament were so obviously meaning to interpret perceived spiritual events through their tradition that to see a historical document of any sorts is beyond reasonable comprehension. Now only if Christians would start treating their own beliefs as they treat everyone else’s.
-The Apostate (formerly known as “Thinking Ape”)