Why True Believers Need SkepticsFeatured, Meditations — By Larry Shallenberger on August 14, 2011 at 5:00 am
I’ve been through some seasons of doubt and wondering, but at the end of the day I can’t call myself a skeptic. Personality-wise, I’m more of a Don Quixote, a true believer, evidence-be-damned. I know this isn’t fashionable in some circles. But, if I’m honest with myself, this is who I am.
I’m a pastor. And pastors and faith communities tend to attract people with a propensity to believe. In fact, churches tend to be filled with people prone to accept things by faith to the point that things can get downright lazy, intellectually speaking. I know that seems harsh, but there’s research to back it up. In the book UnChristian, Kinnaman and Lyons, discovered that people between the ages of 16-29 view the church as being intellectually sheltered. They don’t see the church as a place where it’s safe to ask the hard questions. The authors pointed out that many of the survey respondents were those who had experienced church and then gave up on it due to their dissatisfaction.
Don’t believe me? Think about the last Sunday School class or small group when someone questioned or challenged a bedrock doctrine of the church. What happens when someone mentions that they have a hard time reconciling God’s mercy and the church’s on Hell? What happens in a most churches when a youth asks why homosexuality is considered a sin?
In many churches, judgmental stares and trite answers are marshaled in the same manner that a body creates white blood cells to swarm bacteria. The skeptic learns to keep his or her questions to themselves or to quietly disappear, having decided that church is not a place where hard questions can be debated or resolved.
What a different picture between that and Jesus and his disciples. After Jesus died and was resurrected he stood before Thomas who had the audacity to doubt that Jesus actually stood beside him. Thomas demanded to feel the wounds in Jesus hands and feet before worshiping him. Jesus does not chaste him and we see Thomas the Skeptic worshiping Jesus in community alongside the other disciples who didn’t struggle with belief like he did. Thomas, despite his doubt, is a welcomed worshiper like the rest.
Jesus hand-picked each of his disciples. Perhaps Thomas was included to teach the church that they need to be a place that listens to doubters and skeptics. Here’s three reasons why that’s important:
Skeptics force us to articulate why we believe why we believe: Skeptics ask “why” a lot. This is inconvenient those those who don’t have a reason for their doctrines beyond “pastor said so.”
Skeptics can make us realize where we are wrong: I have a good friend who struggles with the notion of Hell. This friend flirt with Christian Universalism. And this friend forced me into a years long dialogue on the topic that I honestly had little interest in. I started reading up on the topic and eventually grew a legitimate interest in the topic. Although I can’t subscribe to this friend’s theology, I discovered that some of my ideas about Hell were more influenced by John Milton and medieval thought than the Bible. My friend’s doubts had a purifying on my faith. But only after I learned to listen.
Skeptics teach to extend love to people with whom we disagree: We tend to associate with people with whom we have agreement. This is true of sports, politics, and religion. And we tend to marginalize people we disagree with, don’t we? Befriending a skeptic gives you the opportunity to love someone that you cannot convince or change and who doubts your deepest convictions. Jesus noted that its doesn’t take much effort to love a friend and that anyone does that.
But to love someone outside of your intellectual camp, that is divine.