It would seem I’m a skeptic

In the midst of this season, I’ve discovered something surprising: I’m a skeptic. I never really considered myself one, because I also consider myself a Christian. But, as a scientist, I’m just can’t wrap my mind around some of the things Christians are supposed to believe in. I’ve reflected on my faith time and time again in my life, and each time I find myself in the same place, but different. I consider this growth to be much like a spiral motion – with each turn of doubt, I find myself believing again, but on a different (hopefully higher) level than before. For the record, here’s where I am now:

I believe there is some sort of presence, or God, which permeates everything in the universe. I believe this being gives us strength for doing good. I believe that a man named Jesus taught us what it meant to worship/respect/love God, and I believe in most of his teachings as recorded in the Gospels, especially those encompassed by the Beatitudes. I believe that this man, by preaching the importance of God over country, was crucified by the Roman authorities on a cross, as were other prophets of the time, likely including many women; they just didn’t get the same press.

I believe in putting this credo above all other desires in my life (career success, material items, other types of personal gain). I believe maintaining this focus helps me to be a more centered and happy person. I believe that I suck at maintaining this focus, and that I need help from whatever type of spiritual force is out there to achieve this goal. For me, this means going to church, participating in its ministries, tithing, praying/meditating/yoga-ing, and talking about what I believe (i.e. witnessing*).

Okay, so with all that believing, exactly how can I call myself a skeptic? Well, I do not believe in immaculate conception. I don’t believe Jesus actually turned water to wine without some grapes and time. I don’t believe he rose Lazarus from the dead, walked on water, or healed a leper.** I have an incredibly difficult time in believing that Jesus never got laid.*** I do not believe Jesus was raised from the dead, at least not in body. Furthermore, I do not believe that subscribing to any of these ideas is necessary to get into heaven/be forgiven/be “saved”/live a good and righteous life/be a moral person/get rich/whatever the fuck else people want to use to oppress others.

I also have no idea what the spiritual force that I refer to as God is. I have no idea if this force will someday be explained by science, or if it will always be beyond our realm of understanding. I have no idea if we were created “in the likeness” of that force, beyond our capacity to love and care for others. I don’t know if that force is all-powerful or simply a gentle movement that opens our eyes when our souls sit still. I don’t know if there’s a heaven, at least not in the sense that mere mortals could ever understand, and I don’t think we need one to live by Jesus’ teachings. Moreover, I think defining God in such narrow terms limits our understanding of whatever kind of “power” God exerts over our lives and our world.

There are some Christians out there who would say I’m not a Christian because of my skepticism. There are some scientists who think I can’t be a great scientist, simply because I believe in something beyond what I can explain in a test tube. These individuals are rare, almost as rare as those on either end of Dawkins’ scale of theistic belief. But they’re vocal and rude, and I’m sick and tired of them getting all the air time. Nobody has ownership over my beliefs or my intellect, just as nobody has ownership of God or Science. I doubt, but I also believe. And I have no problem with that dichotomy.

So tonight we’ll take Monkey to the early children’s Christmas service at my parents’ church. Hubby and I will read the creche story from the Gospel of Matthew to Monkey at bedtime, followed by ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Tomorrow we’ll open presents, dine with family, and say thank you to God for all the blessings in our life. We’ll let our hearts soak in all the different meanings this holiday season engenders, and I won’t talk too much about my doubts. Because they don’t really matter – not to me or my family. And probably not to “God”.

*For the record, witnessing is NOT telling someone else what they should believe, and it is not talking about what you believe with condescension. It’s giving an unbiased recording of what you “see”.

**FWIW, neither do the Synoptic Gospels.

***A bunch of Bible-thumpers just felt a disturbance in the force and will be here shortly with their pitchforks.

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6 thoughts on “It would seem I’m a skeptic

  1. Expect some blowback from the skeptics too I don’t call myself one because of the intolerance in that community. The coment from David Silverman at this year’s skepticon 4 was: “You can be a skeptic, and you can be a theist. But if you’re both, you’re doing one of them badly.”

    Unfortunately, the skeptic movement has been essentially co-opted by evangelical fundamentalist atheists like PZ Myers, who are as dogmatic as any Bible-bangers.

  2. I’m a “recovering Catholic” (I like that more than cafeteria Catholic or lapsed Catholic). I still attend Church more or less regularly, I believe in a God who sees me and my mistakes, and also the good things I do and will judge me accordingly. I believe that the Church (meaning all Christians, regardless of the temple they attend) can serve as an entity of good, and change … but we’re not there yet. I have many reasons to believe in God, but I have also many reasons to be skeptical, to not adhere (or agree) with everything Rome says (in fact, most of the hierarchy in the church annoys me greatly). I try my hardest not to be judgemental, to swallow my pride when I face intolerance, or rage (from anyone in the spectrum of theistic probability). Sometimes it’s really hard. Hon and I find ourselves more worried about social justice and change, than about a formulaic religion. I’m also a scientist, and I believe in evolution and stem cells (possibly due to my upbringing, in which both things were amply discussed). Intelligent debate and discernment were strongly encouraged too. But at one point in my life, due to ignorance, and quite possibly some of the higher ups in the Church, I was against many of the things and causes I favour now (marriage equality, abortion, war, to name a few).

    I decided to forego any Christmas celebration this year. I’m somewhat angry at God for some of the injustices I feel like my family and I have faced this year. I know I have a lot to grow and learn … and that this decision is childish of me. I’m very thankful for many of the blessings I’ve received, but I’m angry too, and disheartened by some things I can’t simply write about.

    I know this doesn’t make much sense. I just wanted to put it out there. You are not alone, and it’s comforting in a way to find/know other people in the blogosphere who feel the same.

    Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones.

  3. Thanks for this post. It is brave to take the “middle road”, because you get shot at from both sides. I have always felt that my Christianity and my Science were not in conflict. My faith is a faith based on a solid foundation of doubt. How can you have FAITH if you do not doubt? It doesn’t take much faith to believe in something you have never questioned. My science is science. They are two completely different ways of knowing the world. I find that they complement each other well.

  4. I’m an atheist; it was a decision I reached more than 40 years ago, that I have never had reason to revisit. I have also been a research tech for that whole period, and never worked with another atheist, so far as I’m aware; I DO know I have worked with, for and around the brightest scientists in the world–all believers in some religion or other.

    Belief doesn’t make people good, nor does skepticism. It’s how they live that does, and I’ve not run into any scientist whose belief limited their scientific understandings. I have also seen as much intolerance in the (rather mild) atheist forum I read as I’ve seen on any local newspaper comments.

    I wish I knew how to counter this polarization, but mostly I just refuse to participate. I still have my 60’s starry-eyed glasses, it seems.

  5. The question is, however, whether by siding with the religious in any way supports and extends the aspects with which you disagree. And whether doing so is worth it to you. Me, I don’t give a fig what people believe. I do care what actions those beliefs cause them to take, especially when it comes to the public sphere that affects all of us.

  6. The question is, however, whether by siding with the religious in any way supports and extends the aspects with which you disagree. And whether doing so is worth it to you. Me, I don’t give a fig what people believe. I do care what actions those beliefs cause them to take, especially when it comes to the public sphere that affects all of us.

    This comment confounds me. I agree 100% with the last two sentences, but the idea that participation in my church somehow supports other religious persons’ behaviors is beyond me. Sure, there are religious persons who narrowly define their faith and god for their own selfish gain, but lumping all Christians or religious persons together into a big heaping pile of stink is no different than lumping together all atheists, agnostics and skeptics, some of whom have turned their non-belief into just as despicable of a tool for bolstering their intellectual superiority.

    While religion can be used to hurt, it can also be a vehicle for great good, growth, introspection. Maybe if I turned a blind eye to the oppressive behavior I so despise, one could say that I am also supporting it. But I’m very vocal with friends, family and my church when I believe their actions or words ostracize or hurt in any other way. I attend and support a church that is working to remove all remnants of segregation against LGBT from the United Methodist Book of Discipline (we’re sooo close), supports a women’s right to choose, believes ALL people are graced with forgiveness and love, and WORKS constantly to share our gifts with those in our community (not just those who walk through our doors on Sunday). The blessings I receive from this community, and the opportunity for Monkey to grow up caring for others and knowing how lucky and blessed he is, are very much worth it to me, and they don’t require me to take anyone’s *side*.

    I know very well I could achieve the same things by other means, but the fellowship and community of the church is what I know and grew up with. There’s a serenity and sense of grace in that environment that draws me back whenever I’ve been away too long. I can’t explain it, and maybe it’s all in my head. But as long as I feel that draw, I’ll continue to search for a deeper understanding of it.

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