Meet Sam The Skeptic

If I weren’t a Christian I think I’d be really tempted to be a subjective relativist. You know, the guys who believe that truth is relative and no one can really know what it is. I could be friends with all kinds of cool people who smoke hookah pipes, wear scarves in the summer and talk about how all religious and political establishments are just seeking to control people by seducing their minds. We could talk about how God is a construct of those in power to keep their subjects in line and their wallets thick. But most of all I think we would talk about how awesome it is that we are above that type of manipulation, all while trying to blow smoke rings like the Caterpillar from Alice In Wonderland. Yeah, I think I would be drawn to that. Mostly because I like to criticize things. I’m not proud of it, but I know it’s true. I like to poke holes in things and show the weaknesses of other people’s arguments. The only problem with relativist me would be… well the whole thing kind of implodes on itself when you actually have to figure out what you actually do believe in.

In our culture, whether they know it or not, most skeptics of Christianity, or any other belief system for that matter, lean on some form of subjective relativism to make their case. Arguing that no one can have an exclusive claim to the truth, and to believe otherwise makes you an arrogant and ignorant relic of some passé religious system or control narrative. Any claim to superior knowledge of spiritual truth is immediately discounted as false, since such knowledge is impossible. But, simply by saying that someone else’s claims are wrong, you are by default implying that there is some right answer and, whether you admit it or not, you believe that you are closer to it than they are. The relativist essentially believes that their position, which doesn’t offer answers, is superior to all systems that do put forward answers. Which is itself a claim to superior knowledge, and as such, can’t even stand up to it’s own presuppositions. Too deep… well, maybe this cartoon will help.

Meet Sam.

Sam is obsessive-compulsive and hates dirt.

Sam hates dirt so much that he set out to remove all the dirt from his yard.

Sam shoveled and swept and swept and shoveled, but still couldn't get rid of all the dirt.

After years of shoveling and sweeping Sam found that he had swept up the very ground he was standing on and was stuck in a hole too deep to get out of.

Poor Sam.

In the end, I find that most skeptics wind up much like obsessive-compulsive Sam. They work themselves into philosophical holes. Sweeping and digging away the very ground that they themselves are standing on to make their assertions. You can’t build a worldview simply from what you don’t believe about the world. At some point you have to dig deeper, you have to answer the foundational questions: Where are we? Why are we here? Where are we headed? Why should I not kill the guy beside me in line at Walmart for smacking his gum too loud? Any answer, to any of these questions, by default draws on some deep-seated spiritual and moral beliefs about the nature and value of mankind and the world. The truth is, everyone works out of some framework about the purpose and meaning of human life. It’s just that, for many, their framework is often inconsistent and ultimately self-defeating. And so, they choose not to think about it. It’s easier to take shots at others anyway.

Memorizing a clever quote or two from Nietzsche and Foucault does not a worldview make. You can spend your life angrily obsessing over why people who believe in a knowable God are wrong, but eventually you may find that your skepticism has in fact become a hole so deep that you can’t see your way out if you wanted to.

And before all of my Christian brothers and sisters start throwing out the amens, let me introduce you to the other edge of this sword. The same logic is true for Christians as well. A lot of Christians sit around coffee shops, church foyers and living rooms talking about what’s wrong with everyone else’s beliefs, but if they were asked to articulate their own beliefs in a consistent and clear fashion they would find that they have far fewer words to offer. At least they would struggle to communicate it in any way that could stand up to the questions of a perceptive and persistent skeptic. We make it easy for others to criticize and dismantle our worldview because we haven’t already asked ourselves the tough questions. Perhaps we’re too scared to contend with our own doubts. The truth is, doubt is a fundamental reality for all humans, even those of us who hold orthodox Christian theology. It is the practical outflow of being finite. And as a whole, Christians have not always handled the issue of doubt very well. Often believing that their doubts will cause them to fall away from their faith, they have run from them like Joseph from Potipher’s wife, and similarly found themselves naked and exposed when asked tough questions about their faith. Instead of being discouraged by our doubts, they should cause us to dive deeper into our faith and deeper into our God to search for answers.

Tim Keller says it better than I could, “Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive.”

Don’t get me wrong I’m not advocating some relativistic form of Christianity, where truth is ultimately unknowable and all we have is doubts and guesses. I actually think many of us are far too quick to throw up the “It’s a mystery” or the “I guess some things are just unknowable” card and say, “Well, I just believe it, even though I don’t understand it.” God has called us to walk by faith, but not by ignorance. In fact, I’ve found that there are far fewer “unknowable” realities than most people seem to think. Many tough questions have answers in the scriptures that are really quite knowable, they’re just unknowable to people who are too lazy or unmotivated to seek them. Although there are some things that will always be beyond our total and complete comprehension, the truth still remains that our lack of discipline has certainly provided skeptics with enormous amounts of fuel for their arguments. Our God is the source of all truth and we can dive deep without the fear of coming up empty.

If you want to dive deeper, here’s a few recommended resources that have been helpful to me on issues of worldview… C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian and Tim Keller’s The Reason For God.

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About rmashaw

I am a Christ-follower, husband, father, pastor, musician and artist who desries to open up the box of my life for others to rummage through and perhaps find something of use to them.
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5 Responses to Meet Sam The Skeptic

  1. Janice says:

    youre def my favorite blogger to read! so down to earth and transparent to so deep and thought provoking!! Sometimes I wonder what the inside of your brain looks like … lol

  2. Nathan Shamey says:

    That was righteous! (And I mean that in a 80’s, surfer dude, hookah pipe sort of way 🙂

    I think it’s interesting how unschooled Christians are in responding to the skeptic. There are so many who don’t have a basic argument to refute the challenges presented to Christianity. It’s sad, because if they did know then they would see what an incredible book of answers the scriptures are. Sometimes I wonder if churches shouldn’t, on occasion, discard the standard sermon format on Sunday and instead sit two people face to face in mock debates. The pastor or pastor’s could moderate, take questions from the crowd, present counter arguments, bring up scripture, and generally inform and train the congregation on how to defend the faith. That could turn into some really interesting Sunday’s.

  3. The first time I saw you – dressed in your your thrift store find, carrying your guitar I though the same thing….this guy could be a modern day “hippie” (I can’t help it, I’m from the 70’s). And when I saw you with my fashion forward, yuppie daughter I just didn’t know how it was going to work! PTL opposites attract and now years later I can’t see where you begin and and she ends…you both are so well BLENDED and make a wonderful team. I really enjoy your blog Reece, your a great writer and so thought provoking! I love having you as a son……..MOM (WELBORN)

  4. Hey Reece, I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and found this post to be especially encouraging. Ironically, the book that has most challenged my faith was reading Unlikely Disciple. After reading it I was convicted of ignorance like you say rather than faith. I have to admit once you start questioning why you believe what you believe it’s easy to let doubt creep in rather than come up with the defense sometimes.

    • rmashaw says:

      Natalie, I just realized I meant to send you a reply and forgot to do it. Its so good to here from you. I have checked out you and adam’s blog as well from time to time. It’s great to see things going well for you guys. I have heard a lot about that book(Unlikely Disciple) and have yet to bring myself to read it. I guess I should probably pick it up at some point. Thanks for the encouragement on the blog. Miss you guys!

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