“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
— Variously attributed to Alexander Hamilton, Peter Marshall, Gordon A. Eadie, et al.
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For reasons that desperately need to be explained at greater length, cynics and skeptics have been given a bad name in the church and most “religious” circles. This is a great tragedy.
Our word skepticism is derived from the Greek skeptomai, “to look at, check out, put to the test.” The skeptic is a person who doesn’t take things at face value. He subjects everything to a rigorous examination, searching for the substance that lies beneath the surface. He adheres to the highest possible standards of good and bad, real and unreal, and he accepts only those assumptions and assertions that are solid enough to pass the test.
The true Pilgrim is an indefatigable skeptic – perhaps the only real skeptic left in the modern world. He knows that gullibility is no asset to those who travel the road beyond the Wicket Gate, for it is a road lined on either side with persuasive counterfeits and attractive shams. He remembers the word of warning given to all who dare set foot upon this path –
Upon a world vain, toylsom, foul
A journey now ye enter;
The welfare of your living soul
Ye dangerously adventure
– and, accordingly, he arms himself with the shield of suspended belief. This is just another way of saying that he equips himself with genuine faith.
Nathanael, one of the first followers of the Original Pilgrim, was a skeptic to the core. When his friend Philip came to him and said, “We’ve found the Messiah, and he comes from Nazareth,” Nathanael responded by asking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nowadays he’d be labeled a “downer,” a “defeatist,” a “rotter,” or a “negative thinker.” His sarcasm would be condemned as hurtful, insensitive, and “bigoted.” But Christ called him “an Israelite in whom is no deceit.” Nathanael was honest and transparent, but he was something else as well: he was intent upon finding the Real Thing and determined to settle for nothing less.
True skeptics are an endangered species. That’s because you can’t have real skepticism where no one cares about Truth. Under such conditions, all you get is a lot of pretentious, mushy, and insincere “tolerance” for “beliefs” that don’t mean anything to anybody anyway because everyone assumes that they’re all equally imaginary and irrelevant. People who are convinced that the Real Thing doesn’t exist have no need to defend themselves against counterfeits. They’re as happy as clams with or without them. The skeptic, on the other hand, is on a quest, and he can never be satisfied until it is achieved. If he ever gets to the place where truth-claims no longer matter, he will find himself out of a job.
The Pilgrim, then, is a genuine skeptic for the simple reason that he still believes in Truth. It’s precisely because he cherishes the Real Thing so deeply and intently that he remains so resistant, critical, iconoclastic, and “intolerant” in his response to all substitutes, replacements, impostors and phonies. Like Peter, when asked if he is on the verge of turning away from his Master, he can only say, “Lord, where else can I go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” Having seen the glory of the One and Only, he cannot and will not brook the claims of any other.