Has scepticism harmed your religious faith?

I’ve always considered myself religious, but a bit of an iconoclast. I kind of like finding out that things aren’t quite the way everyone thought they were.

So in the past, when I’ve gone out for debunkings (homeopathy, glossolalia, urban legends, teaching apes to use sign language), I’ve generally noted that people reason poorly when something important to them is on the line, and they are very good at throwing up rationalisations and choosing selective evidence when challenged.

Except now guess what. I notice the exact same tendencies in myself and others in my chosen faith. Eek.

I’m not just talking about those awful emails everyone sends each other about faith-promoting stories that never happened. It really seems like people at church believe tons of things that just don’t happen in the real world. Or am I just unable to turn off the scepticism at church? But then why would you want to? Am I trying to have it both ways?

So the question to you is: have you been able to reconcile your faith with your scepticism? And how? Or if you have had to let one or the other go, what made it easier?

FYI, I’m LDS, but this thread is meant to be non-denominational.

Scepticism has not harmed my religious faith.

Being told that I am a bad example of every faith whose practitioners have deigned to notice me is what did me in.

As I clearly am not a True Scotsman of whatever clan, I emigrated…

My faith is deeper and stronger, if more difficult.

I was raised in the church, so belief was sort of the default setting. But I went through a crisis of faith in college, and my 20s. Once I understood that I could choose not to believe, I began to ask myself what I did believe and why, and I critically examined both faith and unfaith as options.

The result is that my faith is “smaller” in the sense that I had to jettison some peripherals that did not go to the core of my own experience. A lot of my tidy little moral certainties bit the dust. More generally, I don’t think my skepticism will ever allow me to fully believe in any one theology – but then again, it also keeps me from buying into any cobbled-together-on-my-own balderdash (after all, healthy skepticism involves never fully trusting oneself, either).

As a result, there are plenty of areas where my belief system sort of greys out, and I sort of say “I don’t know” a lot. But that which did survive the winnowing came out stronger than before.

Does skepticism hurt my faith? Not much.

Since I’m a Christian, it follows that I believe an awful lot of things that sound absurd. It DOESN’T follow that I believe anything and everything.

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, I believe in miracles, just as I believe in lions- but I don’t expect to see either on every street corner. And if someone tells me he’s seen either right before his eyes, I’m open to the possibility, but my first instinct will always be “You’re drunk or you’re pulling my leg, right?”

For what it’s worth, read the Gospel of John- in particular, check out Nathaniel’s reaction when he first heard about Jesus. His natural response was sarcasm and skepticism. And Jesus seems to have liked that!

Skepticism – both my own and that of hardened skeptics – has strengthened my faith. It has prompted me to dig deeper into the reasons why one might believe or disbelieve. I’ve seen that the reasons for disbelieving may sound convincing, but that they ultimately fail to hold up.

It’s good that you like to seek answers to what you don’t understand and to question so you better understand.

Every single person on this earth (most likely) is adept at rationalizations and selective proofs. So that being the case, of course you see it in your church as you will any place else.

Yes, I have been able to reconcile the two because I’ve admitted to myself that I don’t know everything, never will know everything, and in the end, that’s okay because He’ll help me understand when I’m able to comprehend it. I guess it’s kind of like learning to read. First you learn to recognize letters, then learn their sounds before your able to read words. The words bring thoughts which convey meaning which brings understanding.

I hope that helps you.

I tend towards the opinion that religion is like any other system of thought: it’s a toolset. I tend to view skepticism itself, likewise, as a tool – one typically used for judging whether other tools are useful. “Does this actually work?” is a useful concept for deciding whether and how to apply other tools.

Which is probably a bad idea. Only paraphase inferior writers. :stuck_out_tongue:

However, *reading * GKC – Orthodoxy especially – is highly recommended to the OP.

Skepticism hasn’t damaged my faith! But then, I’m a Unitarian! :wink:

Obligatory lameass Unitarian jokes:
Why should you never piss off a Unitarian?
He’ll burn a question mark on your lawn!
What do you get when you cross a Unitarian and a Jehovah’s Witness?
Something that knocks on your door for no particular reason!
A synagogue, a Catholic church and a Unitarian church are right next to each other. One morning the rabbi, the priest and the minister are out on the sidewalk talking, when somebody runs out of the synagogue and shouts, “Rabbi! Rabbi! The synagogue is on fire!” Without fear, the rabbi runs inside, grabs the Torah scrolls from the tabernacle, and runs back out, shouting, “I’ve saved the temple!” Then the fire spreads to the Catholic church, and the priest runs inside, runs up to the altar, grabs the chalice and the Bible, and runs out shouting, “I’ve saved the church!” Then the fire spreads to the Unitarian church, and the minister runs inside and grabs the coffee machine.

Most of the time I live in a state of skepticism. Only occasionally is it possible for me to enter into a state of faith. I find that purveyors of faith tend to tell me that this is my own fault and blather on about how the exercise of faith is a choice, but quite frankly, if I could choose to be there I would. I can’t, except for infrequent and wonderful occasions, which my skepticism tells me might very well be happy accidents of brain chemistry, or worse – Pascal’s wager bullying me into submission.

Losing my religion is a site I enjoy reading that deals with this struggle.

There is a term for this if you’re interested: special pleading. Using LDS as an example, I have known many conservative Christians who could see with crystal clarity and delineate at length on every logical inconsistency or historical confutation of Mormonism, but question their own belief in Creationism or virgin birth with the same criteria and they become very offended and hide behind the aegis of faith.

To answer the OP, I cycled through religious beliefs and “specially plead” my own case to an extent, but ultimately my scepticism was a battering ram that broke down whatever true faith I had left. This wasn’t a bad thing; if there’s a God I can’t imagine why he would want us to not use sceptical inquiry any more than I can understand why he wouldn’t want us to use our ears.

Coinky-dink! I just now happened to come across this:

“What kept me a skeptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read.” – Flannery O’Connor

I think my natural tendency to question a little bit has helped my faith. At least partly because from a young age, I was never inclined to accept everything my teachers said at face value. (This is most likely because of my parents, who modeled both faith and skepticism for me, and who had Jan Brunvand’s books around the house. :wink: ) When I heard a story that seemed too oddball to be true, I usually just filed it under “oddball stories” and left it at that. Being already used to the idea of unreliable information, it didn’t bother me too much when I found something to be different than I had thought. I also spent quite a bit of time from childhood on being interested in other religions, which I also think has been a good thing for me.

I think there’s a lot of value in admitting “I don’t know.” I can’t possibly know everything, and every year I find out a lot more and my perspective changes again, and yet I still know very very little. But I have found my faith to be invaluable to me, and my mind to be a pretty good tool for improving that faith.

Anyway, to fontor specifically, you might really enjoy one of my all-time favorite books, Henry Eyring’s Reflections of a scientist. Two favorite quotes:

To a student: “In this church, you only have to believe the truth. Find out what the truth is.”

“…the great underlying principles of faith were brought into bolder relief when the clutter of false notions was removed from around them.” (Though he is speaking of a specific historical event, it of course applies to all times.)
Everyone–me included of course–is going to have some blind spots, or some story that makes them happy that I think is silly. It’s not my job to go around telling them that they’re idiots and thinking how wonderful and intelligent I am. They usually have many strengths that I lack, and I should be learning from them. While it’s nice to be able to straighten someone out on some small point, I think it’s more important to see that in the big picture, it may not matter that much, because the vital thing is how we treat each other and how we help each other through life.

I find that skepticism is an asset to my faith. My faith is pretty unshakable. God most definitely exists, but what God is, is up for questioning. I don’t believe necessarily that the single all-power deity has my back over anyone else’s but I do feel that there are certain spiritual energies that may favor me, or if my understanding of the energies presented to me is accurate that I can gain a lot of power from that.

An example of an idea most people take to be far fetched that makes perfect sense to me is the idea of the illuminati. What form they take is up for debate, but there most definitely is a hierarchy in human society, and it’s elaborate and there are many people who have a good sense of the big picture, and many of them have never, and never will hold elected office, though they have a great deal of temporal power. I find this idea to be very alluring, and is something I like to explore. To me the logical evidence points to the existance of such beings, more than it points to their lack of existance. However, I have no idea what form they take. I have no idea what people know and don’t know, but in my experience I have met people who have a greater awareness than others in many respects, and as a result have a greater power over society. I’d imagine that if one took that to a much higher degree than has been revealed directly to me personally, that there would be somewhere illuminati that would be so enlightened that for their presence to be revealed to me would require an act of their own free will and accord.

I also syncretize things a lot. Illuminati/Angel/Demon/Demigod/Alien are all manifestations of a similar concept in my mind. This applies to my faith as a whole, and skepticism comes in helpfully with this. If something about what I am thinking, saying, hearing or reading doesn’t sit right with me, I apply skepticism to it. So I can ask, “What is illuminati? Is it a concious meme that floats around with no form in the human conciousness? Is Eric Rothschild illuminati? Are Jesus and Buddha still walking around on this planet? Is there a sense of illuminati as portrayed in pretty much any Keanu Reeves movie, or do Jedi Knights exist?” I am not hooked on any particular religion, and I pick and choose a la carte, so that helps. I am also pretty pantheistic in my beliefs, and I am animistic in that I believe every object has a spirit of some kind. These are things I have experienced, so I need not be skeptical about the experience, but I should be skeptical about what I learned from the experience.

Growing up my father referred to himself as a “Zen Baptist” so I got a pretty healthy dose of Christianity and Buddhism mixed together and was always a Mythology nut and a Gamer. :wink:


Name one reason for not believing that didn’t hold up. I can name 100 reasons for believing that don’t hold up, but I can’t think of one for disbelieving.

Well, there’s that ridiculous “You can’t prove a negative” argument. Sometimes I feel like screaming when some yoyo dredges up that particular bit of illogic. But the OP wasn’t issuing a challenge to skeptics and unbelievers to show what amazingly superior thinkers and debaters they are. The OP merely wanted to compare notes with other members of the faithful concerning the impact of skepticism on their faith. If you really want a discussion concerning bad arguments used by skeptcs and atheists, perhaps you should start your own thread.

The existence of evil in the world. Sounds like a good argument against theism, until you dig deeper.

And yes, I agree with LonesomePolecat. Any further debate on this topic should more properly belong in another thread.

I think you misunderstood where I was going with that. I wasn’t trying to prove or disprove anything with this comment. He stated that there were reasons for his believing and disbelieving and the disbelieving reasons fell apart. I wanted to know which reasons fell apart for him. I am sorry if the wording sounded hostile, as it wasn’t meant to be so.

Oh, and by the way, I never asked his to prove a negative statement. He said he had specific reasons and I asked him to back his statement up by giving me some of them.