Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Christian Should be a Skeptic

It has been ingrained in the minds of many anti-intellectual Christians to fear the words doubt and skepticism, but we are damaging ourselves by not employing them more often. Not only do we fail to deepen our own faith, but we hurt our desire for intimacy with God by not being suspicious of what "the world" as it is called, teaches us.

The renowned skeptic, Neitzsche, says in his "Beyond Good and Evil":

"All the moralities that address themselves to the individual, for the sake of his "happiness", as one says - what are they but counsels for behavior in relation to the degree of dangerousness in which the individual lives with himself; recipes against his passions, his good and bad inclinations...little and great prudences and artifices that exude the nook odor of old nostrums and of the wisdom of old women"

Modern Evangelical Christian culture teaches us to nudge each other, especially our kids, towards a higher "morality" by appealing to self interest. The underlying premise being that achieving Christian morality leads to a higher level of happiness. Don't look at girls that way or you will ruin your future marriage. Don't dress like that or all the dregs and perverts will fool you and seduce you. I think that Neitzsche captures this situation pretty well.

I have met plenty of Christians, and experienced personally for myself, who wondered why they were not that happy even though they had managed to quell many of their passions and were living according to much of the Christian code of morality. The problem is simple, and I will use the moral formula from an earlier post again.

A is true, and B is true, so action C is a moral behavior.

The underlying assumption that the Christian has made is that obeying the moral constraint leads to happiness. This is the folly. The Christian must believe that behavior C is beneficial on it's own. While many Christians will claim that they believe that C is indeed beneficial, they also simultaneously believe that NOT C is also beneficial. This belief that C and NOT C are both beneficial is the real problem. It is not a lack of faith in A and B, but a lack of skepticism on NOT C.

As an example:

I hate cauliflower and I love steak. Do I need will power to choose steak over cauliflower? Not at all. I know that I like steak more than cauliflower in every possible situation. I also like Dr. Pepper. I like it too much and drink it too often. In fact, I'm on a no Dr.Pepper diet currently. I like the weight I lose when I quit drinking Dr. Pepper, but I also really like the taste of it. I've gone on and off Dr. Pepper several times over the last ten years, but I've obviously never quit forever.

My problem is that both drinking it and not drinking provides happiness (or utility), but the rewards are mutually exclusive. As long as Dr. Pepper remains my indulgence of choice and my remedy for tiredness, its grip will stay tight. Does it really wake me up? Is it really as refreshing as I think or has clever marketing made me believe this? Is it a placebo effect? I'm not sure, but I know that skepticism is my way out.

Now to the main point. In my lifetime the presentation of consequence-free and unbridled sexual activity has been one of the most pervasive points of contention. Is it true? We are presented with information that as long as we use protection it's only our moral hangups that prevent us from enjoying this unequaled pleasure. How can we know that the self interest of the "authorities" isn't clouding their analysis? Does it give them power and status for us to believe them?

Much like the Christian will at times get a rush of euphoria from conquering a sinful behavior, is it also possible that the status and ego boost given to us through a sexual conquest really mask a growing emptiness. Much like the Christian who is purging sinful desires in hopes of recapturing that temporary bliss, is the sexual conquistador on the same path, hoping that the next conquest will satiate that growing sense of purposelessness? Is it an endless path of constantly chasing the next temporary high?

The rest of the world is skeptical of Christian ideals, but are we skeptical of theirs? Do we actively tear down what they preach? Do we demand proof? Should we hide our children from "the world" or should we mock its self serving manipulation?

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