This opst might be insulting to some people. I apologize in advance. My goal is simply to relate my experience, not to belittle anyone’s beliefs.
A curious thing about my intellectual life is my propensity for self-skepticism. I tend to regard my own views as incorrect, and lend undue credence to those who oppose me. I think the reason for this is because I believe my own views to be so obvious in their truth that I must be missing something in opposing views.
For example, I’m a firm believer in free market capitalism as a vehicle for increasing wealth and freedom. The evidence is abundant all around us and throughout history, while the evidence for the failure of various other vehicles is perhaps even more plentiful. But all around me, I hear members of the media and my peer groups tell me about how capitalism is maybe the greatest evil to afflict mankind since the development of civilization itself. When I point to positive historical trends of wealth and freedom that are directly attributable to capitalism, and illustrate that all experiments in Marxist ideals have consistently failed, I am met with derision and condescension. I just don’t know any better; otherwise, I’d be on their side.
The same is true when I dialog with Protestants about our Christian faith (to any Protestant reading this, I love you, I just disagree with you). When I point out that the only time “faith and works” appears in the Bible is James 2:17, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself (NASB),” I am met with rationalizations and reinterpretations. The same goes for when I point out that nowhere in the Bible does it say the Bible is the only source of Truth. And so again, I conclude that I must be missing something in their arguments. I resort to believing that there must be some hidden nugget of truth in the Scriptures that I don’t know about, and that the people I talk to don’t know about, either. It must have been uncovered by some brilliant Protestant theologian, and thus must requireslarge amounts of study to grasp.
Now, I certainly don’t know everything, or even very much of anything. I am still young and still learning, and I have a lot of reading to do before I consider myself remotely educated on any one topic. That in itself reinforces my self-skepticism. What if I believe what I believe because I haven’t read enough, or because I read the wrong things, or engage with the wrong people?
Like most people, I’d like to believe that I’m right, and that my beliefs are grounded in strong ideas and provable (to a point) notions. I think self-skepticism as a concept can be a good thing. Otherwise, we risk becoming closed off to dissimilar opinions, at which point dialog effectively stops. But lately, more so in the political realm than in the theological, I have begun to realize that much of what I hear is deliberately twisted, rather than an honest mistake. When I hear Salon report that Kevin Williamson compared a black child to a monkey, and then read the actual quotation by Williamson which compared the child’s movements to that of a monkey, it sows seeds of distrust within me, which is not something I’m used to feeling. I tend to be trusting of everyone, and assume the best intentions. Unfortunately, it seems that is not the wisest way to go about things. A healthy degree of self-skepticism is necessary, but so is an even healthier degree of skepticism of others.