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A Skeptical Christian

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I’m a skeptic.

When people repost articles on Facebook that sound fishy to me, I check them out on Snopes. I fact check. I look for inconsistencies. I think about what was not said as well as what was. I want to know the author’s agenda. I makes it really hard for me to toe any ideological line. I’m a skeptic and always have been. There are some things I just can’t swallow.

Most skeptics have a hard time believing in God, and I confess I am no exception. But I’ve had an even harder time believing in Nothing, which seems to be the only alternative. When I read a story, I am convinced that someone wrote it. When I see a painting, I am convinced that someone created it. I can’t quite make myself believe that there is no one behind the Universe, that it arose by chance from an instability in an infinitesimal Nothing.

I also can’t quite make myself believe that I’m crazy. Of course, I must be a little crazy, like everyone else, to believe in anything I can’t see or touch or smell or hear or taste. Yet even the staunchest atheist believes in invisible things, whether he admits it or not—things like love, justice, anxiety, freedom, and responsibility. While it’s true that such things are detectable, they are not deducible from sensory evidence. If we treat them as illusory—unreal—we end up with an ethics in which the only right is superior force and the only wrong is weakness. So I admit to the normal, everyday craziness that makes us sane.

I don’t admit to being really crazy, though. I don’t hear voices when no one is speaking. I don’t see things that aren’t there, at least, not while I’m fully awake. I don’t obsess over germs or chemicals or aliens or government spies. But I also can’t deny that I have had spiritual experiences. I have felt myself to be in the presence of Someone who makes me feel both small and capable of daring. I’ve had my thoughts interrupted by an interior Voice speaking things I could not have thought on my own. These experiences have persuaded me that there is an invisible world as real in its way as our visible world. Perhaps even more real.

In addition, of course, I was raised as a Christian, saturated, in fact, in a Christian subculture while the world around me was becoming decidedly more secular. Yet I have met countless others raised in a similar way who nevertheless departed from their faith. It was therefore natural, I suppose, that my fundamental belief in a spiritual world (arising, remember, from a profound skepticism about the physical world) should take on all the trappings and accoutrements of Christian faith. No one can say, however, that I have an unexamined faith or that I believe because it is “easier” than thinking. I can’t even imagine what that means. Nothing in my life has been harder than holding on to my faith. I don’t think my experience is unusual, either. Faith requires active spiritual and intellectual engagement. Faith is a fight. It is not for the fainthearted.

One thing I have learned: that God is love. He commands us to love because he loves, and we are intended to be like him. He even loves his enemies. He even loves skeptics like me. So it saddens me to see Christians engaged in vitriolic arguments, saying hateful and hurtful things in the name of “truth.” Jesus denounced sin but not sinners—with one notable exception. He denounced hypocrites. He called them snakes, whitewashed tombs, play actors, swindlers. Hypocrisy was the one sin the fledgling church could not tolerate. What does love do? “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a).

So, fellow Christians, when you disagree with someone, do so in love. Disagree in ways that protect the other person; trust them; show that you have hope for them and that you will not give up on them. That’s what love does.

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I Was a Sixth-Grade Nerd

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When I was in sixth grade, I loved science. I was intrigued by the scientific method: making observations, formulating a hypothesis, designing an experiment to test the hypothesis. My teacher passed out a flyer with a list of paperback books we could get for very little money. One book in particular caught my attention. It was a collection of science experiments you could do at home. I wanted that book.

I took the flyer home and asked for the money to get it. I’m sure it couldn’t have been more than 95¢. But we were poor, and the purchase seemed frivolous to my parents at the time. They said no.

But I wanted that book. I hit upon a daring plan to get it. My mom packed me a lunch every day, but she would give me a nickel (or maybe it was a dime) for milk. I started saving my milk money. When I had enough for the book, I filled out the form in the flyer and turned it in with my saved milk money. A few days later, the books arrived.

I was thrilled. I read and re-read that book and treasured it for years. It was my book in a way that no other book had been mine. I still remember many of the one- and two-page essays explaining and illustrating various principles in science. I learned how to use my watch as a compass—before digital watches, of course. I learned that you could easily set fire to a sugar cube just by rubbing a little cigarette ash on it first. I learned about the Bernoulli principle, which makes heavier-than-air flight possible. I learned how to tell a raw egg from a hard-boiled egg without cracking the shell. That book slaked my thirst for knowledge without quenching it.

I had a problem, though. I had gone behind my parent’s back to get the book. I knew they would not be pleased. I suppose I could have kept it a secret, but it was not in my nature. Besides, I loved my mom and dad and wanted to share with them the delight I had in discovering new things. I took the book home and told my mom what I had done. My mom took the book and said she would talk to my dad about it. I could tell she was disappointed, but I also thought she could scarcely keep the book from me when I had shown such resourcefulness in acquiring it and sacrificed drinking milk for several days to get it.

I don’t know what my folks said to one another, but they let me keep the book. Of course, they admonished me never to do anything like that again. Although I agreed, I was secretly proud of myself for defying them in the cause of knowledge.

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A Lack of Grief

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My mom died on April 2nd of last year. Before she died, I used to wonder how I would react to news of her death. I never thought I would have the deep and terrible sadness that I’ve seen in some people. I’m just not like that. But I did imagine missing her and grieving in my own way. Instead, I’ve hardly grieved at all.

I shed a few tears at her bedside when she was dying. I even got dewy-eyed at her funeral. But it was hard to be really sad knowing that she herself was ready to go and even looking forward to it. She was the one who insisted on not being kept artificially alive, who told the doctors to disconnect the machines that could only prolong her death rather than bring healing or hope. She was the one who welcomed death.

What sadness I did feel seemed more like self-pity.

Of course, I miss her. I always enjoyed talking with her, although our conversations had become less and less frequent. In recent years we were not close, not because of any rift between us but because I lived 9 hours away and had a family of my own who needed me more. I have grieved less than I thought I would. I don’t know what to make of it. Perhaps I really am Mr. Spock.

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