There is a lot of quack medicine out there. Homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, the list goes on: woo disguised as effective medical intervention. Most of us accept that when we’re sick, we should seek the most effective, scientifically well-established therapies. We should look for the genuine article.
The same might be said of almost anything in life. Be careful when choosing a lifelong partner – don’t just go for the next charming guy or girl who sweeps you off your feet. If you want a car that lasts, go for something with a proven record of reliability.
In short, skepticism is a virtue. And I don’t mean cynicism – cynicism is skepticism taken to pessimistic extremes. I mean that a critical eye should be applied to every important decision we make. Good judgment should be applied.
The same can (or at least, should) be said about religion. We should not simply accept the existence of the god we hear our parents telling us about as we grow up. We should not automatically believe the things holy books tell us, including the idea that they’re holy.
In fact, I imagine that if there was a god, he would feel much the same way a good doctor feels. A good doctor wants people to be skeptical, because she knows there is a ton of snake oil on offer. She doesn’t want people falling for fake treatments. God, if he existed, would see how many false idols and gods were available, so he would surely welcome a more discerning, skeptical approach to religious belief. In fact, such an approach would lead people inexorably to him, just as skepticism of medical therapies leads inevitably to scientifically proven solutions.
It is a little surprising to me, then, that so many religious believers call for faith, rather than skepticism. Arriving at a belief through faith, rather than diligent study and critical thought, seems like a shortcut – the sort of leap that might easily lead to a false god.
I remember some of my experiences with charismatic evangelical churches as a youngster: these churches never encouraged me to ask critical questions about God, or to take a few days studying their arguments before committing. They wanted to convert people immediately, while they were caught up in the rush of emotion generated by the swelling music and the thunderous sermons. I just can’t imagine a real god being satisfied by duping people in this way – by taking advantage of their emotions.
So, the journey I’m on is a skeptical one. I don’t discard the possibility of God, but instead trust that if God exists, and wants to be found, he’ll make himself plainly visible to the calm, rational thinker.