When I first learned about atheism, I was shocked and taken aback by the fact that there were subgroups of people who do not believe in the existence of God. Growing up in a Christian home, it did not make sense that people would live in a world where God was not present, or where faith was not an active part of one’s being. As I grew older I realized that atheism was complex, had many subcultures scattered within it, and like other worldviews, was not an anomaly. I realized that the relationship between atheism and theism was more than simply a debate between faith and reason, belief and skepticism.
Skepticism is seen as an intellectually healthy and stimulating skill to possess in our society today. Our universities push students to criticize and challenge everything they think they know and, in an age of heightened awareness to social injustice, we are encouraged to push back against systems that have disenfranchised people for centuries. Not being a skeptic is seen as being weak, a conformist, and an agent of oppression. Non-skeptics rarely change the thinking of society or influence people for social change. Whether one is religious or not, skepticism is a core skill set of humanity that is used to impact society.
Yet, what if skepticism, for all its advantages, is a dangerous worldview that keeps people anxious, lonely, and unloving? What if the heightened skepticism in our world today results in much of the hate, intolerance, and injustice that we see in our world? More importantly, what if skepticism keeps Christians in particular from truly trusting God and growing in fellowship with each other? While healthy skepticism has some value and should be embraced as a way to critique and question things, it can also be toxic because it can create distrust, a lack of faith, and promote extreme individualism. Below are five potential dangerous of skepticism.
Skepticism can create loneliness
I have talked to many Christians who have stopped attending church and participating in church-related activities. They cite the hypocritical behavior of other Christians as a reason to deem church unnecessary and toxic. Much of these arguments stem from the notion that people are not to be trusted and because of that, it is easier and more plausible to worship God alone. This is a result of not just bad experiences and interactions in church (which should not be diminished) but also a real skepticism of people, seeing the fatal flaws that are present in humanity. The problem with this thinking, beyond the overgeneralizations, is that it creates loneliness. Being skeptical of people, based on some bad reactions or fears of connections with past traditions, creates more skepticism, which in turn diminishes community and increases loneliness. Loneliness is toxic and, as Mother Teresa once said, is the disease of the Western world. Too much skepticism can make people distrusting of others to the point that they neglect community all together.
Skepticism creates anxiety
With our overexposure to technology and media, including more graphic images and explicit coverage, it is understandable to assume that our society is very anxious and fearful of the world we live in. I have noticed for myself, as well as others, that it is much easier to dwell on anxiety when I believe and conform to everything I see or hear, or when I am more plugged into the events and tragedies of the world. I become more hopeless, noticing some of the hardest and most difficult realities. Skepticism, without a sense of trust or positivity, which can be triggered by overexposure to events without censorship, increase anxiety, and lead to extreme hopelessness.
Skepticism makes God distant
When we are so skeptical about life, it is easy to make God distant, because we are conforming to our own understandings and reservations, rather than hearing and listening to God’s voice or calling in our life. It is essential that in whatever skepticism we harbor, we do not eliminate or dissolve the desire for the presence of God.
Skepticism upholds injustice
American society continues to be cursed by the original sin of racism, so much so, that our churches remain segregated and we continue to discriminate against people who different from us and use fear-mongering and our own self-interest as an excuse for mistreatment and marginalization. Furthermore, our skepticism allows us to support and defend racist and xenophobic practices that kill our brothers and sisters in Christ for the sake of our own security. Our skepticism in buying into the age-old practices of racism in American rather than embracing the love taught by Christ results in our comfort and conformity to injustice.
Skepticism is emotionally unhealthy
In the book Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality, author Peter Scazzero argues that many Christians lack true and genuine spiritual health, because they are unable to be vulnerable and attend to their emotional health, which damages their relationship with God as well as others. Skepticism can make it difficult to become emotionally healthy, because it is easy to fear vulnerability and seeking help when you don’t trust the people around you or, more importantly, the God of the heavens.
While there is certainly value and necessity in being a skeptic in the sense that we challenge and question things for our own growth, there are dangers to skepticism if it defines every aspect of our life. Without being grounded in faith and love, skepticism can lead to loneliness, conforming to injustices and emotional unhealthiness. Skepticism should not contradict your faith or spirituality, but rather serve as a way to seek God more without harming others.
Jonathan Holmes is a Christian who has advocated for racial justice in Chicago for over two years. He has written about the intersection of race, class and Christian faith for multiple magazines and is an avid reader of both fiction and nonfiction. Follow Jonathan on LinkedIn and on Twitter.