This I Believe

Quincy - San Antonio, Texas
Entered on November 28, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in doubt. A healthy dose of, prove it to me. I’m a skeptic.

Not an optimist, although I do hope things will end up well. Not a cynic–I haven’t lost all faith in people or institutions. No, I’m somewhere in between, a card-carrying skeptic.

I used to think being labeled a skeptic was a kind of insult. A person who just wouldn’t leave well enough alone. Someone weak with overcaution. But I wear my skin more comfortably now, I think. It’s me.

Doubting Thomases have always been the brunt of ridicule for us. Thomas himself, the quintessential skeptic, is often pinned up and scapegoated by the faithful. Don’t be like this guy, they seem to say. But I like Thomas. What did he really do to deserve this scorn? He simply wanted proof. Don’t we all want proof? I do. I’m willing to accept just about any reality, but not at face value. Show me the nail holes.

Doubt is often more frustrating than faith. Like anyone, I want to feel secure, and doubt threatens security. It’s not that I enjoy that feeling of peril. I hate flying, and I avoid roller coasters. I wouldn’t dream of bungee jumping. Heck, when my checking account gets low I feel woozy. That same visceral fear and uncertainty greets me when I stand atop a precipice of doubt. But I am learning to live courageously on that balancing point of not knowing.

A false truth would be no comfort to me anyway. It’s like people who set their alarm clocks five minutes fast so they will get to work on time. This may really work for them. But it would never work for me; I know what the real time is. Likewise, I can’t make myself believe an unexamined truth. I just can’t trick myself that way, any more than I can tickle myself.

Skepticism is really useful for the little everyday things. Like the sales pitch about that breakthrough toothpaste. Prove it to me. Or when the waiter gives me a check. Can I have an itemized list please? Skepticism is vital when it comes to bigger things. Are there studies that prove smoking is harmless? Is there evidence for W.M.D. in Iraq?

But on the truly enormous things, skepticism is perhaps its most challenging. Why am I here? Is there a God? Am I good? These possibly unanswerable questions require an answer, or the acceptance of mystery. There are quite a few readymade answers to be found. I’m sure a few of them, taken on faith, would satisfy my need to know.

But I prefer to honestly say I don’t know. I believe the big truths are indeed out there. But they may not be knowable, certainly aren’t provable. I leave open the possibility of knowing, but I’m willing to accept the uncertainty of not knowing. Like Thomas, my true patron saint, I’m willing to believe. But let me touch the nail holes first.