A while back I started to occasionally cruise the local atheist/skeptic sites from around Winnipeg. It was an interesting cultural experience. It made me think of what some non-religious folks might (possibly) experience when they encounter particular church cultures. What I am thinking of primarily is the seemingly unconscious maintenance of a certain in-house mindset that helps support and perpetuate a larger view of the world that is not held by popular culture. This was strikingly impressed on me in a recent post at Winnipeg Skeptics entitled, Top Ten Reasons Why Being a Skeptic is Fulfilling. Now there really is nothing to criticize here as the post is about a subjective experience, that is, being fulfilled. However, the experienced fulfillment strike me as either unhealthy or simply generic and so confusing in terms of its being unique to skepticism (though I did admit the author did not claim uniqueness for many of the reasons).
First is the prescriptive nature of the post. Here are a few excerpts,
As a skeptic you love science
Through your skeptical endeavors you have found your social conscience, a sense of camaraderie and have made friends for a lifetime.
I feel bad for the poor skeptic who remains unconvinced of the current employment of science as an effective means to address human well-being and in so doing finds him or herself ostracized from this fraternity for such contrarian views.
More than this defining of what a skeptic loves and will experience is the nature of the claims. So take the full sentence of the first reason skepticism is fulfilling,
As a skeptic you love science and know that the scientific method is the best method mankind has ever invented to understand who we are, how we got here, and how we can improve our lot in this universe.
Okay I will grant the how we got here but who we are and how to improve our lot, really? I’ll leave a comment over at that post and wait for some elaboration because I don’t even know where to start on that claim. But more to the point. This post is about fulfillment. Skepticism is fulfilling because it is the best. How is it the best? It is the best not because of demonstrable realities but because it is fulfilling for this individual. It provides a subjective condition which the author enjoys. Shouldn’t there be reasons to be skeptical about that?
Here is number two,
You know that reality is a puzzle and that it will take a lot of effort to understand it. At times truth goes against what seems to be common sense. You have discovered that the struggle to understand reality reveals truths that are, at times, deeply profound. That knowledge will keep you searching the for the truth for the rest of your life.
That may well be true of skepticism but I am going to go ahead and say that is true of anyone who is semi-conscious or attentive to life.
The author goes on in number three,
You possess a willingness to learn accompanied by a willingness to change, that’s why your skepticism makes you a better person.
How does a willingness to change make anyone better? There is simply no relationship here.
I have only ever met one group of people who cheer when they have been proven wrong. Skeptics. Especially those who employ scientific skepticism. You may be bold when you ask those annoyingly tough questions, but underneath it all you are humble enough to know when you have discovered the truth. After all, evidence is evidence and that’s good enough for you.
This is about as laughable as the Christian radio station that claims to only use ‘safe’ language. Hmmm, agreed upon in-house rules are cheered upon when followed by one another? Strange. I am still waiting for evidence of things like, say, the above claim about how science is the best mode of ‘improving out lot in life’.
Bizarrely perhaps this post reminds me of certain strands of pentecostalism. The nature of these claims reminds me of the pentecostals who tried to show me the fulfilling nature of speaking in tongues. They just wanted me to try it and if I opened myself to it I would see its value. I tried. I did not see. I have the same feeling about these models of skepticism/atheism. They continue to strike me as so profoundly lacking as an overall approach to life. It is almost as though the author knows this and instead simply tries to amp up the volume to create a kind of Prosperity Gospel for skepticism.
Do this and you will end up fulfilled, isn’t it wonderful.
Sure, the author of this post is someone who apparently was an Anglican Minister and now an enlightened skeptic so I guess I should forgive him the zeal of conversion but these expressions strike as so terminally unfulfilling that I can’t even begin to wrap my head around them. I want to be clear that author does admit that “You understand that being skeptical on it’s own just doesn’t cut it.” But this is followed quickly about an apparent openness to letting others ‘prove themselves’. I think most people with any familiarity to this discussion knows how this goes. Two sides with differing foundational logics attempt to ‘prove’ something and surprisingly no one is convinced.
As I reflect on this post, which I was originally going to scrap, what remains most impressing is this notion of hope. Why should there be hope in this? I am guessing there is hope because of this author’s experience. This all strikes me as somehow strange.