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Old 07-10-2006, 01:46 PM   #1
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The Modern Skeptic

Quote:
Excerpt from G.K. Chesterson’s book “Orthodoxy”
But the new rebel is a Skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men.

Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.
It’s hard to believe this was written in 1908 – it seems it could have easily been written today…It seems "The Modern Skeptic" evolved only slightly when he became "The Postmodern Skeptic."

Within Christian circles, I am still seen as a bit of a skeptic. Not because I "question everything" - because I do not easily accept an answer without doing some of my own research.

However, before I was a Christian this quote above was an accurate description of who I was: A Walking Contradiction.

Anyway, I just wanted to read some other impressions of this quote. Are you a recovering skeptic? Still have a healthy amount of skepticism? Skeptical about skepticism?
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Old 07-10-2006, 02:21 PM   #2
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Well, I'm pretty damn skeptical, that's for sure.

I think it's just my personality, and may even be genetic! My sister and brother are both the same way and my dad was a big debater as well.

Nonetheless, I believe in God, I believe in the Bible, and I believe that God is love. So perhaps I'm not really a true skeptic.

What I tend not to trust is anyone who claims to have all the answers, anyone who is claims access to the Absolute and to the Final Word. I don't trust people who are unwilling to at least allow for the possiblity that they might be wrong. As a result extremely conservative believers and hard core atheists are the most frustrating for me to deal with.

I'd like to think I have a "healthy" amount of skepticism, but then wouldn't we all like to think that?

I'm a big fan of Chesterton by the way.
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Old 07-10-2006, 02:25 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally posted by maycocksean


What I tend not to trust is anyone who claims to have all the answers, anyone who is claims access to the Absolute and to the Final Word. I don't trust people who are unwilling to at least allow for the possiblity that they might be wrong
Same here

I like to think I'm not yet skeptical about certain ideals, just in the ability of most people to live up to those ideals-including myself of course

Luckily every once in a while people still do, and that's one reason to keep on going
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Old 07-10-2006, 02:26 PM   #4
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I was quite the skeptic before my conversion to Catholicism.
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Old 07-10-2006, 02:30 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by verte76
I was quite the skeptic before my conversion to Catholicism.
You know I'd love to hear how you came to faith. I was born and raised in Christianity and while I think I'm in the process of adopting it and truly making it my own, I can't imagine what's like to make such a great leap as you've made.

I believe it must take a huge amount of courage, because for most of us, we don't change because it's just more "comfortable" to stick with what we've always known. I'm always impressed with those who are able to leave their comfort zone.
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Old 07-10-2006, 06:53 PM   #6
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I'm the reverse of verte. I started out Christian and became skeptic and have become increasingly skeptical about all sorts of things--not even particularly about Christianity. But I'm not going to say that wasn't the start of my questions. I think for a long time my quest was to become a true believer in something. Never found it, stopped looking.

But I doubt that very many people are total skeptics. I think most people have a core belief or two they guard carefully. I've got mine. I think it helps to ground you.

I'm skeptical when people don't like questions they can't find an easy answer to, when all the facts of anyone's argument lean only to one side, when the official line doesn't jibe with the facts I'm seeing. I'm skeptical when I can see an agenda on any side.
I'm skeptical when I don't see consistent reasoning. I'm skeptical of symbol over substance. I'm skeptical when people talk one way and behave another. I'm skeptical when people get defensive about an idea and I am VERY skeptical when people are praised beyond all reason when they agree with somebody's particular point of view or demonized when they don't. I'm skeptical when someone cannot give me a logical answer to explain a viewpoint they have or only offer anecdotal evidence. And I am flat out skeptical when people ignore inconvenient facts.

We get lied to and manipulated by a whole slew of people. A little bit of healthy skepticism never hurt anybody. I haven't found many things that have satisfied the skeptic in me. I'm open to change, but I'm a tough nut to crack. Scratch a cynic, find a disillusioned idealist.

Interesting thread, AEON.
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Old 07-10-2006, 07:15 PM   #7
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I'd rather be in a room full of skeptics trying to find an answer to a problem than be around one cynic who can't be convinced of anything other than the fact that everyone around them is full of shit.
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Old 07-10-2006, 08:01 PM   #8
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Very interesting topic AEON. When I read the posted article, my first thought was not to religion, but to politics. It seems we are overly blessed with skeptics, who can find a criticism for just about anything, but run well short on ideas or solutions. Persistent political skeptics strike me as the sorts who like to hear themselves talk.

Maycocksean raises an interesting point regarding knowledge of the Absolute or Final Word. I have shared my own experiences as quite the skeptic regarding matters of faith before converting to Christianity. Today, even though I consider Scripture to be authoritative, I do not consider it to be all encompassing. I believe God gave us all we need to follow Him – not the complete works of God.
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Old 07-10-2006, 08:49 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by U2DMfan
I'd rather be in a room full of skeptics trying to find an answer to a problem than be around one cynic who can't be convinced of anything other than the fact that everyone around them is full of shit.
Great quote, and it raises an interesting point about the fine line between skepticism and cynicism.
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Old 07-10-2006, 08:57 PM   #10
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We need more skeptics, honestly, and what Chesterson describes isn't skepticism or secularism. He is ultimately describing "nihilism," which was an issue of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Self-proclaimed "nihilists" were problematic in imperial Russia at the time, as they also were terrorists.

"Nihilism" also makes a philosophical reappearance in postmodernism, so, in a roundabout way, that's where you got the idea of the "postmodern skeptic."

Frankly, there aren't that many postmodernists to really be all that concerned over. I do think, in the post-9/11 world, that postmodernism has started falling by the wayside in politics in favor of modernism, which is much more certain of itself, unconcerned about tradition, and envisions a future that it feels it can mold on its own.

Of course, a modernist world isn't particularly any more "moral" than a postmodernist world. In Chesterton's era, nihilists were modernists, and that's probably why they engaged in terrorism in their day. But with modernism, we also got some lovely gifts in fascism and Nazism. I think in today's world, that also ends up being the philosophical basis for "the war on terror," whose basis is also without precedent, and whose PNAC/neo-con backers are highly modernist in scope.

As such, a healthy dose of skepticism, coupled with a healthy dose of certainty is a good thing. Hardline skepticism (nihilism) and hardline certainty (stubbornness) are both disastrous, historically speaking.

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Old 07-10-2006, 09:05 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by maycocksean


You know I'd love to hear how you came to faith. I was born and raised in Christianity and while I think I'm in the process of adopting it and truly making it my own, I can't imagine what's like to make such a great leap as you've made.

I believe it must take a huge amount of courage, because for most of us, we don't change because it's just more "comfortable" to stick with what we've always known. I'm always impressed with those who are able to leave their comfort zone.
It was scary. It happened when I was in the middle of a terrible depression. One night I was watching the news with my mother and I had this impulse to pick up a volume of St. Augustine that was on a nearby shelf. Strange things kept happening, and finally I called the diocesian educational office, who sent me to the nearest parish church, and I started catechism. It was definitely the most important thing that's happened to me in my life.
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Old 07-10-2006, 10:02 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by verte76


It was scary. It happened when I was in the middle of a terrible depression. One night I was watching the news with my mother and I had this impulse to pick up a volume of St. Augustine that was on a nearby shelf. Strange things kept happening, and finally I called the diocesian educational office, who sent me to the nearest parish church, and I started catechism. It was definitely the most important thing that's happened to me in my life.
Thanks for sharing this verte! I hope the Lord has seen you through your depression.

I have known several people that came to Christ after reading Augustine. I had an English Lit professor in college that converted from Judaism to Christianity after reading Augustine's "City of God."
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Old 07-10-2006, 10:04 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by melon

As such, a healthy dose of skepticism, coupled with a healthy dose of certainty is a good thing. Hardline skepticism (nihilism) and hardline certainty (stubbornness) are both disastrous, historically speaking.

Melon
Well said, Melon
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Old 07-11-2006, 12:06 AM   #14
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Skepticism is too often confused with negativism or, as Melon pointed out, nihilism. The skeptic is not the eternal critic nor even the eternal cynic, although I don't give the word cynic as negative a connotation as other people.

Skepticism isn't an end result. Skepticism is a way of perception--everything being run through a filter.

The ultimate goal of the skeptic is not dismissal (although dismissal may be an end result) but question. What is underneath the veneer of truth being presented? What is the logic, the implication, the motivation, the practicality? The skeptic does not accept the truth as presented without running it through some rigorous testing, including his own belief system.

I would posit that as much has been accomplished by skeptics as nonskeptics. Healthy skepticism frees you to see the world through your own eyes instead of through somebody else's.
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Old 07-11-2006, 12:24 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by BonosSaint
Healthy skepticism frees you to see the world through your own eyes instead of through somebody else's.


And vice versa.
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