I’ve been having this debate with myself for a while about skeptics. If you spend any time at all reading and listening to skeptics, you’ve probably asked yourself the same question I keep asking myself. What makes them so desperate and earnest and, I guess, alive? Why do I often enjoy books by atheists or agnostics more than books by Evangelical Christians even though they’re total heresy? Why do I so often benefit from heresy?
(Just as a caveat, there are two types of skeptics, and the ones I’m referring to are the honest ones. The dishonest ones aren’t worth analyzing—they too are zombies. But the honest ones are intriguing because they really work very hard for their views. On everything. They don’t believe anything at face value, so that forces them to go find out everything for themselves—a doomed errand, to be sure, but an honorable one. An honest one. I can respect a human who honestly seeks wisdom, but I have no respect for the human who acts like he doesn’t need it. And since by God’s common grace He communicates goodness, truth, and beauty in the created order, and since the skeptics are honest, they end up discovering a lot of true things in the process, things that we often totally overlook.)
What I want to know is what can we learn from skeptics? What is it heresy can teach us? More particularly, what is it about skeptics that forces them to be so much deeper and integrated in their thinking? Which, I’ve realized, implies the sister question, Why are most Christians so dead in comparison to non-Christians? Which set of questions are very close to one I also ask myself about Americans: Why are immigrants typically better workers and contributors to society than natural-born Americans? Which is close to another question that keeps me up at night: Why are church kids so bored with the Gospel while those who have tasted the death of sin are so infatuated with it?
All these questions presuppose some things I don’t have time to prove so let me just say it. Typically speaking, I think skeptics are better thinkers than people of faith (because they can’t appeal to an omniscient God to solve their problems); I think Christians live boring lives (because they are defined by what they can’t do instead of what they can do); I think immigrants work harder than natural-born Americans (because they intimately know the value of their freedom); and I think church kids get bored with the Gospel (because, since it’s all they’ve ever known, they’ve come to expect it). And I think all four of these groups have something in common.
The Four Groups
Skeptics (again, broad brushing here) work harder than Christians because they don’t have a safety-net Sovereign God to figure all their problems out. They sense the full weight of their personal responsibility to make sense of life, and they throw themselves into that full-time. So every single thing they know to be true is formed from the bottom-up, from practical life into theoretical books, so that while they may not have ultimate answers, they stick to the ones they have, because they had to fight for them.
On the other hand, faith-based systems of thought aren’t hard to work for. They have a rich intellectual heritage in history, rich doctrinal Orthodoxy, rich answers to life’s deepest questions. They’re so rich they bore. The Christian ends up forming his thought system from the top-down, from books into life, but he never quite bridges that gap completely because it’s rare he ever spends the time connecting all the rich detail of his “faith” into the way he lives, into his fundamental framework for thinking. Which lulls the Christian into a passive mode of inquiry where if God’s got it all figured out, I don’t have to read all those stuffy books full of answers to my deepest questions. I can just ignore my deepest questions and assume those books carry sufficient answers. This leads to boredom.
Christians are bored because they are numb. They don’t feel the weight of their responsibility to not screw life up (because they are coddled by a Sovereign, loving God who accepts them just as they are), and they feel pressured by people to walk the straight and narrow which places an emphasis on outward conformity over inward transformation, the exact formula for hypocrisy, which splits the soul into an alive portion and a dead portion, the dead portion defining all things moral and religious. Thus, boredom with Church and God. And because God is so good and we are so bad, Christians don’t work hard at life because since we find our only hope in God, and since we can never measure up, we may as well stop trying. We know we get heaven when we die, so we stop trying to usher in heaven on earth. But without responsibility and challenges, and aliveness toward God in every moment of every day, what’s so exciting about life?
Immigrants dream big because they haven’t been smothered by affluence. Americans feel that hard work is a drudge because we were raised to believe the lie that the good life is the easy, pleasurable one, that time “off” should be spent on entertainment. That lie isn’t allowed to exist in the poverty of Romania. They know what life is about (work, death, and the pursuit of honor) and when they get freedom to pursue anything they want, they make the right call, choosing true lasting value over the temporal coddling of personal relaxation and entertainment. Their families, their memories, their entire worldview pushes them to. We don’t dream big because we aren’t willing to work hard enough to achieve those dreams.
Church kids are bored with the Gospel because they’re used to it, because they’ve always heard it talked about in serious tones along with sin, death, and hell by stuffy grown-ups, and so they don’t see the Gospel in its full grandeur. What bit of grandeur they do see they’re bored with because anytime the human heart gets something good it can always find a way to wish it was something better.
The Four in Groups of Two
Skeptics and Bored Christians
These first two go together as mirror images of responsibility. I’m terribly broad brushing here, but by and large, skeptics work harder because, well, it’s obvious. The buck stops with them. There’s no one else to make sense of their life or make it meaningful, no Transcendent Reality, and no rules, no moral standard. They are the cowboys, blazing new trails to meaning, and that makes them feel independent and powerful. That’s the main draw of skepticism. You get to yank the controls out of God’s hands, but what you don’t realize is how incapable you are of being sovereign.
Christians, on the other hand, by and large don’t work very hard because church folks are proudly anti-intellectual. God doesn’t require you to be smart or sophisticated to get to heaven, so neither do we. We just sing “Just as I Am” and continue shoving our heads in the sand of His grace. Instead of shouldering the responsibility, we ditch it on God, who truly is big enough to handle it. But in dumping it on Him we let go of it completely, and that makes us passive and zombie-fied, out of touch with Reality.
Out of bravado and idolatry, skeptics shoulder a load they weren’t meant to carry, but out of worship and ignorance, Christians cast their cares on God who coddles them to sleep.
Immigrants and Church Kids
The second two go together as well as mirror images of value. Ironically, immigrants know the value of freedom because they’ve never had it. Their entire lives—their cultures and their families—have lived in poverty and servitude, so when they get the freedom and opportunity of America, they appreciate it for what it is. They see its true value as a diamond against the black backdrop of their previous life.
Kids who grow up in church and come to place their faith in the Gospel, possess the most valuable and important Truth in existence, but you’d never know it. They’re bored with the Bible, Jesus and His cross, and the Bible stories of old people doing great things. It seems old-hat to them, and if they’re keen, they feel that, and it scares them.
From experience, immigrants know the true value of freedom, but from overexposure, church kids have no means of recognizing true value, even when it slaps them across the face.
How This Shapes My Life
Those questions I began with have haunted me for some time, and it’s not something I can exhaustively communicate in a blog post. What I know is this: Just because God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives doesn’t mean we need to stop feeling responsible, and just because we’ve known the gospel for some time doesn’t mean we have to be bored with it. Skeptics teach us what it means to bear the full weight of our responsibility, and immigrants teach us what it means to feel the true value of something.
My goal in life is to recognize my own biases (toward boredom and apathy), and then use every experience in life to push myself to re-evaluate my view of Reality. The Fall has put me on an escalator going down into hypocrisy, boredom, despair, and apathy, and it’s my job to see that about myself and learn to change. And if I don’t change, I run the risk of wasting my life. I bear the responsibility and accept the challenge. And when I do, I am covered with thankfulness because as I work, my work is perfected in Christ. It’s ultimately not up to me to cause myself to succeed, it’s just up to me to do my best and cast my cares on Christ, because He cares for me and completes what I can only start.