The Language of Man - A look at the life of skepticism
by Dennaveve

There are those who claim to be in connection with a divine power each day of their life. They see, hear, and experience the will of a being beyond the reach of worldly cares: car payments, mortgages, parent teacher conferences, and trash collection day. Skepticism is duly and justly exercised upon such people to a point, for who wants to believe that your neighbor has the direct line to any God or spirit while you keep getting the answering machine? The old Homer and Flanders routine personified out of cartoons and in our neighborhoods. It is assuredly far easier for many to write off such devout and spiritual people as nutcases; they feel the need to escape the brutality of our world and do so by playing with their imaginary deities (or deity). Deities who are (in the opinion of the skeptic) nothing more than Mister Hops their child’s stuffed rabbit which occasionally comes to tea and asks for a crumpet with strawberry jam. 

As embittering as ever-vigilant skepticism can become many feel the need to indulge in such practices even when they are themselves religious or spiritual in one way or another. Often you will find those that believe in a God (or several Gods) but cannot accept the existence of any other non-corporeal, often omnipotent being. Apparently, in the eyes of a great deal of the population of Earth, the universe is only large enough for one God, or one group of Gods. They are as quick to write off things like out of body experiences (OBE) and possession as foolish hoopla when their own religion endorses such things under a different name. What is possession if you cannot compare it in some part to those that have received the spirit of God and speak in tongues? Is sending your very spirit and pleas to any God in devout prayer not an out of body experience? Everything on this planet is subject to the opinion of the beholder; a rose growing amidst the burnt remains of a house can be amazing and uplifting to one, a symbol of how life will continue and nothing at all, even destruction is permanent. Another will see the same scene and find only the hazards of leaving a building that by all rights should be condemned in a place where the public could come to further harm. As a race, we may claim acceptance, love, and the desire to honor others beliefs but, are we truly respectful if the instant the irregular thinker has left the general vicinity we indulge in belittling them? “Poor Joe he has had such a hard life and what with his parents being such strict Evangelists it’s no wonder he has to believe in some God he randomly picked out of a book!” Now I certainly am not claiming we should all become saints, never saying anything negative or cruel, not once differing in belief from another, forever accepting others for who and what they are even if they cheat on their taxes, view child pornography, indulge in bad manners, or hygiene, persecute animals, scream at children, the list goes on… This is an expectation that is just a bit too outrageous to entertain enforcing and were we to go about making others into utopian citizens it would not be the same as if people naturally deviated to these trains of thought. Not that (in my opinion) we are capable of this as human beings at this point in time, and such a period of acceptance may ever effect us on a scale large enough to truly make a difference.

I do not condemn the practice of skepticism for it is natural and often taught in schools, “Question, question, question” but when it becomes detrimental to the individual it is just as dangerous as any drug you can find circulating in your township, city, borough, etcetera. Of course the logical question to follow this line of reasoning is, “When does skepticism become harmful?” The act of picking apart all that you come in contact with becomes a danger when we develop an inability to accept anything outside of our own personal experience, refusing to even entertain the notion that there is something that could reside outside of it that we do not know of. Now all of this is natural to a certain point, the questioning of what we have never intimately known. However there must be a time when we lay down our armor of disbelief and learn that opinions, (valid as they may be) do not determine which way the wind will blow the coming morn. We of course have the right to disagree with another; there is nothing wrong with finding something to be outside our realm of belief. It is only when I (or any other) choose to condemn the experiences, desires, whims, or faith of another to being nothing more then a fallacy without adequate proof that I (or rather we) become the guilty party. When we reach this state, lacking the ability to entertain the ideas, faiths, etcetera of others it leads only to mental mutilation by assuring the creation of chronic self-doubt. Now there is assuredly a simple explanation of why human beings are often so very close-minded with or without undeniable truths staring them in the face but it escapes me and so I turn to another author who has more then once simplified my thoughts with his unique and inspiring brand of philosophical fiction, Kurt Vonnegut.

“Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and the little child’s Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart, and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right.

Only if they ever met each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn’t agree on anything. Now you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child’s Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.

The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right.”

-The Sirens of Titan written by Kurt Vonnegut, originally published in 1959. This excerpt is on page 8 under the heading: Chrono-Synclastic Infundibula.

In the above excerpt one line in particular stands out: “There are so many different ways of being right.” Many fail to understand this simple and often evident truth and instead subscribe to the You-Have-To-Do-It-My-Way club. In the eyes of such persons nothing other than their beliefs are correct, the rest of us just haven’t gotten the memo, maybe it got lost in the mail, either way we are wrong and they are right! Some will make exception to the standard rules of the club and claim (or perhaps they do believe) that you have a right to your beliefs. Instead of prefacing each statement with “You should” (because members always know the correct way of doing things) they merely patronize the opponent but, individuals like that are rare and (in my opinion) more annoying. They are skeptical not just of all others but themselves as well though it can be less obvious that they indulge in self-doubt. It is a constant and programmed practice of self-assuring that their life experiences, faith, neurotic habits, and the like are valid. By condemning the acts and beliefs of others day in and out it they build a personal stability. The universe and those within it do not change, still held by the world at large are their childhood values. In fact in the eyes of many of these destructive skeptics’ the world is only getting worse and if we refuse to listen, we are damning ourselves to a lifetime of pain. Of course the idea that maybe, just maybe the world can get along fine without staying the same doesn’t occur to these people. Then again, it might and this could be the cause of all their pain, realizing that you may have no more effect on existence then a baby deer dead on the side of the road… It can be very disheartening, realizing that there may be nothing when it is all said and done, and everything we do is without validity in the cosmic scheme. Therefore, we see the constant badgering and bickering, they strive to grasp the world long gone and make everyone a part of it by denouncing all that has come after. It is the epitome of the self-destructive skeptic, one who can no longer be confident in them self and the world around them and as such attempts to drag down others using nitpicking. 

Though this article focuses mostly on the skeptical predators that are lurking in the folds of religion and places for the discussion of things that rarely, if ever, can be proved it seems pressing to acknowledge that there is a healthy balance. A skeptic who can question their own beliefs when learning of the things that ring true to others is often the greatest of all spiritual warriors. By acknowledging the kinks in their own armor and questioning; in the act of breaking apart a large question, forming smaller manageable queries, answering these, and using the new information to reform the biggest question… Allows the skeptic to grow, and those that are in contact with him or her do as well. Instead of just disbelieving, merely trolling through the world trying to mold others into their image of perfection the healthy skeptic is forever finding their niche in existence. In doing this they also help others by teaching that we should question but not condemn until we have a solid foundation upon which to do so. Healthy skeptics annoy as well not because they refuse to listen but, in their attentions they often bring to light weak links in a chain of belief, thought, or logic. It is as natural to defend yourself and your truths’ as it is to be a skeptic, unfortunately when we find ourselves questioned politely (or not) on what is important to the self there is the all to often lashing out. The questioned often feel attacked or belittled because they are not completely accepted, a simple muse stemming from their thoughts on how leaves falling can be used in divination causes more outrage then saying you do not believe them at all. 

The questioned will often claim you are perverting their beliefs, or putting words into their mouth when really the skeptic is just pondering the other effects one chain of thought can have. Nobody wants to be told that though their art is beautiful, they’ve made hundreds of little “mistakes” and that if they’d only work on it a little their art can grow and expand to something even more stunning and captivating. This is not to say that all people disdain the skeptic, there are a great many who crave the critical look at what they have created. Even though it can and often does hurt to not receive total and complete praise these people would rather improve than be placated. However that is the difference, the unhealthy skeptic will merely point out the faults and show you how their theories, art, etcetera are better and you should mimic them. The healthy skeptic will show you the flaws but in doing so offer you their ideas instead of demanding that the old beliefs are tossed out like so much refuse. Perhaps the skeptics understand too well the reactions they can cause and this is why some use their questions to help, and others to inflame a situation, to ridicule, to cause self-doubt, and gain attention. 

Generally the unhealthy skeptics appear first as they do not seek knowledge and only wish to raise the hackles of an otherwise productive community. By the end of these attacks the denizens of the community do not wish to hear any such dissenting thoughts, they demand acceptance of their beliefs from all who pass among their ranks. Inevitably, they stagnate without disagreement, surrounded in Yes Men and Yes Women it all falls apart. This is the most unfortunate thing to witness: people closing up like barnacles in the ebb of the Thought Provoking Tide and rotting in the Sun of Never Differing Thought. 

In the end, there is a balance in skepticism and belief, natural to attain but coming only after great time, effort, and patience. Those that persevere against the attacks, dissolutions, backstabbing, fighting, and even the pain of losing those you thought would never disappear from the hallowed halls of discussion have a true strength. Even when it seems not one of the answers to those little queries, all parts of that great snarling question have been found, it is there. When we sit and ask ourselves, "What have I learned in all this time?” it grows. With each test, each question, this power expands from tiny buds to great flowers of immense beauty that fall in gentle flurries on those we keep near. This power is not mystical or even magical in origin even when at times it can illuminate the darkest conundrums of our souls. It creates in us the stability that the unhealthy skeptics strive toward endlessly, gives us self worth, importance, and respect not just of ourselves but others and from them as well. Those with this power have not really changed that much when it is all said and done though it can seem they have become a new person. In essence, this can make us seem aloof, distant, bitter, and self-serving when really we have learned not only to speak but also to know…

The Language of Man.

© 2003 Dennaveve

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