Spirituality for Today – January 2011 – Volume 15, Issue 6

Editorial – Skepticism

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

The tie-dye shirts and the stenciled faces are missing, but a similar feeling has made its presence felt. The sixties became the "sixties" because of events that gave birth to an insidious skepticism that took over the minds of many Americans concerning the integrity of the institutions in which one put their faith and security. With the beginning of only its second decade, the twenty-first century has recorded the emergence of similar concerns among the population. The media has produced numerous soothsayers whose reputations are founded on being a dependable watchdog on societal trends and the manipulation of thought by powerful agents of government, finance, and other institutions. Feeding upon this wariness among the populace have been pitchman, politicians, and prognosticators of every ilk. Whom can you trust? Who is speaking the truth?

A photo of tie dye shirt with the words TRUTH

Human nature is subject to many foibles and frailties that make it vulnerable to following a path that goes against its better judgment. Out of fear of criticism or of loss of position, an individual may hold back on challenging an accepted position. How many people have failed to question prevailing opinion in order to "get along?" A poignant expression of this fact was revealed in a review of an article by Wilfred M. McClay in National Affairs, "The noted economist Robert J. Schiller, who was an advisor to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York until 2004, recently admitted that he kept quiet about his growing misgivings over the housing bubble because he was afraid other economists would ostracize him. If cadres of experts can't tolerate conflicting ideas, McClay says, their consensus 'is soon rendered useless.'" If what is told to the public is open to bias, lies, the "messaging" of the truth, pressure to "stay in line," and politicians more interested in re-election than problem solving, then Pilate's response to Jesus, "Truth! What is that?" finds current application.

The sincerity and truthfulness of one person's relationship to another as being authentic is one of the great human dramas. People want to trust each other, to believe that the Golden Rule generally is operative. The qualities of honesty and sincerity find themselves to be the most common victim of the skeptic's icy stare. Those of a more optimistic bent find little comfort from these words of Francois De La Rochefaucauld, "Sincerity comes directly from the heart. One finds it in very few people; what one usually finds is but a deft pretense designed to gain the confidence of others." In less elegant terms, customers can expect to be "played" and beautiful women can expect to be "hit on." This puts caring merchants and true suitors at a disadvantage. If human relationships are all about pretense and selfish motives, then there is room only for skepticism.

Jesus said that the reason that he came into the world was to testify to the truth. The worldly Pontius Pilate responded with the tone of a skeptic. The timelessness of that moment is most striking. Everyone is confronted with a choice. Is the essence of life all about Christ or all about Pilate? Every person is confronted with the same choice about his of her own life; will it be lived in sincerity and truth or with the mind and actions of a skeptic? There is evidence enough to support either decision. The way of living one seeks to follow will not only determine the footprint on life that he or she leaves, but also on others in their perception of life. One may regret that some others might not allow honesty or sincerity to exist, but one must not allow that attitude to stamp out one's personal strivings toward those high qualities. Thomas Carlyle said, "The sincere alone can recognize sincerity." Let Christ guide us to a resurrection of mind and heart as well as soul.