Sunday, May 29, 2011

Skeptics Find Comfort in a "Cocoon of Doubt"

My father graduated Luther Seminary with a Master in Divinity this past weekend. Jeannette and I attended the commencement ceremony with a sermon provided by Rev. Craig Koester. Rather than providing a sermon full of optimism about making the world a better place through promoting peace and equality, self empowerment and freedom of all people, he seemed to be making one last ditch effort to convince graduating seminary students that they didn't waste their time and that convincing other people that the Resurrection of Jesus really happened matters.

He even went so far as to bring up doubt in the scripture he quoted:
Matthew 28:16-20
"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.""

See? Even Jesus' disciples doubted Jesus was Jesus, even though they saw him. So, that means that God needs "faithful doubters."

Also during the sermon, he touched on the problems Christianity faces, namely Catholics, Pentecostals and Evangelicals and their scandals. "You also might overhear at the coffee shop as people crowd around their laptops and iPods, people questioning whether organized religion really matters." Skeptics find comfort in their doubt, never having to be certain about anything, he continued. Going so far as to describe skeptics as living in a "Cocoon of doubt."

Skepticism is not a negative position. It's also not a position taken for comfort. Rev. Koester mentioned that doubt is the default human reaction. It's only natural to doubt, though somehow skepticism is something to attack. I would argue that if doubt is the natural position people start with, then it takes very little convincing for most people. For example, if we take the passage from Matthew, all Jesus had to do to convince the disciples was to say God gave him all authority, the equivalent of "because I said so."

More and more people are identifying with no religion. Rev. Koester wants to blame Catholics and skeptics, rather than trying to face the reality that arcane ritual and an insistence on a resurrection are not sustainable in a modern world. That doesn't mean that the world is becoming skeptical, atheistic, or even less religious, but it does mean that Lutheranism has to compete with non-denominational Christianity, generalized spirituality and other non-traditional religions. Christians even feel more free to throw away pieces of dogma they no longer find useful, such as the threat of Hell, literal interpretations of the Bible, condemnation of homosexuals, or even the divinity of Jesus and the concept of three gods in one.

Skepticism is not nihilism. It's also not easy to simply doubt. Skeptics have no problem accepting evidence and taking a position on whether something is true or not, though skeptics are free to change his or her mind, based on new evidence. These seminary students may be presented with new evidence, but will have enormous pressure to continue to believe something they may not trust. There are few jobs available to pastors who have lost their faith, which is a shame.

Rev. Koester would have been wiser to inspire graduates to inspire congregations to make the world a better place through promotion of peace and promoting social and economic equality rather than making a last ditch effort to keep students from realizing how messy the business of organized religion is and loosing their faith. It makes me think of a graduating class of physics students being reminded that gravity is real and though you may doubt gravity is real, you just need to remember that I said it was so, and that is good enough.