Have I ever met a true skeptic?
I’ve known a few ‘skeptics’ in my day. The one I know best is myself, IF my definition of a skeptic is used (not expecting anyone else to share my definition, however). It tallies more with the ancient definition that did not include shutdown or attacking behaviour against others, as we are seeing abundantly in the so-called ‘skeptics’ of today.
My definition is: someone who is on a committed search for Truth, requiring solid proof of it (not restricted to reductionist science or intellectual argument) instead of blind belief, someone who will question the validity of appearances until reaching something essential that feels true and holds true, and ‘stands the test of time’.
Crucial in my definition of a true skeptic is genuine openness, that is, being open to all the possibilities and not excluding or ‘being blind’ to any because of a position of bias, fear, judgment, discomfort, comfort, vested interest, or any other agenda.
It is an openness that will allow the opportunity of actually feeling the Truth when it is right there, going: ‘Look at me!’ It is an openness to admit having held an off-track view or bias, and made mistakes based on it: in short, an uncompromising honesty with self and others. It is an openness also to accept that there is no perfection in this life, and that using lack of perfection as a justification for skepticism about something is a neat trick, but very dishonest.
With this openness must come the understanding that we look dispassionately at our own ‘beliefs’ again and again as new things come up that we should not ignore. It might mean our view has to be modified, or totally and uncomfortably thrown out, if it’s shown to be no longer correct or serving the bigger picture.
By my definition, I have met very, very few true skeptics in my life, even among the scientists. I aspire to be a seeker of Truth, and would happily throw out the word ‘skepticism’ as now being too loaded, contaminated and abused to be of any further use to humanity.
My ‘brownie points’ are I suppose, that throughout my life I’ve let go of a multitude of deeply held ‘pet beliefs’ when Truth came a ’knockin! Does that leave me empty? No way – fuller than ever! And yet, acknowledging imperfection and the gradual process of personal and group evolution, I’m sure I have many more beliefs yet to root out and discard…
From the Past… into the Future
There is a schism going on in science: on the one hand, modern physics is increasingly realising the utter connectedness and oneness of all, that everything is energy, that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, physical matter is illusory (although rather real to us), and that everything happens because of energy and consciousness.
On the other hand, the ‘old guard’, particularly in biology, is sticking to the view that all consciousness is merely a product of the mechanical behaviour of physical matter, i.e. in our brains.
A network of consequences of this materialist, reductionist, so-called scientific, so-called skeptical view of reality is that there is no divinity, no purpose, no big picture, no God, no higher love or mind, no ultimate good, no life beyond death, no real connection between people: we are all terrible islands of matter in a random universe of separated things.
There’s no point in being ethical, honest, religious, true and loving, all are a waste of time and energy. Why not just indulge, explore, play games, be ‘bad’, be ‘good’, do what you want? Nothing matters anyway. What dreadful emptiness this view gives rise to!
No matter how much the holder of such a view tries to fill that emptiness with relationships, work, wealth, pleasure, pain, peace, fighting, possessions and achievements of the mind and body, the self-created, un-fillable void is there niggling away in the background, influencing every choice, every moment of life.
This view also limits the ability of science to expand to its true capacity, as some modern scientists are coming to realise and express.
So here are some observations on a few of the beloved ersatz skeptics I have known personally – not of course devoid of my imperfect attempt to keep my judgement and biases out of it! But you’ll feel the picture. The reason I share this is to make very personal and relatable some of the strategies we humans use to avoid the truth, and hide under an apparently respectable cloak of ‘being skeptical’. Perhaps it will resonate with some and bring in a fresh wind of awareness.
Skeptic #1 subscribes to the above materialist, reductionist school of thought.
Skeptic #1’s way of denying and covering over and trying to fill the unfillable empty void that sprouted from lovelessness in childhood, that cannot be filled with relationships, work, pleasure, possessions and even outstanding achievements, is with drugs: mind-altering substances, any number, any amounts, any combination as required to not feel the emptiness.
But here’s the rub – how do you trust the thoughts and opinions of a mind that is constantly altered and swayed this way and that by recreational drugs? Although they may provide apparent epiphanies of perception, how ‘true’ are those perceptions? I speak from my own experience too, not of filling emptiness with drugs – I was a wake-up to that one at least – but testing them to see if there were any ‘valid answers’. Actually, no, there were not, and I quit completely.
Skeptic #1 rejected my expressions that consciousness is beyond physical brains, that separation is an illusion, that love is real and higher than emotions, and that life is full of meaning and connection.
Skeptic #1 often tried to win me back to drugs. It felt to me like an attempt to rationalise behaviour that was felt and known to be harmful by getting another to enjoin it. I would not, and this friendship fell away. I had begun to feel distrust and frustration with what felt to me like blindness, arrogance, inconsistency and harm associated with drug taking. I’m personally privy to the deep, old hurts that Skeptic #1 experienced as a child, and how they’ve continued to play out, unhealed and unaddressed, in adult life.
What Skeptic #1 is doing these days I don’t know, however perhaps the love and light dawned and true clarity was chosen instead of drugs. I feel to never give up on anyone – the seeds of healing lie dormant within all of us, and miracles do happen!
Skeptic #2 maintained an interesting, oscillating relationship with truth. Once again, I’m privy to the depth of personal childhood hurts and how these hurts have continued to run the self-beliefs, choices, attitudes, relationships and opinions of Skeptic #2.
Skeptic #2 dipped in and out of education and employment, a ‘course junkie’ for a while, but not following through with anything. This has had a big impact on the foundation of Skeptic #2’s living.
The course, job, project or activity would go along well for a while, providing much enjoyment and support. But then the ‘skepticism’ would rise to an intolerable level such that Skeptic #2 would turn around and denigrate that which had been providing satisfaction, and slide into dissatisfaction, self-criticism, depression, and rejection of the world and everyone in it; into a desolate cynicism that picked apart everything and found it wanting.
Every expert detail provided to meet acceptance was rejected… always more requirements, always more criticisms, always rejection, never satisfied. It kept looking like self-sabotage to me, but always blaming… blamed on another, and/or blamed on self.
An obvious question would be ‘why’? If there is genuine joy in anything in life to be found, why smash it and move away? Why the blaming and self-blame? It feels like an intentionally created vicious spiral. It feels like excuses – to not face or accept responsibility for one’s involvement in and commitment to life.
Skeptic #3 shared with me that they were deeply hurt by a parent’s consistent coldness and withholding of love.
Skeptic #3 expressed an enduring resentment and bitterness (and even disgust) for not having been loved as a child by the parent from whom that love was sought. To me it felt that what Skeptic #3 was most afraid of was admitting that the lack of love has been continued from within – they were not taking responsibility for loving and caring for themselves.
I feel it is for each human to connect to their own inner love, be it and express it, regardless of anyone else’s choice to be loving or not. At some point, we have to heal ourselves. Difficult as it may have been in childhood, continuing to blame someone else for not providing love is not true to who we are, nor is it a path to healing. We humans do not sit well with being untrue to the love that is our real essence, but we get entrenched in our habitual ways.
So in adulthood, when Skeptic #3 was dealing with a series of health problems which modern medicine was unable to help, those old habits were an obstacle to using some nourishing complementary therapies that were safe and effective. Skepticism reared its head, in the form of rejecting (from a position of ignorance) that there could be any value in complementary therapies, and not even wanting to find out.
Why would one not want to find out? Could it be there was denial and protection going on? How ironic that someone whose very profession and passion (science) was founded upon the ‘objective’ search for truth, should choose to suffer and be self-limited by the fear of truth! It was easier to go on suffering health problems (as a victim) than to look at the root cause of the suffering, and take responsibility for the years of choices that built it to the level that was now constantly being experienced.
Is it possible that to look at root causes would bring up guilt for being dishonest with themselves – in their choice to be angry, bitter, resentful and not self-loving over the years?
It amazed me that a scientist refused to look at the biology of nourishing the body. It made no sense. Then I realised that by doing so, Skeptic #3 would risk blowing the cover of victim-ness. Then the truth of the lack of taking responsibility for self-loving and self-nurturing would be revealed, the blaming of others for one’s own choices would also be revealed, and all would have to be faced, admitted, and addressed.
This blog is not about slamming my beloved ersatz skeptics and all the hundreds of others whom I know and love or may not know yet. It is about understanding human behaviour arising from hurts, the persistent feeling of emptiness that comes from those hurts and how they govern our way of expressing.
Who hasn’t been hurt? Who hasn’t acted at some time or another in a way they knew was not true to themselves? All hands up!! Readers may have begun to realise that practically every one of us has pockets of the same kinds of ‘skeptic’ behaviours as we’ve talked about here: protective behaviours based on hurts and beliefs about ourselves in our own lives, to varying degrees.
In other words, there is something (or many somethings) that we don’t want to look at, that we shy away from the truth of, because it would highlight our hurts, beliefs and our lack of taking responsibility in some areas of life.
If you dig below the surface of the behaviours that come from our hurts and beliefs, you’ll find that at heart all humans are loving and responsible. To be otherwise is a v-e-r-y uncomfortable admission of not being true to ourselves and to humanity!
So we hide and bury our untrue-ness and lack of responsibility, pretend to ourselves that there’s no issue to look at within, and use skepticism as a protective cover to prevent the truth from being revealed. It seems easier to suffer and cause suffering for a whole lifetime than to ‘fess up’ and do what must be done.
Ironically, the very taking of responsibility and doing what must be done is the exact cure for the ills brought about by the continued hiding behind ‘skepticism’, which isn’t really skepticism at all!
In truth, there is no emptiness or nothingness in the universe, including within us, so something must fill the void left when an ’empty’ person hides behind ‘skepticism’.
But what fills it? Could it be something else, something untrue that just makes things look the way we want them to, but ultimately leaves us feeling just as ’empty’? It’s a vicious spiral – and the tragic irony is that we really do know this all along and choose to keep covering it up.
Many self-avowed ‘skeptics’ (in fear, denial and protection) are very vocal in specifying exactly what conditions do and do not meet their criteria for truth. But as soon as you meet their ‘criteria’, they will find some other conditions to require – conditions that get more and more detailed, ridiculous and irrelevant as they go along.
Eventually, their conditions end up including things, people, activities or organisations that are not even the target of their criticism, quite the opposite, thus deepening the contradictions. In short, they can never be satisfied, because protection is the name of their game, and it’s such a powerful controller of them that they can’t even stop to accept the ludicrous self-contradictions that they communicate.
So, instead of choosing an ‘us and them’ way, could it be time to recognise the shades and grades of skepticism within us all as an indicator of how humanity is not living true to itself?
By ‘us and them’, I mean we comfortably run with – ‘good us, bad skeptics’ or ‘good skeptics, bad whomever-they-are-attacking’ (depending on which side of the fence you’re on). Whereas, if this little essay has revealed anything, it’s that there’s no ‘us and them’ for we are all the same inside and all equally responsible for our hurts and their effects upon our collective human life.
A harming skeptic who becomes abusive, e.g. by cyber-bullying or denigrating others in any way, must not go unchecked of course. Being ‘hurt’ is no excuse. In those cases they should be severely sanctioned and prevented from doing further harm.
However they are the extreme cases (though growing in number exponentially) of a humanity-wide continuum and we would do well to look at their actions in the context of a much bigger picture. As members of society it behooves us to step up and take responsibility for calling out every instance of untruth within ourselves as well as that which is going on around us, no matter how apparently uncomfortable or ‘trivial’ it may seem to be.
By Dianne Trussell