Lately I’ve been wondering whether I’m a ‘Skeptic’ or a ‘True Believer’. American author Chet Raymo coined these categories in Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection Between Science and Religion. Published in the late 90s, the book discusses the interconnection between science and faith. Of particular interest to me is Raymo’s proposal that people observe questions of knowledge and faith from one of two distinct perspectives: acceptance of an evolving nature of truth (the ‘Skeptic’) or pursuit of simple and certain truths (the ‘True Believer’).
The categories ‘Skeptic’ and ‘True Believer’ provide nuances of more conventional ways of defining our relationship with faith through notions of piousness, atheism or spirituality. A ‘Skeptic’ can therefore be both an atheist as well as a theist who continually struggles with questions of faith: both approach faith with a certain degree of doubt. And whereas ‘True Believers’ include religious zealots, they can also include those who feel nurtured by the emotional security that faith provides. This might seem more relatable to those who feel deeply connected to their faith but gravitate away from organized religion.
After reading Skeptics and True Believers I began to wonder about the need to characterize our attitudes towards faith. Specifically, why is it important to have categories of (non)beliefs and (non)believers? Perhaps these classifications provide a way to connect our own experiences within a broader community. Yet, to me, the very act of labelling our relationship with faith feels divisive and more confusing than clarifying. For instance, how do we classify an atheist who dogmatically disbelieves in the existence of God? What about a ‘True Believer’ who experiences a skeptical struggle of faith? And, where science may often be understood as antithesis to faith, I often wonder whether science isn’t in itself a kind of faith. After all, doesn’t science, in its essence, seek simple and certain truths of its own?
My personal curiosities about how we observe questions of faith are more about the ways in which we might exist beyond definitions, or how, through the course of our lives, we might find ourselves evolving between different ‘types’ of beliefs. Raymo recounts such a revolution in his own life: from a ‘True Believer’ early in his life, he found himself, as an adult, converted to a “thoroughgoing Skeptic”. I also experienced such a trajectory. Until recently I was very much the ‘Skeptic’ that Raymo describes. However in my late 20s I experienced a profound shift in my view of the world. Reflection, openness and curiosity, teamed with tenets of logical reasoning, led me to discover some simple and certain truths of my own. The sense of conviction that I realized was not divorced from my sense of reason or the scientist in me – it was, in fact, propelled by them.
I realize now that I am reluctant to fit myself into a neat category of believer or non-believer. Perhaps I am both a ‘Skeptic’ and a ‘True Believer.’ Perhaps I am neither. I prefer to recognize my relationship with faith as being mercurial and vast – a constellation of emotions, notions and thoughts: one that is not shaped by science or dogma, and one that eludes definition.