A skeptic is a person who approaches every fantastic and unproven argument with some measure of caution and disbelief. I suppose we are all skeptics at heart. We want to know the truth about things, before we surrender belief. Now I suppose some skepticism is healthy. But some things we eventually discover we would much rather not argue, like whatever mom says. This occurrence typically coincides with mid to late puberty. We arrive at this truth when we finally realize holding a contrary position is a lost cause. So if you’re still arguing with mom, be prepared to cave eventually. And then you’ll wonder why you even argued to begin with. But from my observation, skeptics are seldom the kind of people who look to authenticate the truth. It seems they rather enjoy the notoriety of their disbelief, or better, in their judgement, their healthy immunity from gullibility. Skeptics probably think everyone else is just plain gullible. They know what they know, and nobody can convince them otherwise. And as far as they are concerned, the subject is closed. End of discussion.
In a good faith effort to gain insight into a skeptic’s perspective on one particular subject that I have a firm but contrary position, I decided to look up the webpage of the International Flat Earth Society. I figure most people here would agree with me that the earth is not flat at all. I could be wrong. As far as I am concerned, the issue is settled. I have traveled the world. I have flown across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. I have viewed with my own eyes the curvature of the earth from my airplane window. And I firmly believe that the earth is indeed a sphere. Now I am also aware there are passages in the bible that claim otherwise. And I subscribe to certain truths that are found only in the bible. One big difference among people of faith is that we are not all literalists. We do not hold everything the bible says literally. Meaning, the truth of what is found in the bible is not based solely on that it is found in the bible. Acceptance of any truth requires independent and interdisciplinary processes of authentication. I may never win an argument with mom, but I assure you, other truths must undergo rigorous scrutiny.
So back to the flat earth. I was also not surprised that there is some connection, however sketchy, between flat earth proponents and people of faith. An entry in their FAQ page explains. “While almost every religion shares a common worldview of a dome shaped earth, we have no official connection with any established religions. However, it would be impossible to deny the strong historical ties with Christianity by past Presidents of the Society.” So we can conclude that there is a segment of Flat Earth supporters who also claim to be Christian. I would consider them skeptics, but not the healthy kind. As I am sure they might see my skepticism to their perspective unhealthy as well. Or perhaps they just prefer to consider me misled or gullible.
Now historians would consider the scholars and teachers of Israel to be a highly educated bunch. They study the law and the scriptures extensively, and it would be safe to say they are the final authority when it came to most anything contained therein. But when astrologers from the east arrived in Jerusalem with notions of a new king to be found among them, notions derived from their own independent study of the law and scriptures of Israel, these scholars and teachers were highly skeptical, and for good reason. How could anyone tell them anything they didn’t already know, especially in precisely their field of expertise? And despite Herod’s consulting with them, and their informing him the claims made by the foreign visitors were credible, Herod and his advisers were still unconvinced. Was it because they were foreigners? Were they jealous they didn’t figure it out themselves first? Is it like a bunch of renowned astronomers and astrophysicists being told by a kindergartener, a foreign kindergartener at that, that the uber-complex mathematical problem that has confounded them for years has a solution? Even if the kindergartener was right, they probably wouldn’t just admit to it. But then Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem, where his advisers informed him the Christ was to be born. So the skeptics did eventually embrace this otherwise foreign and primitive interpretation of their law and scriptures. Yes, but not entirely. It still didn’t convince them enough to actually send their own people to Bethlehem.
Now the astrologers from the east claimed a star led them to Israel in search of this new king. They stopped in Jerusalem to hear what the local experts had to say. But they were met with disbelief at first, then a grudging and halfhearted “I guess.” Was the star that the astrologers saw not visible to the scholars and teachers of Israel? Did they look up at the night sky and see all the other stars but not the one the foreign visitors saw? Did something obscure their vision, preventing them from seeing the star? How can something as extraordinary as a bright star seen from afar go unnoticed by those much closer? Try telling a person who thinks the earth is flat everything that convinces you it isn’t. I continued reading the rest of their FAQ page, and I was dumbfounded. They still truly doubt the evidence that I consider most credible. Now try telling a person who is convinced there is no God just why you believe, or what you believe about the resurrection, or the Eucharist, or God’s compassion and forgiveness. And don’t be surprised that what you consider evidence is not going to be enough for them.
The astrologers in the gospel story followed a star and arrived at a house where they found the child and his mother. And they prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Led by their convictions, these wise and learned individuals traveled a great distance to discover the truth. By the way, nowhere in the gospel account are we told there were only three, or that they were all men, or that they rode camels, or whatever. All we know is that they came from the east. They never apologized for what they believed. And in more ways than the obvious, scripture tells us, “they departed for their country by another way.” It is not beyond the realm of possibility they were changed, and they went back home transformed by their encounter with Jesus.
God is always trying to reveal himself to us in ways that may not easily conform with our preferred mode of seeing and thinking and believing. Israel’s newborn king was revealed to foreigners through their study of Israel’s prophetic writings and by a star shining in the night sky. Meanwhile the hearts and minds of Israel’s scholars and teachers remained closed. Do we pay attention to truths about God that our sincere study reveal and our experience point to? Do we fail to see the stars that God sends us to shine in the night sky of our lives? Do we close our hearts and minds when God is trying to reveal himself? Is our skepticism an obstacle to faith and truth and God?
Rolo B Castillo © 2018