Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Many people who don’t know me well, those who just see me as one watches someone on television and can identify him visually and knows a few details based on chance encounters, might be surprised if I told them that I am primarily a skeptic. They would say, ‘But you’re a man of faith, aren’t you? Writing on religious topics, trying to encourage people to be positive, and so on? How can you be a skeptic?’

Well, sorry, but that’s what I am, as anyone who has lived with me or knows me well can tell you. Skepticism is, to my way of thinking, the only way to process information and experience. One should have a healthy skepticism when confronted by any claim on one’s life, philosophical, scientific, political. For example, my healthy skepticism affects my attitude about medical professionals and procedures.

Luckily, I am basically a healthy person. I didn’t start regular visits to a physician, nor did I have one, until I turned sixty. At that point I began to have annual medical checkups. When I actually did have some health issues—a painful right ankle and foot from doing heavy shop labor in my sixties after having been a desk-seated manager for a quarter of a century—and went to a podiatrist, he couldn’t really help me.

First of all, he examined my feet and told me what I already knew—I am somewhat flat-footed. He told me something I didn’t know—I have ‘rust’ on the tops of my feet—which apparently he didn’t think worth fixing. He noticed my feet were very dry and crusty and recommended I use a lotion on them—something I already knew but had neglected to do—and that a couple of my toenails had a fungus.

I learned from him that to manage fungus’d toenails one can use a Dremel with special grinding bits to keep them short. My painful right foot? Well, that was difficult. After a good deal of questioning me that seemed to go nowhere—and he wasn’t willing to write me a note that said I shouldn’t be standing on concrete for eight to ten hours a day and carrying heavy metal—he prescribed custom in-soles.

To the tune of about five hundred dollars. These would have to be inserted in whatever shoes I was wearing—not sandals, of course!—and by compensating for my flat feet, should improve my walking. As for the painful foot, well, we’d have to wait and see. Reluctantly and skeptically, but without letting on that I was doubtful, I paid out the money and soon he was making paper-maché molds of both my feet.

The day the in-soles arrived and I started using them, I talked myself into believing that the pain in my ankle and foot was being relieved. Why? Because the skeptical part of me was ready to tell me, ‘You dope! You fell for it, hook, line, and sinker!’ In reality, the expensive in-soles made it feel like I was walking on tennis balls, so that took my attention off the fact that the foot was still in pain.

Thank God, I was able to retire a year early, because I was sure if I didn’t, I’d be entering retirement as a functional cripple. When I was living at home, I didn’t wear the shoes with the in-soles anymore. Both my feet regained a sense of their natural shape—who cares if that’s flat—and I predicted that, given that I mixed standing activities with sitting or lying down, my foot would heal. It did, in four months.

That vindicated my gut feeling that something I had for my entire life—flat feet—couldn’t have caused the painful foot, but that a natural weakness in that limb was aggravated and never allowed to recover after constant over-use. There have been one or two other incidents in the medical category that taxed my patience and exercised my skepticism, but many more when it comes to observing other people.

I think you get the idea. My skepticism extends in all directions. Yes, even in the realm of matters of religion. Though I am a Greek Orthodox Christian, I am skeptical of some of its historic claims. There is no skepticism in me on matters of Christology—who Christ is—or of practical theology—how I ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling’—nor about the Bible—it’s the Church’s book, human and divine.

But there are plenty of things that come out of the clergy and people of the Greek Church that I am skeptical of. Remember, a skeptic can change, and I’m perfectly willing to change my mind, as long as there are compelling reasons to do so. I’m skeptical of persistent, peripheral teachings such as the toll house myth. I’m skeptical of the good done by myrrh-flowing icons, but not necessarily of the icons themselves.

What I’m skeptical of at any given moment is whatever is pressing its claims on me at that moment. Being skeptical doesn’t make me belligerent, but sometimes it does. It depends. Does the claim being asserted or the demand being made make me have to do what I don’t want to do, or believe what I don’t want to believe? I fight. If it’s just people trying to prove they’re smarter than me, I just smile.

What I’m skeptical about right now, and have been for decades, is the ethical and intellectual superiority of the class of people who have got college degrees and like to see lots of ‘letters after their names.’ I was never a real hippie, just a poser, in my youth, but one hippie cult figure I admired, Stephen Gaskin, had a saying I subscribe to (with reservations)—‘The longer you stay in school, the dumber you get.’

Now, I have a college education, and I missed getting my degree and the right to have B.A. after my names because of my youthful skepticism over the purpose of higher education. I saw around me achievers who worked very hard so they could be successful and looked up to in worldly terms. Me, I despised that attitude and, just short of completing my education, left school to join a commune.

Mistake—and I’m the first to admit it, but not because my moral outlook was wrong, just misdirected. Higher education, no matter how conducted, can still benefit one who utilizes it properly. My idea to get education and then to snub my nose at prestige and privilege by re-entering the working class to enlighten them was very, very dumb. Perhaps Stephen Gaskin was right: I stayed in school too long.

Back to the present, I find myself living in a society where the prestige and privilege of college graduates is no longer enough for them. When they’re not patronizing the working class with promises of corporate or government programs—bread and circuses—they are despising them by their ruthless displays of superiority, and despite their fewer numbers, always finding ways to control the plebs.

Take the upcoming British referendum whether or not to stay in the European Union. The elite, predictably, want it to be a ‘Remain’ vote, and anyone who disagrees with them is assumed to be of the unenlightened masses, ‘it is idiotic to put such a complex question in such a simplistic yes/no format to the mass of people who are incapable of understanding the economic and commercial implications.’

Incapable? Well, I am skeptical that ‘the mass of people … are incapable of understanding the economic and commercial implications.’ They know very well what membership in the EU has cost them. The fishing industry, for example, in Great Britain, is all but destroyed, the EU even paying British fisherman to change jobs and burn their boats. Why? So that they can sell the British their own fish!

Coming home to the American scene, the elite here are throwing their weeny weight with all their might against the incredible hulk of Donald the Trump, the guy who has it all to such a degree that he doesn’t need their support or heed their barks. His surname fits him well. The real America (the one that is still great, and knows it) is going to call their bluff with this trump card. We’re tired of you, politicians.

Yes, I am skeptical of politicians. In the Oregon primary, I am registered as a Republican, and I will not tell anyone who I voted for in the primary or in the actual elections to office that were on the same ballot, but I will tell you, I voted for not a single career politician—just for citizens in ordinary professions. I am skeptical, indeed, when I see the results of so-called higher education taking charge of the reins.

Finally, I am skeptical of people who do not know their place. Of people who try to appear as one thing but are actually another. I was shocked when a scholarly book I had heard about, written by a British author, turned out to have very shabby scholarship, insufficient references and credits—where did he get his information?—I had expected better of the British. They don’t take short cuts. They do the job right.

Well, maybe not in his case. That makes me skeptical once again on a different level of higher education. It now seems to focus not on making better people, but better images, better actors, teaching people to be what they’re not in pursuit of their desires, people to whom all morality is relative, and who will stop at nothing, no matter how indecent, or even how criminal, to get what they want, especially power.

Yes, I’m a skeptic, but now back to the real world where I can put my skepticism to good use and stop talking about it. I just wanted to warn anyone who comes too close. Not that I’d infect you with my skeptical attitude. I’d assume if you came as close as that, you must be a skeptic already. After all, ‘birds of a feather…’ Maybe I’ll go to Wikipedia and make sure that I really am a skeptic, let’s see… Skepticism

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