Ideas / Pursuing Wisdom / November 7, 2011

The Unskeptical Questioner

I am a recovering skeptic. That is to say, I am learning what it means to give the benefit of the doubt and not reject new ideas out of hand. But I am still insatiably curious and I despise pat answers. So I question things.

There’s a fine line, though, between being someone who questions things and being a skeptic. In fact, many people would call someone who questions everything a skeptic.

Here’s the thing; I don’t think many skeptics actually question anything. They may phrase their challenges as questions, but their heart is set on rejection and disproving. To truly question something is to pose questions to it and about it for the sake of understanding. This may lead to disproving or rejecting, but the heart behind it is in learning.

And in this sense, we ought to question everything. And I do mean everything, whether it is the traditions in which we were raised, the authorities over us, the religions we hold to, or the God in which we believe. If the heart of the questioning is to learn, then ask away.   

It is often frowned upon to ask questions of established ideas, structures, or authorities. It is seen as disrespectful, crass, or rebellious. Truly, though, what is more important that seeking every ounce of truth in an established reality? And what is more harmful than abiding in that reality if no truth is to be found there? And so we must question.

So I say to you, question everything. That is find good questions to ask about everything and of everything. Just don’t be a skeptic.   


Nov 07, 2011

Yes. And this difference is probably the reason that Zechariah’s question resulted in judgment from the angel (Luke 1:18-20) and Mary’s question got an answer (Luke 1:34-37).

Nov 07, 2011

I agree. I feel very similarly and often find myself having to defend my questions with, “I’m just trying to understand” to people who do not understand this difference.
Well put.

Nov 08, 2011

I completely agree with you. I think a “true” question stems from a humble heart to learn. Skeptics frame their unwillingness to believe anything in the form of questions, that stem from pride.

Nov 08, 2011

I love this! Well stated. I am a questioner…and unfortunately a skeptic way more than I’d wish to be. Particularly as a woman, I find this encouraging- since often questions are often taken as being rebellious. Though, I am thankful for a very gracious and understanding husband who is secure enough in his identity in Christ and position, who does not find my asking a threat, but lovingly answers- most of the time. 😉 I find this to be a major battle in the family with those who are under submission- wives, children, teenagers- and then carried into the church. It would be a beautiful thing for there to be freedom in questioning for understanding!

Nov 08, 2011

Fantastic post! Was just having a conversation with someone regarding this exact topic. But could not express the difference between being inquistive and being a skeptic. I will be forwarding this on to them.

Nov 08, 2011


Nov 08, 2011

When someone becomes a Christian, every day should be about questions. When you have been indoctrinated with what the world’s ways are for your entire life, you should be questioning every aspect of you life.

Our Sunday school class is going over friendship right now. We have been looking at questioning how society says our friendships should be and where our identities come from, such as the world’s view of masculinity.

We also just finished a long lesson on 1 and 2 Peter, which is all about growth and maturity in the knowledge of Christ. Questioning is a necessity to grow in that knowledge.

So yes, we must question every aspect of our lives and everything we hear!

“Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” – 1 Thes. 5:20-22

Nov 08, 2011

Good wisdom. I’m a recovering pessimist, now a realist. =) So this is helpful.

Nov 08, 2011

I probably agree. However, since questioning is good, I must question what you said. Some things we must take by faith even after we have questioned. Therefore, if questioning to learn, leads to faith, not to further skepticism we agree. I hope I learn to accept by faith quickly!

Nov 08, 2011

I trust the difference is the humility. We can ask in humility of the truth we cannot understand without the revelation. However, the questions rooted in arrogance ends up rejecting what the revelation teaches us, and cannot add to faith.

But we also should understand that earlier generations probably too asked the same questions. If we remove our arrogance that we are the most intellectual beings ever existed in the history of mankind, perhaps we would be less inclined to reject the traditions.

Nov 08, 2011

I have realised that 99.9% of the questions i ask are not questions at all, but statements to support my position and disapprove others without a drop of love, but coming from a proud heart. Oh God have mercy on me

Nov 08, 2011

62 years old and still asking here! Your post is helpful in recognizing the potential for skepticism in me and explaining the legitimate (and seemingly endless) questions that rise up in me…

Nov 12, 2011

I disagree. This is very bad advice. Here is why:

Would you rather be ignorant of something extraordinary yet true, or believe totally in something that may be false?

You should doubt an extraordinary claim until those making it have convinced you beyond any doubt.

The danger of believing something false and becoming delusional is great and real. Its much more difficult to correct than simply being unconvinced.

It is also intellectually dishonest to believe something, giving it the benefit of a doubt, when you yourself are not totally convinced of it beyond all reason. If there is any doubt at all, doubt it. That is just being honest.

If you want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible,
Don’t just question, doubt. Doubt if you have a single doubt in you.

Demand undeniable evidence for big claims. Be a skeptic.

Mar 17, 2013

Barnabas, Alison Emery told me about your blog. It’s good to see that you’ve carved out a niche for yourself. I admit, I am a bit skeptical that it’s possible to be an unskeptical questioner. 🙂 Isn’t that a bit like an artist saying “I am free to follow my creative impulses…I just don’t color outside the lines?”

The medieval church laid out strong boundaries that defined permissible areas of inquiry. Calvin’s Geneva was no different. “Be skeptical of Catholic dogma, but skepticism about our dogma will cost you your life.” Enlightenment philosophers and scientist blew open the boundaries of permissible skepticism and questioned all forms of knowledge by received presumptive authority. The result? 500 years we burned old women at the stake for reputedly flying brooms. Today we fly airplanes.

It seems that unskeptical questioning just means addressing polite questions permitted by the rules of your evangelical tradition w/o questioning the rule-makers. That’s why it’s permissible. It’s domesticated questioning.
Jeff Swanson

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