In a recent conversation with a good friend, I admitted that I'm sceptical about some of the claims of Christianity. My friend was not offended, but did respond that scepticism is "immoral" because scepticism is doubt in the face of Truth (i.e., God). I want to examine this line of reasoning momentarily.
Dictionary.com provides the following definition of scepticism:
"skep⋅ti⋅cism /ˈskɛptəˌsɪzəm/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [skep-tuh-siz-uhm] Show IPA
1. skeptical attitude or temper; doubt.
2. doubt or unbelief with regard to a religion, esp. Christianity.
3. (initial capital letter) the doctrines or opinions of philosophical Skeptics; universal doubt.
The first definition seems apt to my intention behind the word. I hold an attitude of doubt concerning some of the claims of the Christian faith. This is a non-committed position that is left open for the purpose of critically examining issues and claims. A sceptic working along this trajectory has simply reserved judgment until s/he has had sufficient time and research to come to a reasonable conclusion. We might also call this kind of scepticism "critical thinking".
The second definition may also apply to my position. That is, by inference from the first definition, I doubt, even disbelieve some of the claims of the Christian religion. For example, I disbelieve the creation mythology in Genesis. And, as Karen Armstrong has pointed out in her book The Bible: A Biography, most Christians have disbelieved the Genesis claims on creation until roughly 150 - 200 years ago with the rise of fundamentalist biblical literalism. Disbelief though, is a little less nuanced than doubt, however: it is a conclusive position, whereas 'doubt' is being undecided, or not willing to commit without further evidence.
The third definition does not fit my outlook. Universal doubt calls itself into question. Doubt as a principle, it would seem, becomes the object of its own examination. It is therefore a self-defeating position, much like going solo on a teeter-totter, trying to pick yourself up unaided, or sawing off the branch you're sitting on. (And to all those teeter-totter fans out there, yes, I know you can straddle the fulcrum, but that's called 'balancing', not teeter-tottering.)
So the next question in keeping with the thrust of this article would be, 'Why would holding claims in doubt be considered immoral?' Well, as my friend suggested, human beings are imago dei, created in the image of God. We therefore have an intrinsic understanding of his existence. Combined with the Christian concept of revelation, and God's incarnation, we have no right, room, or reason to hold any doubts about divine reality, or, in my friend's case, the claims of the historic (read, 'Catholic') church.
Dictionary.com defines 'immoral' thusly:
"im⋅mor⋅al /ɪˈmɔrəl, ɪˈmɒr-/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [i-mawr-uhl, i-mor-] Show IPA
1. violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics.
2. licentious or lascivious.
1650–60; im- 2 + moral
bad, wicked, dissolute, dissipated, profligate. Immoral, abandoned, depraved describe one who makes no attempt to curb self-indulgence. Immoral, referring to conduct, applies to one who acts contrary to or does not obey or conform to standards of morality; it may also mean licentious and perhaps dissipated. Abandoned, referring to condition, applies to one hopelessly, and usually passively, sunk in wickedness and unrestrained appetites. Depraved, referring to character, applies to one who voluntarily seeks evil and viciousness. Immoral, amoral, nonmoral, and unmoral are sometimes confused with one another. Immoral means not moral and connotes evil or licentious behavior. Amoral, nonmoral, and unmoral, virtually synonymous although the first is by far the most common form, mean utterly lacking in morals (either good or bad), neither moral nor immoral. However, since, in some contexts, there is a stigma implicit in a complete lack of morals, being amoral, nonmoral, or unmoral is sometimes considered just as reprehensible as being immoral."
Since what is 'moral' is generally decided upon through religious constructs, social systems, and special interest groups, thrusting the term 'immoral' on a person who doubts, or is sceptical about certain claims, teachings, propositions, philosophies, etc. is simply enforcing expectations external to the sceptic, or doubter. We have an ethical dilemma at this point: who is acting immorally? The one who cannot reasonably believe something without further convincing? Or the one who happily defines the parameters for belief and then charges others with immorality when someone doesn't ante up to those parameters? To put it differently, it would seem to me that the immoral person in this kind of situation is the one who blindly cascades dogmatic assertions over the doubter's head. Similarly, we would not call the person who is smacked in the head 'immoral', but we would call the person who did the hitting 'immoral'.
Given that I remain sceptical about some of the claims of Christianity, even religion in general, I have now been put in the position by my friend of being 'immoral'. Metaphorically speaking, he has smacked me in the head, and told me I'm immoral because he hit me.
With all due respect to my friend, I find his claim that scepticism is immoral dubious, at best. And that is not simply a clever turn of phrase. I sincerely think that calling doubt 'immoral' is constructing a pyrrhic victory that only gives the sceptic more reason to doubt. And by that measure, how much more immoral is it to cause more of the 'immorality' you're trying to stamp out by claiming doubt 'immoral'? It would seem to me that such an accusation achieves the opposite of its intention, and must therefore be dropped in favour of more intelligent dialogue.