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John Owen on True Skepticism and Christianity

Evenings with the Skeptics, Or, Free Dicussion on Free Thinkers, Vol. 1 (Longmans, Green, and Company: 1881), pp. iix-ix.

Considered in itself Skepticism implies (1) Continuous search, (2) Suspense, or so much of it as is needful as an incentive to search. This is the literal meaning of the word as well as its general signification in Greek philosophy. We thus perceive that the Skeptic is not the denier or dogmatic Negationist he is commonly held to be. Positive denial is as much opposed to the true Skeptical standpoint as determinate affirmation. One as well as the other implies fixity and finality. Each, when extreme and unconditional, makes a claim to omniscience. … Whatever meaning, therefore, his readers may have been accustomed to attach to the more common Sceptic, etc., he begs them to understand that a Skeptic in these volumes is above all things an inquirer. He is the indomitable, never-tiering searcher after truth — possible one who believes, at least on who affects, search more than he does absolutely definitive attainment.

The true Skeptic may hence be defined as the seeker after the absolute. He is the searcher who must needs find, if he find anything, not only demonstrable and infallible, but unconditionally perfect truth. As such he may plead companionship in thought and aspiration with other human seekers after the Infinite. He becomes allied with religionists with mystics with idealists with philosophic hunters after the Ding an sich, with persistent inquirers of every type whose ostensible goal transcends their actual powers. That such a seeker need not be impeded in his energies by the full consciousness of their inconclusive result is evident. He shares the ardent temperament — the passion for search for its own sake common to all minds of his own type What Mystic, e.g., was ever deterred in his pursuit by the impossibility of his desiderated consummation — complete union with deity? or what religionist ever considered himself thwarted in his endeavours after spiritual perfection by the self evident futility of his efforts? This definition of Skepticism as truth -search may serve to remove some of the objections made against it as an antagonistic influence to religion and especially to Christianity. Taking Christianity in its primary and true sense, as we find it embodied in the words and life of Christ, this supposed conflict of its dictates with reasonable inquiry after truth is nothing else than an ecclesiastical fiction. Certainly the claims of a religion which asserts itself as the Truth, which bases freedom upon truth-discovery, whose Founder’s profession was that He came to bear witness to the truth, and which appealed to the reason and conscience of mankind, i.e. to their instincts of spiritual and moral truth, can never be fairly represented as opposed to truth-search.