April 1, 2016

An April Fools' Resolution: Be More Skeptical

April Fools plant. Cape. South Africa
April Fools plant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sure, April Fools' Day may be best known to atheists as the day of the year when Christians flock to social media to quote their bible at us, demonstrating just how little of it they have actually read. And yes, the case can be made that April Fools' Day really ought to be an important religious holiday. But the day does not have to be about these things or even about playing juvenile pranks on each other. It can have a very different sort of meaning.

I'd like to think that April Fools' Day can provide all of us with a reminder to be more skeptical in our daily lives. It gives us with a perfect opportunity to reflect on the value of skepticism and to renew our commitment to its application. Most of us know to be more skeptical on April Fools' Day, but most of us could probably stand to be more skeptical the other 364 days of the year too.

It seems to me that most atheists are pretty good at being skeptical when it comes to religious faith. We have examined the evidence and found it lacking, and we don't tend to put much stock in the claims of personal revelation. Given the adverse consequences associated with being an atheist, it is not something most of us chose for ourselves. Instead, many of us ended up as atheists because we were willing to apply skepticism.

And yet, if I have learned anything whatsoever from the time I have spent on social media, it would have to be that we atheists suffer from all the same human foibles as anybody else. As good as we might be with skepticism around matters of religion, we are not particularly skeptical in many other matters. Again and again, we fall victim to uncritically accepting things which are consistent with our ideologies, false narratives, propaganda, and the like.

The thing is, I'm not really complaining about this. It shows that we are human. It ought to be a valuable reminder that we are no better (or worse) than our religious neighbors and that we run the risk of hypocrisy when we convince ourselves otherwise. Skepticism, reason, and freethought are not easy. They require us to work against many of our natural tendencies. Doing so requires a sustained commitment and considerable effort. We're going to make mistakes along the way.

And so, on this April Fools' Day, I'll be taking some time to appreciate the benefits of skepticism and renewing my commitment to be more skeptical. As challenging as it can be and as many ways as I know I will fall short, it remains a worthwhile aspiration.
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