Socrates is widely considered to be the father of philosophy. His approach to philosophy was simply to question everything. In so doing, he exposed the often superficial structure of beliefs upon which most of his contemporaries founded their worldviews. This led him to utter his well-known quote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
In many ways, Socrates was a sharp skeptic, calling into question all of the things that those around him accepted without much thought. For instance, another of his famous quotes is: “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”
In this one quote, Socrates nicely sums up what it is to be a true skeptic. It was not that he rejected religion in favor of atheism or that he rejected supernatural thinking in favor of scientism. Socrates started with no presuppositions, and questioned all forms of thought equally.
It was Socrates complaint that people think they know things without giving much thought as to what it is to know; and how, and, indeed if anyone knows anything.
The modern skeptic has at least one reasonable complaint, that is, that large swaths of the population accept whatever worldview they embrace without questioning that worldview, and without much or any thought as to the long-term consequences of those beliefs.
Enter the Apologist. Christian Apologists take up the call to examine and explain the beliefs of Christianity with rational argumentation. In many ways, this is complimentary to the Skeptic, because the doubts that they have cast on Christianity were taken seriously enough for members of that group to answer them. And if the Skeptic had no other end in mind but to persuade Christians to study, consider, and examine their beliefs rationally, then the story would end there. The call was given and accepted. However it is the Skeptic’s ultimate end to have Christians abandon their beliefs entirely.
One of the many problems with this approach, though, is that even if Skeptics are entirely correct in their assessment of Christianity, even if religion is a delusion, they do not offer a very attractive alternative. They are asking a person to abandon a belief that states that their failures have been forgiven them, that they have been created in the image of God, and that they have hope for eternal life after death; and to go to a belief that states that they are the product of chaos, that life is short and ultimately meaningless, and that purpose is only whatever imaginary illusion you can dream up before you die. In fact, on this view, a religion is as good as any other meaningless activity a person can engage in in order to give their lives a delusional sense of purpose.
In the movie ‘Paul,’ one of the main characters is a single adult woman who lives in a secluded trailer park with her overbearing and dictatorial father. Both she and her father are extremist fundamental Christians who refuse to even entertain the possibility that their views may be false. She is caught up in a madcap adventure with two Science Fiction nerds and an extraterrestrial on the run from the government. The alien does the equivalent of a mind meld on the girl, imparting his vast, galactic knowledge into her brain, and driving from her the ludicrous religious notions that the universe was created or that there is any kind of God.
Suddenly the woman finds herself able to engage in all sorts of activities that her former religious convictions forbade. She can curse, drink alcohol, smoke pot, and fornicate at will. At the end of the film she thanks the alien by telling him that he freed her.
This is a very telling parable of the type of freedom that Materialism claims to offer. Christianity is seen as a prison of rules that prevent the adherent from experiencing the pleasures of life. Recognize the truth of Materialism and you may engage in any self-serving, hedonistic activity that you choose, without any kind of guilt.
In fairness, there are many types of religion which are just that. They cloister their followers and set up impossible rules that must be followed or risk eternal consequences.
True Christianity offers a different kind of freedom from guilt, however. It offers forgiveness. The catch, of course, is that the person who receives the forgiveness has to actually recognize and reject their self-serving behaviors and desires. In this way, the film ‘Paul’ shows the true offense of Christianity. People are offended at any system of thought that draws a firm line between “right” and “wrong.”