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Asking the clergy about skepticism

Is questioning one's faith a denunciation of one's beliefs? Does the expression "a healthy dose of skepticism" apply to Scripture? Our clergy tackle this concept.

The Rev. David Regan, associate priest, St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church, Smithtown; chaplain for the Catholic Campus Ministry,

Stony Brook University:

What this question is really asking is: "Is it good to usethe human mind?" The answer is absolutely yes. The desire for God is written in the human heart. The question for the thinking person should be, "Am I looking in the right place?"

In the Gospel of Mark (9:23-24), the father of a child who is afflicted with an unclean spirit cries out, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief." That is the template for those who want to know the truth. Only in God do we find truth and happiness.

Faith and reason are gifts from God that empower us to search and find him. We are never to abandon faith for reason or reason for faith.

If we have the beautiful ability to question, then we also have the responsibility to look in the right places. As a person questions, he or she should ask "Am I looking in the right spot?" The heart that looks for God will eventually find him. Or better yet, we will experience what St. Augustine was experiencing: that it was not that we find him but rather that God finds us. Accordingly, in searching for truth, St. Augustine said that beautiful quote: "You have made us for yourself O'Lord . . . and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

Rabbi Elliot Skiddell, Reconstructionist Congregation Beth Emeth, shares space with Central Synagogue, Rockville Centre:

A healthy dose of skepticism is what leads us to a deeper sense of faith and belief. When we ask questions, it gives us the incentive to explore more, to learn more. Rather than just accept what others tell you to believe, you acquire your belief yourself. It is great to listen to rabbis, priests, ministers and teachers and learn from them, but you must raise questions and continue learning. Doing this creates a good, solid basis for a true belief and true faith.

The important thing for us as clergy is how we create for you this atmosphere of openness and skepticism. How do we let people know it is OK to question things, to question us?

I've been rabbi here 61/2 years. When I first came here, I told my congregants they shouldn't feel afraid to raise questions or challenge me. Only a few brave souls responded to my suggestion with questions. I would encourage them by saying what a great question it was. Or, how I hadn't thought of it that way. Let's explore that further. Now, people feel free to question and go further all the time.

Many people, especially of a certain age, grew up viewing their clergy as distant and next to God. If you question your clergy, you're questioning God. Or, if you question your clergy, you'll damage your relationship with him. It is our job to create that comfortable atmosphere where they feel free to ask questions.

Pastor Scott Kraniak, Centereach Bible Church, Centereach:

It is crucial for people of God to not trust everything they hear, even in their own place of worship. I tell my congregants to check out what I say. I could be leading them astray. Both the Old and New Testaments talk of false prophets and false teachers. There will always be those who tell you what you want to hear, sometimes for evil intent (2 Peter 2:1-3).

There are many false prophets, wolves in sheep's clothing (1 John 4:1). But how do you know? If a clergy tells you that you can't understand the Bible and they have to interpret it for you, then you should question -- in an honorable way -- what is being taught. Look things up for yourself. And, trust in God. If we truly seek him, he will lead us.

Blind followers of religion have been the cause of much of the world's problems. Following the truth is the answer. The truth is going to be found in our faith in God. If you're not sure whom to follow, ask God to lead you to the right place (Psalm 118:8). We should always have a little bit of skepticism. Be a wise seeker. Be one who questions.

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