When it doesn't ring true
Well-Being Australia chairman Mark Tronson, a Baptist minister, was recently asked whether it was possible to hold a Christian position 'on scepticism and cynicism'. This set him upon a search to uncover the implications of these ideas within modern 'general' word usage, history and theology.
Historically, as can be illustrated by any reputable dictionary along with an Internet search, that a sceptic (or skeptic, the spelling is interchangeable) doubts the truth of 'the Christian or all religious doctrines'. It also coveys the idea that this person is 'unconvinced of truth of particular fact or theory'.
A 'Christian sceptic' is thus impossible in this strict definition. However, a Christian that senses when something done or said 'doesn't ring true' is exercising a form of scepticism, as used in modern language, and that is valid. The term 'healthy scepticism' is regularly seen and heard.
Again the word 'cynic' coveys ideas of someone who is churlish; captious; incredulous of human goodness; sneering. Here again, the Christian can exercise cynicism when something 'doesn't ring true'.
"Listening to a talk by a retired Lieutenant Colonel on the 1966 Vietnam War battle of Long Tan, I was alerted to the fact that after the disastrous leadership by non-Australians in WWI and WWII in numerous situations, the Australian Government made it a condition that their troops be under the direct command of Australians, in order to agree to increasing their personnel numbers in Vietnam," M V Tronson said.
This sense of scepticism and cynicism M V Tronson claims, is a very Aussie trait that has its roots with the first Fleet. It was widely exercised by the leaders who found themselves in charge of a settlement with completely novel social situations, as they realised that London's view of their predicament in settling a new colony was unreal and completely out of touch.
It came naturally to the convicts as they reflected on their plight of being sent to the other side of the world for stealing a handkerchief; and also that those 'in charge' were in a new situation divorced from the rigid class structure of 'old England'.
The other issue M V Tronson considered was whether attitudes of scepticism and cynicism were in the Scriptures, the idea that when something 'didn't ring true', or evidence that people had followed their own conscience about what was 'right'. He found such attitudes from Genesis through to Revelation, and possibly the most important use was in helping to separate truth from falsehood.
"When something 'doesn't ring true' it carries a deep inner feeling that convinces that what is presented as truth, is actually false; often without being able to articulate why it is false," M V Tronson claimed. "Every ounce of one's soul erupts with this sense, and this is why Jesus said, that the truth will set you free."
M V Tronson read afresh Paul's letters to the Churches, and realised that Paul warned his readers to be on the lookout for those who would take Jesus work on the Cross and misconstrue it.
"And more often than not, it's the leaders of congregations who have come in and given a different Gospel and who are taken to task by the Apostle. Paul got wind of these things by members of those congregations who understood that the teaching of Paul's opponents did not ring true," M V Tronson noted. "It's there in black and white for all to see."
Further, M V Tronson says that the Book of Galatians heightens this specific attitude, and today there are numerous Christian Internet sites that alert us to rogues in the disguise of preachers, often backed by internal governance structures and so-called 'theological' positions, that are set up to scam and to steal.
"The Apostle Paul spoke of the fruits of the Spirit, yet gave equal weight to being watchful and wary of those who spoil the truth. We will find in any congregation those who put more weight on one or the other, and this generally provides congregations with balances," suggested M V Tronson.
But M V Tronson is the first to admit, that he errs on the side of having an attitude of scepticism and cynicism after 31 years in Christian ministry where so much of what he has seen 'hadn't rung true' whereas his wife Delma has a disposition towards the fruits of the Spirit.