|"David Hume" by Allan Ramsay|
Scottish National Gallery
All religious systems, it is confessed, are subject to great and insuperable difficulties. Each disputant triumphs in his turn, while he carries on an offensive war, and exposes the absurdities, barbarities, and pernicious tenets of his antagonist. But all of them, on the whole, prepare a complete triumphant for the skeptic, who tells them that no system ought ever to be embraced with regard to such subjects: For this plain reason, that no absurdity ought ever to be assented to with regard to any subject. A total suspense of judgment is here our only reasonable recourse. And if every attack, as is commonly observed, and no defense among theologians is successful, how complete must be his victory who remains always, with all mankind, on the offensive, and has himself no fixed station or abiding city which is ever, on any occasion obliged to defend?(p 53)
If one is to never have, in Hume’s words “…fixed station or abiding city…” of one's own beliefs to defend and instead to live a life of a philosophical wanderer, with no solid ground under their feet, how then to build one's life? What does a perennial skeptic cling to when the storms of life come? Is there a city anywhere that the wandering skeptic can come back to and be welcome?
This analogy seems to point to a certain nobility of the calling of a philosophical skeptic; weary of the defense of any theological theory for the existence of God due to the inconsistencies and errors in reasoning that can be shown in many arguments. So in the final analysis, why not be the ultimate winner, show the holes in any belief system, and hold to none of them.
Since this dialog seems to need a winner and a loser, and since Hume wrote most of his discourses against the tenants of the Christian faith, I suppose I should find his arguments a threat. Many philosophy students question how it is I can even consider being a philosopher and a Christian.
Is my defending Christianity a joyful stupidity, or is it blind faith? Do I now hold my Christian faith separate from my college classes? Should I wander, like Hume, far from the city called religion? (Or more properly Christianity.)
Did Hume wander from Christianity, or was he driven out? When he asked hard questions, was he told that he was silly, or that his questions were against “faith”, or even heretical? What if men and women of similar mind as David Hume were put in our midst to help us strengthen and clarify our beliefs? Can we rejoice in the fact that we need the skeptics to rework and refine our faith, to be the fire in the refining furnace.