Then I thought, "Why would anyone put poison in something that people put in their mouths?" and I decided my Mother must be mistaken. I didn't tell her that, of course, but the point is that even at that age, I was critical of what people told me – even my Mother, who was the font of all my knowledge at the time.
I have, fortunately, retained that skepticism throughout the past eighty years of my life. For example, when I hear someone assert, as a member of Congress did recently, that the Second Amendment was put in the Constitution to provide the Colonists the means to fight the British, I immediately ask myself how that could possibly be true. The Second Amendment wasn't added to the Constitution until 1789, six years after the end of the war with Great Britain. Furthermore, it was one of ten amendments to the constitution of 1787 written by John Adams for the sole purpose of satisfying the States' demands for specific restraints on the powers of the federal government. It's obvious, therefore, that the purpose of the Second Article of the Bill of Rights was to provide us the means to fight our government, should the need arise.
Skepticism is an integral and indispensable component of a healthy mentality. Without it, you're not really fulfilling the basic requirements of being human. You're only an insensate and expendable commodity to be ruthlessly manipulated by people who consider your value and your welfare with the same level of concern they would have for a hockey puck.
But skepticism does more than insulate you from exploitation; it lays the groundwork for insight.
When they were teaching the Easter story in Sunday School, they told us that the Romans ruled Judea at the time and that that was why they took Jesus before Pontius Pilate. But I wondered at the fact that they took Christ before King Herrod before they took him to Pontius Pilate. If Rome was running the country, where in thunder did this King Herrod character come from?
It wasn't until years later, in parochial school, that I became acquainted with the story of Paul getting into trouble during one of his missionary journeys, claiming Roman citizenship, and being taken before the local Roman magistrate, Festus. It seems that Roman law decreed that Roman citizens, a status that could be purchased at the time, could be tried only by a Roman magistrate, and there were Roman magistrates stationed throughout the Mediterranean world to accommodate that law. Aha. Pontius Pilate was in Jerusalem not because Rome ruled the country but because he was a Roman magistrate – and the logical conclusion is that Christ must have been a Roman citizen.
That realization incidentally explained another detail in the Easter story that had always troubled me. After they took Christ to Herrod, they took him before the High Priest Caaphus, who examined him and pronounced him guilty of blasphemy, which was a capital offense under Jewish law. Why did they not take him out and stone him as they did Stephan later in Acts? Because, if he was a Roman citizen, he had to be convicted by a Roman magistrate. And when he was, he was condemned to a Roman execution – by crucifixion.
I realize that this revelation is extremely controversial in some circles, but that illustrates yet another of the powers of skepticism – it peels away the opaque layers of conventional wisdom and opens our eyes to new possibilities. Of course, in order for skepticism to work, it must be consistent. You've got to develop the habit of mentally challenging everything you hear and everything you read. Everything.
And you've got to know – and have the initiative to find out if you don't know – to be able to identify bull scat when you hear it.