A couple of days ago rock musician George Hrab (host of the Geologic podcast) wrote to me to share a post written by an old friend of his — a kind review of a recent Hrab show, which I'm happy to share here.
The most interesting aspect of the post (and the reason George passed it along) is the blogger's reaction to the people he met at the show: an unfamiliar community of people called “skeptics.” As a person of faith, “Myklor” finds these skeptics alien and fascinating — and ultimately (I'm happy to say) endearing. (He does not, incidentally, distinguish between skepticism and atheism — a fine point in a social setting, to be sure, given that many skeptics are both.)
It was all a bit surreal. By now, I was well aware of George's involvement in this universe, but it was trippy to have unknowingly stumbled into one of their “to-do's.” The traveling skeptic girl was awfully sweet and very cool, much like George; as were the other skeptical folks who were now beginning to drift in. Lots of smiles and mutual experience and excitement, and in-jokes and “Oh my God! So you're JesusBlows9437? I love your posts on the message boards!”
Here, Myklor puts his finger on something interesting: the “skeptical community” as a subculture.
I remember, when I carried mud-spattered copies of Skeptic and Demon-Haunted World in my backpack as a young shepherd, wanting to talk to people about the weird stuff I loved. What a wonderful feeling it was, later in my life, to find so many people excited to wrestle with the same ideas. Skeptics often describe such a feeling of “I found my tribe” elation. In itself, this is a beautiful thing — as any kind-hearted outsider can see.
[T]heir ties were palpable. I could feel the energy created when a roomful of them gathered. … And I loved them for it. I love the passion. I love the bonds. I love that when one of their own arrives in town they come out of the woodwork to experience the miracle of the “we.”
Finding commonality with other human beings is a good in itself — an end in itself. Indeed, in respect to this particular end, the “skeptical” part of the skeptical community is largely beside the point. Myklor touches on something important (and quite funny) when he compares the skeptical community to model train enthusiasts.
And it is kind of the same thing as the skeptics. On one hand, I'm perplexed. Like, who are these people? And what is it that rocks their world about finding a three inch clock tower to go in the middle of the teeny fake town which their trains endlessly circle? On the other hand, who cares? Who cares why they love the little tower? They just do. It isn't hurting them or anyone else. And it stirs them. And that is cool.
Through this lens, celebration of commonality is itself the value of skepticism. I'm reminded here of Vonnegut's novel Slapstick and its science-fictional scheme to assign us all to huge artificial families: “Lonely no more.” And yet, social connections based on common hobbies or labels (model train lovers, Star Trek fans, Canadians, readers of skeptical media) could also be viewed more cynically as “granfalloons” (to borrow again from Vonnegut): empty associations based on superficial or artificial commonality. In the context of skepticism, there's probably some truth to this. I'm sometimes angrily told that “There is no 'skeptical community!' I reject the idea that we have common goals!”
To this, I point out the obvious: a “community” exists as soon as the first few folks say they belong to it. Granted, from there things get much, much more complicated (I'll come back to that complexity in my next post) but it's something, right there.
It's vague, it's messy, and it's home.