The Dangers of Skepticism

Wandering around the Judean countryside is a fascinating experience.  It’s very hard to imagine Jesus here, because everything is so completely different.  Buildings and debris and crazy drivers abound.  I have a new appreciation for the very hilly nature of the area, but if I was hoping for a meditative experience where I could imagine following the steps of Jesus, I would have been vastly disappointed.  As it is, I’m just somewhat disappointed.  After having the Bible landscape in my mind’s eye all my life, I’m curious to see how reality resolves with imagination in the rest of my life reading Scripture!

We are taken to see the major sites in the area, and my skeptical 20th/21st century mind places major disclaimers at the bottom of things automatically.  Tradition says.  Generations of the faithful believe this is the place.  Best historical estimate.  But at the end of such statements or their more confident counterparts, I append the phrase But who really knows?  
There is some basis for this.  It’s hard to believe 2000 years on that the exact locations of these places are known.  It’s hard to imagine that ducking into the grotto of the nativity today and watching people kiss the silver star that denotes the precise spot of Jesus’ birth, that it really is the precise location.  
But there are grave dangers to this form of generic skepticism.
The biggest danger is that by dismissing any realistic notion of the actual sites of Biblical events, that our faith turns the events of the Bible into the equivalent of Greek myths.  By disassociating real places from the Biblical narrative, everything in Scripture can easily transform itself into Mt. Olympus – something that happened once upon a time, or in other words, never, no where.  By accepting tradition as somewhat reliable, I remind myself that the Son of God did come.  Here.  That He did walk this city and its streets, even if they seem unrecognizable to me.  He really did make his way down the Mt. of Olives, even if it is paved over and full of honking, impatient cars whipping past mostly oblivious pilgrims.  The idea that the precise location may not be known doesn’t negate the importance that there is a precise location, and as such, why not this place as another?
Another danger is that by dismissing these sites as tourist hacks, damage is done to historical value.  It’s not as though somebody just popped a sign up last year saying “This way to the birthplace of Jesus!”  These sites have been venerated for really, really, really long times.  Most of them have archaeological proof dating back to at least the Byzantine period of the 4th – 6th centuries.  Two of them have the archaeological ruins of churches founded by St. Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine.  
Helena showed up in the Holy Land in the early 4th century.  Did she just walk around randomly and pick out nice sites for churches?  That would be odd, since there were still Christians in the area.  Does it make sense that she would ignore those Christians and the traditions they held on important locations?  Or would she have figured out the places that Christians were already venerating, and then built churches there?
The danger of rampant skepticism is that it robs us of truth, both in actuality and in theory.  It reduces us to total dependence on the self as the sole source of truth.  If I can’t trust anyone or anything else, the scope of reality for me has shrunk to a ridiculously small area.  It’s not that we have to be naive and totally accepting of everything that everyone says.  But we examine what is presented and look for the evidence to support it and then place our trust in it.  
Here.  At a known place in human history and geography.  The Son of God became human.  For me.  For you.  Birth.  Life.  Suffering.  Death.  Resurrection.  Ascension.  Sola Dei gloria.  

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