Regardless of the path he takes in life, every man of good faith sooner or later arrives at a point at which it is necessary for him to attempt to set down explicitly his fundamental beliefs. It is probable that this has always been so, probable that this has always been one of life's central tasks. Life is, to brutalize Churchill's graceful epigram, a mystery begun by an enigma and ended by a riddle; suspended between birth and death, each of us treads a course grounded firmly on assumption. Reduce man as fully as it is possible to reduce him and you arrive at his assumptions, that is, at his faith. A man is no more and no less than the total substance of his belief. Our own age, spawned, according to the historian's belief, in the intoxication and delusion of the Enlightenment, is, we are told, a skeptical one, that is, one in which "faith" as an essential element of life is devalued. The pure type of the age, then, would be some inconceivable super-skeptic, a man whose dictum would be "I believe nothing." Granted, we find many who approach the type, but on examination it will generally be found that they do so more from a sort of stunted philosophical indulgence than from any genuine and thoroughgoing skepticism. Even the true skeptic realizes the impossibility of his position, realizes that the total negation that total skepticism would imply is inherently impossible. To say that I believe nothing requires that I posit something, that is, my belief in nothing requires that I announce (the skeptic would balk at "affirm") my faith in the impossibility of faith. To be genuine such a total skepticism would require that the skeptic limit the content of his consciousness to the endless repetition of the single word "nothing... nothing... nothing" after the fashion of the mystic repeating the sacred OM. Ultimately, total skepticism is expressible only as suicide, at which point the skeptic passes from our consideration either into the nothing that he must not-believe to not-be or into the province of some other, some unknown, reality.
It is less than honest then to call ours an age of skepticism. Far better to admit that it is with ignorance and delusion that we are truly dealing, to recognize that the essential characteristic of the age is a certain self-deceit and not an actual skepticism. The problem is not that men do not believe in anything; the problem is that men do not know, are not conscious of, precisely what it is they do believe. This is not a surprising circumstance, since so many of the beliefs of the age are so hollow that their adherents would be mortally embarrassed to recognize them in themselves. A psychologist, interested in the mechanism of projection (the principle of the mote and the beam) would find fertile ground here. What we mislabel "skepticism" is the feeling that derives from the realization that we have little common faith. For this there is no remedy but for each man first to define his own individual faith and thereby lay the groundwork for the elaboration of a common faith. My own contributions, fractured, I admit, nearly to the point of incomprehension, are scattered throughout these pages.