There are certain people who, just by the tone of their voice, make my temples throb. By “certain people,” I mean people who are certain. People like Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, atheist Richard Dawkins, and Hank “The Bible Answer Man” Hanegraaff.
On the other hand, certain other people I find invigorating, such as William Blake. It happens I disagree a lot with both Dawkins and Hanegraaff (which doesn’t require the kind of mental gymnastics you might think), and I usually agree with Blake, but that’s not the determining factor. I would put Alexander Pope and Douglas Hofstadter in Blake’s company — to the dismay of all concerned, I’m sure — and I often argue with both. (Yes, out loud — but only when we’re alone.)
What’s distasteful about Lewis, Dawkins, and the Bible Man is their insistence that everyone believe as they do. They won’t stop preaching until I see the world through their eyes, and to do otherwise is a moral failing. Blake, on the other hand, writes “One law for the lion and the ox is oppression,” and “The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind,” both of which soften his certainty quite a bit. Blake is a lamb; D, H & L are goats.
There’s a certain kind of skepticism that’s also repugnant. Not the skepticism of Montaigne or Emily Dickinson, whose doubts say, “The more I think, the more questions I have.” I’m talking about those who shrug at the beginning, and skip the thought; or those who state no opinion, for fear of offending. I can’t come up with any famous examples, perhaps because such people aren’t passionate enough to become well-known. But you’ve met them, and you know who they are: the friend who doesn’t follow politics and protests nothing, the office mate who acts as management’s weather vane, the minister who won’t take a stand on the war. Give me a Hanegraaff over these lukewarm souls any day! At least he gets my blood moving.