Doubting Thomas, patron saint of the gullible
I don’t think there is such a thing as a patron saint of the gullible (as there’s one for the internet, it might be unnecessary duplication), but if there were, Thomas should be right at the head of the queue.
Strictly speaking, it would probably be more precise to call him the patron saint of easy marks, but however it’s phrased, it probably strikes you as unfair. After all, Thomas was the one disciple who’s named as being dubious of what the others told him about the resurrection. It was an outrageous claim, and he was justifiably cautious. If anything, shouldn’t he be associated with scepticism?
But consider what happens next. John’s gospel says that he met Jesus and instantly changed his mind, going from 0 to credulous in the blink of an eye. His previous justifiable disbelief was forgotten in a single moment of astonishment, and he became a true believer. He even seems from John’s account to have turned down an open invitation to verify that the person in front of him – who apparently materialised in a locked room – was real. Hardly a poster child for careful, cautious investigation.
There’s a sense in which this is possibly harsh on Thomas, as we have little idea how others reacted, but there’s a reason why I bring this up – his behaviour is typical of a certain sort of convert, the kind of person who seems to apply critical thinking consistently up to a certain point, but drops everything and changes their opinion completely as soon as they personally experience something they can’t instantly explain.
It’s so common that it’s become a cliché – I never used to believe in UFOs until I saw one myself, I used to be an atheist until I felt God’s love, and so on. These solipsistic sceptics had previously heard endless testimonies from people who believed in their latest flavour of woo, but rejected it all because they knew that our feelings and senses are unreliable. Then as soon as they themselves get a funny feeling or see something unusual, they become enthusiastic converts.
Contrary to appearances, this isn’t a sign of careful scepticism or critical thinking – you don’t get credit for an instant reaction of disbelief to everything you’re told, and in the end, Thomas did absolutely nothing to verify the facts. For all his talk, his instant, immediate reaction was to believe that his perception and interpretation were both entirely accurate. Even if they were, that wouldn’t make his behaviour sensible or rational, it would just mean he got lucky.
His previous doubt doesn’t make his sudden belief any more reliable, it just means he’s more confident in it. Despite his headlong rush to believe, it would seem to him that he thought about it rationally, and he would confidently claim not to have been fooled in some way. What’s the betting that Thomas’s own account would have been along the lines of all those other stories of former doubters, now converted to their particular cause? “I used to doubt, but then I saw the light.”
No, sorry. Previous doubts don’t mean anything if there’s no evidence of scepticism or critical thinking in your conversion. If anything, it makes you more likely to be fooled, out of a misplaced confidence in your own critical faculties. Frauds and charlatans love people like Thomas, because they have a misplaced confidence in their ability to question what they’re told, and will believe all sorts of things rather than admit that they could have been fooled.
Richard Feynman put it best: “The first rule is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”