Once I told someone that when I hear a mediocre sermon I often struggle with the temptation to critique it rather than hear it; left to itself, my mind indulges in a running commentary on how it could be improved. He told me he was surprised, since I struck him as the most credulous person he knew, i.e. the guy whose picture you’ll find next to the definition of the word.
According to the dictionary definition it wasn’t exactly a compliment, but I think he meant it in a more neutral sense, namely that all things being equal I am quite prone to set skepticism aside and give the benefit of the doubt, epecially with people I like or respect. And in that sense he was quite correct; unless I have good reason to not trust someone, I am very unlikely to assume that he is steering me wrong, even if what he is telling me is hard to believe.
Once I got into trouble online for defending someone I thought of as a trustworthy teacher by saying that if he told me pigs could fly, I would believe him. I didn’t bother to qualify the statement by pointing out that I would also be on the lookout for evidence for this, and would stop believing him—and lower my opinion of him greatly—once I found out that pigs in fact can’t fly. But my initial response would be trust, not skepticism.
I used the example of flying pigs because I was thinking about a story told about Thomas Aquinas:
St. Thomas Aquinas was often the object of practical jokes because of his childlike simplicity. His fellow students once told him to come to the window quickly, because a cow was flying in the air. He went at once to the window, looked up, and saw nothing. His guffawing friends asked him, “Come now, Thomas, did you really think that a cow could fly?” He responded, “I would have sooner thought that a cow could fly than that a monk would lie.”
Have I been burned by having such an attitude? Yes, many times. I’ve been told that pigs can fly, and I’ve believed it, and it turned out the fellow had no idea what he was talking about. I’ve been told that pigs can fly, and I’ve believed it, and it turned out that the fellow was deliberately misleading me.
But occasionally I’ve been told that pigs can fly, and I’ve believed it, and it turned out that pigs really can fly—children really are a blessing from the Lord, parents really are capable of training up a child in the knowledge and admontion of the Lord, physical labor really is a good thing, the Lord really will provide, the government really isn’t your friend, simple living really is better living, God really did take on human flesh and live and die on my behalf, and so on.
There are truths that I would never have learned on my own, and would have easily resisted had I listened skeptically to the person trying to tell them to me. There are truths whose truth I only learned by assuming that they were true and trying to live them out. I’m thankful that I gave the people who told me those truths the benefit of the doubt, and went ahead and behaved as if they were true. The benefits have outweighed the pitfalls.