Monday, October 11, 2010

In Praise of Agnosticism . . . Another Third Rail Perhaps? Part I

If my old pastor would read this post, it would confirm his hopeful belief, (hopeful because it would prove that the only one who would dare leave his church, is someone who doesn't love God to start with) that I have fallen completely off the Christian wagon. But, bear with me and listen to this perspective.

Before I scare you completely away, we have to talk about definitions. What I mean here, when I speak of agnosticism, is the most simple, straightforward meaning, "without knowledge."

To tweak this definition, I would say that this knowledge is "certainty." So when I speak of agnosticism here, I'm not saying, "There is no way to have even a clue whether God is there or not, so why bother?" I am saying (in my humble, uncertain opinion) that due to the fall, or the way we are as humans, we can't reach a level of complete certainty on anything, including knowing that God is there and that Jesus is his only mediator.

Now imagine that you were a chubby, middled-aged pastor, wearing an open collar and beige polyester sports coat and you were standing up on the platform of a huge, roundish auditorium of an evangelical church. It has tacky plastic "stained glass" windows and blue carpet with rows of pews or folding chairs. You speak loudly, with great emotions (and a southern draw), "Okay, I want to see the hands. How many here believe that God is there with absolutely no doubts? That Jesus is His only begotten son? That this book (holding up a big black, soft cover Bible with gold trimmed pages in one hand above his head) is God's holy word? How many? How many?" Then he smiles big with approval as the hands go up, then he adds in an even louder voice, "Okay, where's God's people . . . I want to see every hand in this room raised! There you go. No hold outs! Praise God-da!"

Wouldn't you feel like a jerk if you were trying to be totally honest and not raise your hand? People would stare at you like you were Megan McNeil (the girl demon possessed in the Exorcist).

So, this issue of knowing (epistemology) had been discussed ad nauseum by philosophers and theologians over the centuries and I don't think I have much to add but to bring it down to a more practical level and with candor (as always).

So, the testimony of everyday life screams at me that we are poor at knowing reality. If you ask any psychologist, they will give you a long list of how we, on a psychological level, pervert reality. Even us, who are some-what sane (I know that point is debatable) we are easily hoodwinked. We mis-interpret reality on a frequent basis. No that is not the same as saying that we have no clue what reality is . . . just that we are all vulnerable to getting it wrong at times.

I was in a Navigator group that behaved like a cult. I was in it over fifteen years. While I was in it I was 100% confident that we were one of the few who really knew the truth on how to live out the Christian life. But look at all the other cults. Good people, sometimes really smart people (there's a lot of scientists in cults as well) who swallowed the paradigm line, hook and sinker.

So, while the really crazy people, boarder-line personality disorders, schizophrenics even people in severe depressed states, loose touch with reality (okay maybe the depressed are more in touch with reality), we are all vulnerable to errors in thinking.

I've quoted this verse from Jer 17 many times:

9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

So, all good Calvinists believe in totally depravity. But the caveat to this "Depravity" is that on a spiritual level, God calls people (with an irresistible call) and makes himself known to them (with an absolute certainty). My point, is that the so-called spiritual certainty is a myth.

I've had many Muslims tell me that they are absolutely certain that Mohammed is the supreme prophet, because God has made it clear to them. They believe this as much as any Christian I've known (or better).

So what do we do? Throw up our hands in hopelessness? But with me bringing up this whole question, aren't I doing the devil's work? That's what everyone in my old Navigator group and my old church would think.

However, I want to discuss the positive thoughts about this third rail of belief.

This post is getting too long so I will have to do a second post. But I hope to describe the glory (and deserving of praise) of the idea of holding this position: "I really think that God is there and that the Christian message is true. Am I absolutely positive? If I am really honest with myself (and others) I will have to say no. However, based on my short-of-certainty, belief, I will live and act like I do have certainty. That is the moral act of "faith" (very different from a blind faith, a complete shot in the dark).

More tomorrow.

1 comment:

Like a Child said...

This is a reassuring post - I've been very tortured about my agnostic leanings. Like you, Christians from my old church would blame my leaving the church on my currently chaotic thoughts about Christianity.