Tuesday, October 12, 2010

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

The diagram on the right might be the most typical thinking when it comes to agnosticism, but it is not what I mean here.

The diagram, and the most common interpretation of agnosticism, is the belief that we can't know if God is there and if He is, He is unknowable . . . so it really doesn't matter. I mean something very differently. I'm saying that the perfect certitude of knowing God is there is not possible, but (and a BIG BUT) you can still make assumptions on what you do know and believe, and live on those assumptions anyway. I'm not talking about an irrational mysticism. I'm talking about climbing the ladder of reason, but realizing it comes short. Yet, like those in Hebrews eleven, you are willing (by choice) to take the chance and live your life as if you were certain but living in honesty.

So this is more than just an issue of semantics and I will try to explain why. There are two main points.

Point 1: The Delusional Phenomenon

So, if it is clear that human beings can't know anything with absolute certainty (based on what we know about psychology, what scripture says about the Fall of Adam and, common knowledge of observation) yet if some people claim they do, then they must be delusional.

In other words (and I will focus on Christians) if we can only climb the rational ladder so far, but we believe we can reach certainty, then we fill in the gap with the spackle (Bondo for you car buffs) of dishonest smoke and mirrors "faith."

I will close with a "case-report," as we say in medicine.

I became a Christian at the same time as a friend. He and I were different in our approach and personalities. While I struggled with doubts and skepticism from the beginning, he reports that he has never had a second in his Christian life when he has doubted anything about the faith.

So I endured my college years of spiritual training, constantly being told that my doubts and skepticism was a sigh of immaturity. I tried desperately to emulate my friend's spiritual growth, who, in his child like trust believed everything he was told.

As I moved up the evangelical ladder there was growing pressure to trust and conform. I was often deemed un-spiritual when I had raised eyebrows after a full time parachurch ministry leader (in his mid 40s with a perfect family) disappeared for a couple of years, and then came back into the ministry with a new 22 year old college wife, who, from my conversations with her, was not a Christian. But everyone acted like nothing had happened . . . but surely something had. What happened to the wife and kids? Was this an affair gone to seed?

I was the only one who raised questions when two differ Christian leaders, (one a Nav staff guy and the other, years later, a Pastor) started to say that God wanted people to take the nutritional supplements, which they each were selling as part of a MLM scheme out of the trunks of their cars. I looked like a jerk to question them.

So, all those years I felt inferior because of my skepticism and but I feel there are many like me. We suffer guilt and spiritual inferiority because of our "agnosticism." Of course skepticism has a close brother, cynicism which we have to be leery of.

But now I ask, who lives nearest to the standard of having a healthy state of mental health, those who are believe that they are 100% sure of things, or those who know themselves well enough that they know that they are subject to getting it wrong?

I've written before about doubting boldly here on this blog. This post, of course, is re-wording the old thought. But, living in a state mind where you are willing to constantly admit, I can't know 100% that God is there and that the Christian gospel is true . . . but I can know enough that I'm willing to put all my eggs in that one basket. That may actually be the "spiritual" high ground after all.

I want to add one more dimension to this thought but this post is too long . . . so tomorrow.


Hope T. said...

"...they must be delusional."
Thank you for that MJ. They tried to make me think I was the delusional one and I believed it. Now I am dealing with the shock of realizing that it is actually the other way around. The problem is that I cannot speak of this since they tell me that their lives are staked upon their "absolutely-certain" beliefs. If I challenge anything and they wavered, I would feel responsible for ruining their lives. Sad thing is that I let them ruin my life, instead.

Justin said...

MJ, I'm wondering if the word or philosophical term you're looking for is "falliblism" rather than "agnosticism".

MJ said...

Hope T, glad there's still time to live life with a better perspective. Is frustrating though isn't it?

Justin, as I've read about it, I'm sure you are correct. That's what I get for being a arm-chair philosopher.

MJ said...

Hope T, glad there's still time to live life with a better perspective. Is frustrating though isn't it?

Justin, as I've read about it, I'm sure you are correct. That's what I get for being a arm-chair philosopher.

Anonymous said...

As my philosophy and religion teacher once said, "Some of the greatest thinkers that have ever existed were perhaps someone of the greatest doubters as well."

I struggled with myself more and more as I've grown older (I'm currently 19). My parents are Pentecostal Christians and so I've attended those types of churches my entire life. It seems as though any sort of thoughts that come through my head that question the authority of the church or even the Bible and their position against women in the church (something that I have tried desperately to understand)has been met with "that's just what the Bible says". Or remarks from my mother such as, "Why do you care so much anyways? It's not like you want to be a pastor."

I'm tired of being brushed off with irritation and having feelings of false guilt as though questioning things is wrong.

I love God enough to seek him, and Jesus enough to follow him, but I agree that there is no possible way for any human to be completely sure of anything, such is our condition. It is good to know that others out feel the same.