Why Not Be Agnostic? [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

I realize that I’m overlapping questions. I didn’t get to answer last week’s question because Patheos blogs were down last Friday morning. I’ll respond tomorrow. But let’s not let that put us off of answering Judi’s question:

Recently have read a number of your blog entries. Grew up evangelical. Dealing with doubt. I’m trying to figure out why progressives hold to Christianity at all. Why not just be agnostic? I hope this question makes sense.

I know that some of you are agnostic, so you can tell us why you are. Or why you’re a “Christian agnostic.” Or an ignostic. Or an atheist. Tell us why!

  • http://www.briannakocka.com Brianna Kocka

    I think being an agnostic is great, but it’s also important to recognize the story and tradition we all have grown up in, whether that be embracing the Christian tradition, Islam, Hindu, atheism, etc. All of these meta-narratives are important for how they shaped each of us, and thus to throw them out just because we can’t quite make sense of them is akin to “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

    Could it be that to be truly “Christian” is to embrace the mystery that is God, essentially living in a state of agnosticism, while also holding onto the importance of the story?

    • sarahricenc

      yes to this answer. well said, brianna.

      • http://www.facebook.com/mike.ratliff.52 Mike Ratliff

        Quite interesting how the decision to be “agnostic” and claim years of “spiritual abuse” has allowed you all to so easily “fall from the faith”. Quite interesting.

        • http://www.briannakocka.com Brianna Kocka

          Can you actually say what you mean? Because you’re being really vague, Mike.

        • Craig

          Mike, when I read your comment, I found myself thinking, “This guy’s a douchebag who reads poorly and assumes too much.” Am I misinterpreting you?

          • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

            Ha!

    • Craig

      We former evangelicals don’t often throw out our old religious beliefs “just because we can’t quite make sense of them” (as if they were like complex mathematical proofs that we can’t get our heads around). We throw out the old religious beliefs because, however cherished they might be, we suspect that they are untrue and misleading; we suspect that they obstruct of a more accurate understanding of the world and of ourselves.

      What is odd is to hold on to such suspect beliefs just because of the way they have shaped us. What would be a fitting metaphor for that? Maybe: making the baby sit in the cold bathwater just because she’s sat in it for a long time.

      • http://www.briannakocka.com Brianna Kocka

        I am a former evangelical, so there’s that.

        And I threw out my beliefs because indeed, they did not line up like a “mathematical equation.” So there’s that, too.

        I was taught that that was how it was supposed to be; my former church focused a lot of apologetics and verbal-logic to “prove” the Gospel. I’m not saying that is right or wrong, I’m simply saying that it existed, and was a huge part of my falling away from faith, and how I came to embrace agnosticism. However, my experiences are obviously different than yours.

        It might be wise to not make such broad statements about “we former evangelicals” because there is no binary for our collective experiences.

        And I’m not suggesting that one holds onto their beliefs as they once had because of them having shaped us. I’m simply suggesting that it might be a bit naive to throw out all of ones traditions and the narrative that surrounds that tradition just because you can’t make sense of them. I am essentially saying it might be wise to “pay homage” to them, because they are a huge factor in how each of us views and interacts with our world, each other, etc.

        • Craig

          No one is denying exceptions Brianna. Likewise, no one is denying that there is a way to throw out beliefs too hastily. As for “paying homage,” one way to do this is to subject the old and peculiar beliefs to criticism and to seriously explore the alternatives.

          • http://www.briannakocka.com Brianna Kocka

            I don’t disagree with you, so I’m just confused why you first comment seemed like you were picking a fight with me, is all.

            • Craig

              Well, I am picking a friendly, and very minor, philosophical fight–but it’s a fight only in in the sense that I wanted to challenge, or at least put a little pressure upon, a couple of your suggestions. Why should that be confusing? It’s not as if were in church. :)

              • http://www.briannakocka.com Brianna Kocka

                Fair enough. I’m easily defensive from the years of spiritual abuse I’m still working through.

                • Craig

                  I am sorry to have triggered that. I like and respect your comments in particular–and that’s really why I sought to pick a friendly fight.

      • Simon

        Good post Craig,

        I am committed to science, skepticism and inquiry. This has naturally led to doubt and a more complicated worldview. However, I have rejected agnosticism for the foreseeable future and remain committed to “following Jesus” and the Christian faith in the midst of doubt and skepticism, precisely because I think agnosticism practically and actually “obstructs a more accurate understanding of the world and ourselves.”

        Without the ability to refer to God in general and Jesus in particular, I would lack the vocabulary to accurately describe what I observe and experience.

        Let me try and explain what I mean with a non-theological example. I believe in the idea and practice of love (by which I mean selfless, altruistic care for another) even though I remain uncertain (agnostic) about its existence. There may be more precise, clinical terms (e.g. the vocabulary Behaviorism) to describe love, I still keep the idea and vocabulary of love and altruism at the center of my life and practice (as do many Behaviorists).
        My doubt, and scientific skepticism do not prevent my belief or participation in love nor God (although it does perhaps complicate it).

        I love my wife. I believe it. Practice it. Although I practice it imperfectly, I remain committed to the project of our mutual love. I tell her regularly that I love her, and tell others that I love her. But, from a social science perspective it may be more precise to say that what I call “love” is rather self-seeking, self-preserving behavior that is ingrained in an evolutionary urge that doesn’t resemble my altruist vision of love at all.
        Does this make me a love agnostic? It need not. I could change my vocabulary around love to reflect my new skepticism and sophisticated insights that exploration of social science has yielded. I could go home tonight and explain to my wife. “Honey, I don’t know that ‘love’ is real anymore, so I can’t say the word. Instead of saying ‘I love you,’ I will now say, ‘I like being with you because psychological egoism and my own self-interest lead me to feel good when I am around you.’ Maybe love exists, but probably not. So I am just going to remain uncommitted, and not use the word ‘love.’”

        This posture and use of vocabulary may or may not be clinically precise, but would it would be disastrous to the real and healthy relationship I have with my wife. The posture of skeptical non-commitment actually affects the relationship I am in, and not for the good.
        If I reduced that beautiful mystery of the connection I have with my wife, to the sum total of my doubts and skepticism about love, and only spoke about love in those terms, it would simply not be accurate. Rather than opening me to new development, it would take away an intimate space between us. If I became a “love agnostic” I wouldn’t lose a metaphor, I would lose something beautiful and REAL between me and my wife.
        You may say, “But your wife is real, and God is at best a question mark.” But the comparison here is not between God and my wife, but between “love” that hard-to-pin -down quality of affection that sparks between people, and that hard-to-pin –down animating force that St. Paul (cribbing from another source) said, “In him we live and move and have our being.”

        Even if I had irrefutable proof that love was a total fiction, I would go home and tell my wife I love her… and mean it. Not because I was certain it was true, but because it is the most accurate thing that I can say, that gives voice my experience and my aspirations, irrespective of my skepticism and doubt.

        Similarly, referring to God is so descriptive of my experience and practice, that if I ceased to refer to him/it, I wouldn’t be describing my lived experience very well, and I would feel like I was closing myself off from exploring different ways of connecting to and with the world, myself and others within the context of God and my Christian faith.

        • http://www.briannakocka.com Brianna Kocka

          Dude. Great post.

          • Simon

            Thanks Brianna!

        • Craig

          Simon, thanks for the thoughtful and thought-provoking response.

          Even if I had irrefutable proof that love was a total fiction, I would go home and tell my wife I love her… and mean it. Not because I was certain it was true, but because it is the most accurate thing that I can say, that gives voice my experience and my aspirations, irrespective of my skepticism and doubt.

          On the question of whether or not you love your wife, what would it be most accurate to say? If love is a total fiction, then would it not be most accurate to say that your love for your wife is a total fiction? So as to not be misinterpreted, perhaps you would need to describe the situations like this: “Although love is a total fiction, I nevertheless deeply feel that I love my wife.” Similarly, although the claustrophobic person can recognize that there is nothing really to fear about entering the elevator, she deeply fears it nonetheless. She should should say that her fear is irrational.

          On love, however, I very much doubt that science is going to ever produce anything like a disproof of the existence of love. The sciences might give us some interesting insights into the nature of love, but–even if we currently have a lot of false ideas about that nature–I don’t think that science is ever going to disprove its existence. Similarly, people have had a lot of false ideas about the nature of life, or of a living organism. When, however, science shows us that nothing in the world matches those former ideas about what a living organism is, it won’t have demonstrated that living organisms don’t exist.

          • Simon

            Craig,

            Well put. “On love, however, I very much doubt that science is going to ever produce anything like a disproof of the existence of love.” This was more or less my point, but you said it more clearly. I am less interested/concerned about whether there is irrefutable disproof of love and really trying to focus on the point that we can explore science, be grateful for the insight and specificity in can produce, but recognize its inherent weakness at describing something mysterious and metaphysical like love.

            I see your point, if I understand it correctly, “The Bible contains happenings that are not readily observable and repeatable.” Fair enough. I don’t have a great apology for the historicity of particular events. If I share a “personal testimony” about this or that mystical happening, or healing I have seen, it feels goofy and hallow. And even if we were to agree that such happenings were possible, it wouldn’t address a textual-critical analysis of the Bible.

            I guess what I was talking about is the practice of following Jesus, and believing in God. By this I mean the stuff of Christianity: prayer, “fellowship” between fellow “believers,” meditation, common worship, confidence in a God that takes an interest in people and creation. These things are real happenings that continue to transform my life.

            Dawkins loves to talk about the “flying spaghetti monster” and how believing it doesn’t make it real. Fair enough, but if I reject the flying spaghetti monster, I don’t lose anything like I do if I reject love or God. And if I somehow willed myself to believe in the flying spaghetti monster, it is wholly untransformative. It seems like God belongs more in the same category with love than boogie men.

            • Jude

              HI Simon – I’m the original question-asker and only recently realized that my question has now been the subject of conversation – thus the late response.

              I think you hit the nail on the head for my internal struggle. I have had to let go of the idea of certainty as was part of the evangelical culture I grew up in. I have had to come to the place of honestly saying “I can’t know” because the nature of spirituality is not one that can be proven or disproven through double-blind studies. My husband has already dropped Christianity completely and refers to himself as atheist or agnostic.

              I do see that my faith has had a transformative influence in my life. I feel that agnosticism threatens that. I know some believe that we can maintain the values and lifestyles of Christianity without the belief structure. I’m not so sure. What has driven me past comfort to pursue what I believe is right and true is the idea of a personal God. If I drop that idea, I can’t help but feel my life will be more shallow and empty.

        • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

          I have two problems with this. 1) Love is real to me because I experience it. It may be difficult to define, but I can discuss it with others and read poetry and agree with all of humanity that we are experiencing something very similar. 2) Although I could get together with people of faith all over the world and come up with some similar experience of the mystery of the universe and we could decide to call it God, that isn’t what we are talking about really, are we? I do not have an experience of a man who died on a cross 2,000 years ago or of a God that tells me he is a jealous God. There are so many definitions of God and experiences of God that to say there is one that should be believed in is pretty difficult. I’d want to leave at least leave a room for that not being true.

  • http://gravatar.com/themisfittoy The Misfit Toy

    I faced this one down once.There was a day of thinking and walking and yelling at the skies and a decision that if this was what was, then I was done. At the end I realized that my years of belief had changed me, and could no more decide to stop believing than I could decided to stop breathing. This was not a happy discovery for me ( since it was in the middle of much yelling and anger at God ), so there needed to be a poem:

    http://sudopoet.net/Poetry/faithpoems/haunted/ if you are interested.

  • http://joshalinton.blogspot.com Josh Linton

    I’m going to try and deal with this question as presenter at Subverting the Norm conference. I’ll be speaking within the context of a Christian youth minister and how I justify(?) or reconcile my very real struggles with disbelief while still finding value in Christian ministry. Looking forward your answer because I’m not certain I have a clue why, yet!

  • Jonnie

    Good stuff so far. Along the lines of living in an agnostic state (Brianna) and dealing with disbelief (Josh), I agree. To even push a little bit further, I would argue that God is only interested in our ‘beliefs’ (as if they are something we ‘have’ or possess or completely control) in so much as they get at actions he wants to evoke in us. Beliefs are ultimately function, and therefore an obsession with which ones we ‘have,’ and whether we have the right ones, should feel as weird as it does, and cause the kind of confusion and angst that it does. They’re not the kind of things to be monitored. We don’t choose them. We find ourselves with them depending on the kind of actions and surroundings we’re apart of.In other words, you cannot WILL a belief. Try it. Doesn’t work.

    What does this mean for the agnosticism question? Not exactly sure, other than that determining where we are in terms of belief is quite a bit less important than many Christians make it, and to muse over the beliefs we ‘have’ or don’t is confusing and convoluted, because they are puzzlingly elusive things that don’t flesh out well in those terms.

    • Jude

      I like the point you make. Angst over what I believe isn’t really adding to my life; coming from evangelicalism this is an interesting point to work through as our faith – belief in – Jesus is where salvation is supposed to come. I was brought up to believe intellectual assent brought salvation. Without an ability to give than assent, it feels a bit like floundering.

  • http://michaelcarl.wordpress.com Michael Carl

    Baptized a Catholic, my mother and I began attending a Presbyterian (PCA) church when I was four when she married my stepfather, switched (with my family) to an independent fundamentalist charismatic church when I was ten, and a couple of years later ended up at a Willow Creek-affiliated megachurch. I attended youth group at a United Methodist church and later went to an Episcopal boarding school. In college, I was involved in Campus Crusade, but also went through RCIAA and was involved with the Newman Center.

    To me, Christianity is a lot like a language. It shaped how I speak about the world, about people, and about morality. All of my various experiences were like learning dialects and accents.

    Over the course of my college and grad school years, I began to wonder (with a hint of fear) whether or not I was agnostic or, Heaven forbid, an atheist. What changed wasn’t really a leap from belief to unbelief, but rather an embrace of the doubts that I’d had since I was able to really think my faith through.

    There was perhaps a brief moment in graduate school where I was preparing to accept the mantle of atheism, but that didn’t fit me. I stopped going to church for a while, but when I came back, reengaging with my Christianity in community, and found myself more often formulating for others what I was experiencing internally, it felt right to identify with the ‘language’ I’d grown learning up. The grammar, though, had changed.

    It wasn’t that I now actively disbelieved, it was that I came to a point where I recognized that utter certainty that God exists is always necessarily an illusion. When I was wrestling with my doubts at a younger age, I wanted to know how I could ‘know that I believed’, but that’s something not subject to knowledge. Faith for me became not about trying to coax myself into feeling like I felt pretty confident a certain set of metaphysical assertions were true, it became about living as though their implications for my life are meaningful. I do not need the certainty of the resurrection or of the afterlife (and nor can I have it) to believe that Christ’s exhortations to love God and my neighbor infuse my day-to-day with profound meaning if lived out.

    I hold to Christianity because Christianity is not about settling into a place of near-satisfaction that God exists and loves me, I hold to Christianity because living as though God exists is valuable in and of itself.

    • http://gravatar.com/thobie1 toddh

      Wow, thank you, that puts words to what I have been thinking.

  • Joshua

    There have been times when I called myself an “agnostic Christian.” I’m not sure that God exists, and I tend to lean towards the idea that He does not. However, I am seeking God and I am doing so using means from a Christian tradition; I go to a Christian church, I study the Bible, I pray the Divine Office, and I read/listen to a lot of Christian thinkers. But I don’t *believe* in God, or the Bible as the Word of God, or the divinity of Jesus, or the resurrection (and not for lack of trying). Of course, not believing in any of that, I tend to drop the “Christian” label all together; it doesn’t seem appropriate to use it, even when it seems to describe my practice.

    • http://www.lara-thinkingoutloud.blogspot.com Lara

      I don’t even know how to respond, but your just described my story.

  • http://gravatar.com/jessejamesturri Jesse Turri

    This is a great question, one I’ve thought a lot about. I agree most closely here with Phillip Clayon when he says that agnostic is the worst possible position of all to take because it puts forth an unwillingness to decide in advance that no progress can be made in assessing [Christian] claims. I also like how Clayton talks about the conviction of pursuing the question of what is really the case, what is really true, is not just an intellectual game but an urgent religious responsibility.

    • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

      I definitely appreciate Clayton’s perspective. But, I think there are at least three uses of the word agnostic that I’ve come across:

      1. We don’t know certain things.
      2. We can’t know certain things.
      3. “Learned ignorance,” taking “knowledge” as far as it can go, while remaining epistemically humble about any and every claim; being open to the future. (i.e. Mark Vernon)

      • http://gravatar.com/jessejamesturri Jesse Turri

        Yup, good stuff Rob. I’d say in this instance I’m addressing the most common definition of agnostic, #2. Throwing your hands up and saying “we’ll never know, so let’s not bother.” Truth seeking is a critical responsibility for all of us. Keeping epistomilogical humility while we do it? Absolutely.

        • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

          Were you the dude who recommended The Predicament of Belief to me? If so, thanks!

          • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

            Yes Rob glad that book was helpful. It’s a big one for me too. (For some reason my comments appeared below, weird)

        • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

          I don’t know why you think that is the most common definition. I thought it was, “If I knew more, maybe I could decide, so I will continue to live with and delve into the question.” At the extreme, you could decide that you can’t know with absolute certainty, but there is no more value in continuing the research. This is not a matter of not bothering, but instead of having some reason to believe you’ve done all you can.

          • Simon

            Lausten, For some reason my reply ended up further below. (Please see below) Hopefully this note doesn’t end up somewhere odd as well.

  • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

    I think anyone who is honest (and not crazy) has to admit some degree of agnosticism. I think we all live on a spectrum of belief or disbelief – on a number of things – rather than a binary. And, we’re all “in process” – we’re constantly changing in many different ways. I also think that many of us fit into many different labels. It depends on how things are defined. I could be called a Christian, Buddhist, existentialist, atheist, and/or an agnostic.

    So, to answer the question “why not be agnostic?” We are. But, why not just be agnostic rather than “holding to Christianity”? I’m not really sure what that question means, or if that dichotomy rings true for very many people.

    • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis

      Modernity has set us up with a few false dichotomies: belief vs agnostic, belief vs atheist, based on the assumption that religion is an intellectual proposition. Modernism teaches us that religion is something we either know, or don’t know.

      Postmodernism encourages us to look beyond knowledge by proposition, and move into a way of knowing by experience. To “embrace the mystery”, as Brianna says.

      Once we move from knowing God to experiencing God, questions of knowing, like atheism or agnosticism, become irrelevant. All that is left is how you will conceptualize your experience of God, and communicate it with others. Some choose to use the Christian “language” for this purpose. That especially makes sense if you were raised in a Christian culture. But there are many other languages for the experience of God.

      I agree with Rob, we are all agnostic. Nobody can really know God, intellectually. But then I move beyond that and realize that knowing God is not the point. The point is to “embrace the mystery” and then express it with whatever language you have.

    • Ric Shewell

      I guess we are all agnostic if the alternative is complete knowledge of God. But can we admit doubt and still know something of God, even if we can only say it apophatically? And if we can say something about God, even though we don’t know everything about God, is that still agnostic?

      I try to be humble, saying the more I know the more I don’t know, and once we’re are beyond the veil of perception, I depend on faith. But I guess I would be careful calling myself agnostic because it usually has the connotation of non-committal. And even though I don’t comprehend the idea of God, I’m very committed to what I think God has revealed Godself to be. Being so committed to a hint or notion of God, I don’t think I can call myself agnostic.

  • Brian P.

    While faith may be by profession, disbelief is by admission.

  • Mark Hofman

    Since we’re still in the shadow of the oscars, I’ll quote from the Life of Pi:

    “I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

    While I don’t think that it’s up to us just to “move on” I do agree that agnosticism can’t rid any person of properly basic beliefs

    • Jude

      I found myself not really liking that Life of Pi quote – I read the book a few years ago. I remember at the time thinking that agnosticism can be entered into honestly and can be an honest expression.

  • Keith

    You have to ask yourself, “what are my motivations for choosing to use this label to describe myself?” I want to be understood because relating to people is important to me, it makes me happy. Why is happiness important? Because I need a reason to live and being happy and enjoying life in the moment is as good as I can do in my this-is-all-there-is-so-enjoy-it mentality. So what am I? An “agnostic atheist with existentialist tendencies” best describes me. Surely there are other words that I wouldn’t argue with if accused, but that phrase best describes how I solves problems. Architects solve problems differently than engineers. Ones education alters how each of us addresses a problem. Similarly, Christians address problems differently than non-Christians. What do I mean by this? When I described myself as a Christian, a frequent solution to an anxiety-filled situation was to apply scripture and it would ease my anxiety. And yes, it worked. Now, I choose not to rely on scripture because I don’t believe it correlates with reality. Hence, when faced with a problem, I solve that problem with the tools of an agnostic (who ultimately doesn’t know), an atheist (who lives his life not dependent on a deity) and an existentialist (assuming personal responsibility for all my actions among other beliefs). That’s why I no longer use the word Christian to describe myself.

    • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis

      Yes. Except Jesus’ instruction to us was not “apply scripture”. So I’m not sure relying on scripture is a good definition of being Christian, even though many Christians would probably answer just that. I appreciate your honesty.

      • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

        I think this a valid critique, that not everyone who does choose to use the label Christian does so for the same reasons or via the same methods. The irony here is that I don’t think most Christians read or “apply scripture” at all (despite claiming to), and many of us atheists have reacted against this in what we perceive as a kind of hypocrisy. But, maybe our reaction is actually only to one “kind” of Christianity, and not to all possible “versions.”

  • http://gravatar.com/jessejamesturri Jesse Turri

    Yes! On an HBC post right? Glad you’re finding it helpful man. It’s a really important one for me too.

  • Pingback: Is Terminology Important? | brianna kocka

    • Jim Armstrong

      The question asked was “why not be agnostic?” I am not AN agnostic. I AM agnostic … about some things. That describes both secular and religious domains of my life, though I now find such distinctions mostly unuseful.

      I am agnostic in many things mostly because the more we learn, …and the greater insight we gain, …the more we find unexplained and not yet understood. This is an agnosticism which stops short of “cannot know” for many, but not all things. I take the Creator of the universe to exist (a choice I make), and in that latter category. But the gifts of curiosity and discovery allows me to make room for a “cannot know …yet” category as well.

      I know that this sounds sorta like proof-texting, but “test everything – hang on to the good” (a la I Thess.) is a pattern I’ve found useful. More to the point, it’s something we do automatically and continually as we mature in our secular lives. But it’s generally discouraged or narrowed in our traditions (which word implies a static system). For whatever reason(s), I was evidently wired to apply that pattern of testing more universally, including various other aspects of my long journey of faith.

      To pick a particular case of perhaps of greatest consequence, my sense of God was not immune. I watched my traditional sense of man change (with the pondering of insights from science and other scholarship) from the center and penultimate purpose of Creation, to someone quite small and ex-centric in this universe, morphing in understanding from prince to husbandman, from presumption to a privileged humility.

      Accompanying that movement, was my understanding of God — from anthropic character and locality (heaven), to a much more unknown “being” and “distance” (a la the clockwork idea), yet more lately relaxed into a new sense of the possibility of a kind of presence(?) of which we know still less, even nothing (but would somehow be consonant with a God-in-me and me-in-God sensibility). But the point is, this is also movement into a much greater unknowing, or agnosticism re God that ever before. In reality, we can’t know much at all about God. Some speculations and/or beliefs stand tall in the consensus of our traditions, but nonetheless remain basically beliefs, whether belief in the descriptions themselves, or in the authority of their authors, or our teachers, …or in some cases, by satisfactory confirmation through experience.

      I must add, however, my trust in and respect for the basic “goodness” (a la Genesis) of Creation, and of my (and man’s) high privilege in finding a modest place as one of the small emergent working pieces of an astonishing Creation, has at the same time increased. If you wish, I have more of an understanding of a being a creature under grace than ever before.

      I have left behind identification as traditionally evangelical, and do feel a certain discomfort with self-identifying as “Christian”, mostly because of what it has – rightly or wrongly – come to mean to so many, particularly outside the church. That said, Christianity still names my community, which I still need and serve openly in (I think my church atypical), though I increasingly self-identify instead as a follower of Jesus. That is not, I think inconsistent with remaining agnostic about some, …perhaps many things spiritual.

  • kellyecl

    “Why do progressives hold on to Christianity? Why not just be agnostics?” Those questions imply that there is just one (or just a few) Christian doctrine that has existed through time and that anything outside of that isn’t quite Christian. But a study of historical theology will show you that Christianity has always been shifting. Progressive Christians simple carry on the tradition of re-traditioning. So, a different question might be: Why do evangelicals continue to call themselves Christians in the light of the changes?

  • http://reflexionesenelcamino.wordpress.com/ Luis

    I

  • http://reflexionesenelcamino.wordpress.com/ Luis

    A few months ago I wrote this in my facebook wall, it was in Spanish, since that is my first language. I translated the text on google translator so I apologize for the mistakes, but I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to express my opinion in Tony’s blog.

    “Why I involve God in my life? Why I postulate its existence? Why I have faith? Why I trust? Like others, I have faith in God since a was a child due to the faith of my parents. It is because of them that I become familiar with Christianity. Through its myths, rituals and ethos, I have experienced a dimension of reality that not everyone experiences. The existence of God has come to my encounter through the story of the life of Jesus and the presence and testimony of his community of followers, that is, the Church. There hasn’t been an experience of something external to me or to the world, but the experience of a profound dimension, in me and in the world, which inevitably shapes the way I live. Throughout Christianity I have experienced a Peace, a Joy, a Hope, a Presence that against all, leads me, inevitably, to faith. And though it may be a reasonable trust, it always will be a paradox. I trust in God, but is someone or something that I cannot understand completely, he/it is a symbol of the sacred that is always open. I experienced as an option of freedom, but, in a wat, I’m slave to that option. I trust, but there is always a possibility of distrust. I am, therefore, an agnostic Christian, my faith makes no claim of knowledge, only interprets the reality from a personal and community option, as valid as any other, even the atheist option. It is only from this epistemological humility that I can invite others to trust, to live as if God existed. Not because I have necessary and unavoidable arguments, but because, in my opinion, that bet, that trust in something/someone divine, can help us live our life in peace (shalom). This is the most important choice that I make every day of my life, and this little text is my humble creed.”

  • Luke Allison

    I guess I’m not sure about many things. But the fact that numerous intelligent people from all walks of life are able to claim the title “Christian” without seeing any problems with it is good enough for me. The fact that some of the people on this board feel differently is honestly of little account to me.

    This will sound sanctimonious, but I’ve stayed calling myself a follower of Jesus because of, well, Jesus. Can’t it be that simple?

    • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

      Luke, “the fact that numerous intelligent people from all walks of life are able to claim the title “Christian” without seeing any problems with it” was honestly something that kept me “on board” with Christianity for a long time.

      But, then I started reading a lot about cults. And, how, somehow, some of the smartest, most educated people got on board with Jim Jones. Over time, that “defense” just didn’t work for me anymore; I had to have something more.

  • http://explorereading.net Eric Pettersson

    A weeks days ago, I decided to finally let my doubt boil over into unbelief. “Ok, I don’t really think there is a God or that Christianity is real,” I said. Then, I immediately laughed and said a prayer of thanksgiving. It seems that even though I don’t exactly understand who or what God is, there is something More that will not leave me alone and continues to lovingly prod me to do better. God is the word that comes closest to naming this More, and it is also the most convenient. Now, while the concept of God is fuzzy, Jesus seems much more tangible, and I am absolutely captivated by him. So I guess in the end it is my commitment to Jesus that blocks my ability to be truly agnostic.

  • Simon

    Thanks for the reply Lausten. In response to your two concerns: 1. I think much of the world’s population would describe various experiences either with God, or describe a different experience in the world because of God (e.g. leaving destructive addictions like chemical dependency, or reconciling with loved ones, etc.). We, of course, also discuss this with others and even read and write poetry about it. I recognize that there may be different, more secular ways to describe these happenings, but they need not be the only (or even the best) tools to describe these happenings.

    2. Fair enough. I don’t have any rejoinder to your lack of an experience with a man who died on a cross 2000 years ago. The question I am trying to address is why I am not agnostic, not how do I convert you to Christianity.

    • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      2. The point is, there is no universal experience of a particular god. Even the largest monotheisms argue amongst themselves. If you say there is a particular god, and it is possible to get people to experience it, you are discounting every other spiritual experience throughout history. All of this is a matter of degree of course, so I’m not accusing of being entrenched or limited.

      • Simon

        I am absolutely not discounting their experiences. For example, while love is experienced and described throughout the world and across cultures, the fact that some people don’t or never experience it, and many people experience it differently doesn’t make love invalid. Just because I make a particular truth claim about my experience I am not suggesting that I might not be wrong about this experience (But to be fair, as Craig pointed out, I did overstate my case a little bit. And wish I would not have). It is too much to suggest that I cannot be wrong about love or God. What I am suggesting is that the agnostic posture (i.e. only using scientific vocabulary and skepticism to learn the truth) keeps me from knowing and experiencing things that I think can be better known and participated in through faith.

        Science and skepticism can teach us a lot about love, but to restrict yourself to scientific observation and skepticism and never move beyond that is to make someone a bad lover; it would inhibit someone from enjoying the best parts of love.

        In the same way, science and skepticism is are tremendous tools to understand God, but to restrict yourself, and to only know God through the tools of science and skepticism is to be agnostic.

        That posture is too limiting for me. In response to Judi’s question, that is why I am not agnostic.

        • Jude

          Referencing your comment: “What I am suggesting is that the agnostic posture (i.e. only using scientific vocabulary and skepticism to learn the truth) keeps me from knowing and experiencing things that I think can be better known and participated in through faith.” This is something I will be chewing on for awhile.

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  • http://www.fidesquaerens.org/blog/ Marta L.

    Excellent question, Tony! I consider myself an agnostic fideist, which I use as a kind of a shorthand for two beliefs:

    — I can’t have knowledge whether God exists or not, but
    — I *choose* to believe God exists.

    So while I’m an agnostic in at least some sense, this doesn’t mean I’m no longer a Christian. Ultimately, it’s about faith, the evidence in things unseen, which wouldn’t really be possible if we could know things here.

    Btw, I gave a much longer answer over at my blog: http://www.fidesquaerens.org/blog/?p=1599

  • http://faithfullydoubting.wordpress.com Jas Gray

    Agnosticism is my Christian accountability buddy. It makes sure my experience continues to manifest in a meaningful way.

    • Simon

      I like this. What do mean when you say agnostic.

  • http://gravatar.com/jessejamesturri Jesse Turri

    Not in my experience. For agnostics I know, agnostic equals ambivilance, which more often than not leads to someone saying “eh, who cares,” rather than “let’s find out more.” But whatever.

    • http://www.fidesquaerens.org/blog/ Marta L.

      Richard Dawkins draws an interesting distinction in “The God Delusion” – Permanent Agnostics in Principle vs. Temporary Agnostics in Principle. PAPs is what you get when the question is in principle not answerable, like asking a room full of colorblind men whether a certain sweater is red or green; there’s no evidence they can gather (including from each other) that would get you any closer to an answer.

      TAP is where the question could be answered if only we had the evidence we need, which we may not have read or may not even exist yet, but could in principle. A good example here is whether intelligent life exists somewhere in the universe. We don’t know, can’t know from our current point in history, but some day could. If Spock introduced himself over lunch that would definitely answer the question. So would getting enough evidence that we could say the odds of intelligent life was so low it didn’t bear considering.

      The point is, people use the word in different ways – enough that he thought it was a distinction we needed to keep in mind. For my money, though, the “eh, who cares” agnostic seems to be misusing the label to me. That’s not what either PAP or TAP agnosticism seem to be driving at. Frankly, it sounds more like laziness than anything. :-)

      • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

        Marta, yup Dawkins makes good distinctions. I’d say the PAP agnostic is the one who would fit my snarky charicterization best. The color blind folks in your example are essentially shrugging and saying “we’ll never know.” The quest for truth has essentially stopped (see my P. Clayton reference above).

        Thank goodness for those who relentlessly seek truth (both scientific and spiritual), because today we certainly do have other ways to measure and determine which dimensions of the light spectrum are being reflected and/or absorbed into an object that don’t require using our eyes.

        Just a sidenote, the concepts of theism, atheism and agnosticism came into use long before we had an evidential understanding of how the world came into being, and before we learned the Universe itself is creative.

        I like Michael Dowds articulation on this: “Both [atheism and theism] presuppose a trivial, unnatural God and a cosmos that is not itself divinely creative.

        Atheism and Theism as dichotomous categories don’t make sense anymore. You’re description of Agnostic Feidist, or Dawkin’s TAP’s or Clayton’s Religious Minimalists seem to be the next step here.

        Thanks for the chat!

  • Gary

    If I used common sense, I’d be agnostic. However, I want to be on the Jesus bandwagon, so I’d consider myself gnostic. Why? Because I reject the OT God as cruel and unusual. Only clergy(for their own self interests), and ancient Israelites could accept the OT God as moral.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scot.miller.547 Scot Miller

    It’s interesting to hear the responses here, and I’m looking forward to Tony’s answer. Having long ago left my (almost) fundamentalist past for a more secular perspective, I find I still can’t shake my religious commitments. (In fact, I think I’m more of a secular Christian than anything, as I simultaneously doubt and believe.) I’m very attracted to Peter Rollins’ a/theism, and I really like (what I understand) about radical theology from Altizer, so I’ve never fully abandoned my religious attachments. But I often wonder, after reading Rollins and Altizer, why should I bother with theism/religion at all?

  • T.S.Gay

    Gnosticism is a dualism that agnosticism counters with “Why have you abandoned me?” From a relative point of view, agnosticism is a very honest position. We all have, what I consider to be the highest example of the human spirit( Jesus), modeling agnosticism. But also, in its honesty, it shows that the non-dual is the truth. The west, near-east, middle east, far east, and the not often talked about spiritually, north and south all have much dialogue yet to happen that will help us all grow to a more mature oneness. With a very broad brush, I believe the “east”, in general, needs to add human responsibility to its oneness, and the “west” has to overcome a certain arrogance in its oneness( an exclusivism). There is a tension between universal and unique that cutting the tension doesn’t help, and agnosticm is one side of keeping the tension. Of course, I’m speaking relatively, and a one consciousness can be spoken, but it has often fallen on ears not attuned. That is a truth that the ancients presented symbolically by the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

  • Mike

    Brianna – I did not intend to be vague. My meaning is thus. Those persons who now claim agnosticism after having spent considerable time in “church” never really heard and received the Gospel, and as such were / are not born again of the Holy Spirit which is freely offered to those who believe. What the agnostic claims as spiritual abuse is in fact never having known the true living God and only having heard the doctrines and precepts of man or rather false teaching and false gospel which leads to death. Don’t blame God for your unbelief, blame the false teacher and yourself. The remedy to such maladies is “study and show thyself approved”.

    • http://www.briannakocka.com Brianna Kocka

      Guy, you don’t know anything about me or my experiences, so making a comment like this just makes you look like a jackass. I know saying that is blunt and kind of harsh, but it’s comments like these that remind me yet again that I don’t want to be assosiated with anything ‘christian’ any longer. Nothing above is redeeming in the least. Blah.

      • CG

        There is some irony in this conversation because I’m pretty sure Mike felt his comments were “kind of blunt and harsh” as well.

        And I’m not necessarily agreeing with him but may I ask how you made the leap from Mike the individuals’ seemingly abrasive perspective to there’s nothing redeeming about Christianity, or more specifically how it reminds you that Christianity in on itself is what led to your spiritual abuse?

        • http://www.briannakocka.com Brianna Kocka

          It looks like my reply didn’t post, so ill paraphrase. If you go to the top of the comments section you will see the other interactions I’ve had with mike and his overly harsh comments. As for info on spiritual abuse, I invite you to read my blog to learn more about my feelings toward that. http://www.briannakocka.com

  • http://twitter.com/DavidMSchell David Schell (@DavidMSchell)

    I don’t consider myself agnostic, though I may have enough doubts to wear the label. I’ve attached myself to Christianity because it’s what I know, because it makes sense. Because I find Jesus’ teachings and example about forgiveness and self-sacrificial love compelling.

    What scares me? Pastors. People who say that Jesus said we had to work. People who exclude others in the name of Jesus for spending time with the sort of people with whom Jesus would have spent time.

    I’m iffy about anything that seems like it could lead to somebody (myself or others) getting hurt. My view on scripture was impacted by a conversation when someone told me that God commanded his people to kill babies. It freaked me out because it seemed like the opposite of what Jesus said to do. I’m cautious with Christianity, but I want in.

  • Lopaka

    Man, they have so many different types of Agnostics these days. wow! It is almost like there are so many different types of Christians. WOW! In recent years, I met my first Syriac orthodox christian who actually as ties to the church in Antioch. He lived on the edges of Iraq-Turkey and is married to a Catholic woman. Interesting couple. Tough story. They live in Germany in our neighborhood. Back to being an Agnostic . . . I was an agnostic back in the late seventies in the “Bertrand Russell” tradition that has been redefined, influenced by the 60-70′s movements, studied logic and philosophy and doubted Catholicism if there was anything to doubt. Really, there was not much of a challenge. One of Russell’s students wrote the “book on logic” at the time which everyone used across the USA and was a professor at the University of Hawaii. I am from Hawaii. Eventually, I landed in a Nazarene University in San Diego by accident with only a few reasons to go there. It needed a philosophy department. It needed to be a small university and needed surf. It is right on the beach and had a great surf. I eventually went there with a one way plane ticket, a new surfboard and a 150 bucks in my pocket which I spent 50 dollars drinking on the plane while in route. I am writing of the things I remember and know. I had no idea what a Nazarene was. That was wow! How I found this school was that I was a Harry S. Truman finalist on my way to the final interview in Colorado and decided for “shits and grins” to look for a school in San Diego in short stop over. I found this school by accident if you believe in accidents. I ended up in a Greek Class which happened to be one of the largest classes in the school, Koine Greek, with the intentions of reading Classic Greek. Within a few minutes of introductions, I realized that I was in the wrong class. It is a like pre-req. for ministry students. This was the smallest of my shocks. I got in the water often to wash my brain. To make a long story short, as an agnostic, I believe “everything” that “you could not know” or maybe visversa, there are “many things” which “I cannot know”. Being tolerant was quite simple. I figured in the “Keep things simple way” is simply, “you cannot know”. What I did find out eventually; you can know Jesus.

  • Mike

    Brianna I assume you are referring to me so thanks. At a time appointed in the future all will believe one way or the other. The point I make to agnostics & athiest alike is, do not to “have been a Christian” in the past or equate growing up in as having been a believer. Be honest and plainly state that you never believed to begin with. And Brianna I never communicated to you as derisively as you to me, but that’s quite alright.

    • Lara

      Dear Mike, I know this really messes with your understanding of who God is and how he works and I’m really sorry for that. I more than anyone understand how painful it is to have those foundations crumble. But I just want you to know that I was a most committed Christian. I completely submitted myself to the authorities of God, Jesus and the Bible. I pursued a relationship with God with everything I had.
      Now because of certain circumstances in my life everything has been called into question. My pastor thinks that this is just a season for me and I will come back to belief, but I doubt it.
      People do change.

  • Mike

    Craig – You think I read poorly? And I assume too much? How quaint and amazingly judgmental though not surprising. What aspect of my comment leads you to believe I am a “douchebag”? It is amazing to me that when opposing views are expressed to athiest and agnostic people they immediately attack the character of the individual who opposes them. Why is that? I have always understood that agnostics & athiest had garnered such a vast amount of knowledge that it has lead them to a higher level of awareness. Am I mistaken or do you simply enjoy the gutter.

  • Sara

    Mike. I think you are using a lot of sarcasm to communicate. Sarcasm often can be misunderstood as rude. Hopefully you did not actually mean to be rude, but even your last comment seemed to be communicated in a very sarcastic way that struck me as vague and abrasive. I think it might help if you try to say your words in a very straightforward manner in order to help communicate your sincerity. I hope conversations go better for you in the future. Also, I often have to remind myself that messeges communicated by using jokes, sarcasm, and implied meaning can be much more more difficult to interpret as the sender intended when communication is limited to some sort of written text, such as is the case in this comment space. Peace and serenity, Sara

  • Sara

    Actually Mike, never mind.

    Most of your posts include prescriptions of what other people must do or proclamations of your beliefs as the truth. While you have every right to believe as you wish, in this environment such proclamations and advice-giving is seen as rude. It also seems typical of someone with a quite rigid Christian theology which many of us are very sensitive to. Since your behavior probably seems rude to many people here, it seems natural to me that people might feel that your character is in question. In my experience, calling into question your reading of a comment or the clarity of your statement is a generous way to give you a chance to show that your statement was not meant to be as rude as it seemed. Asking for clarification or suggesting a person might not have read carefully enough gives grace for common human error, even when it appears a statement was insulting.

    You seem upset that some people questioned your character because of what you posted. However, they first showed openness to the idea that your character may be better than the first post seemed to suggest, even while communicating that your post was hard for them not to think of as rude. However in my opinion your response was again very rude. Only after that did your conversation partners express true anger. Your response to that was to say that they were hypocrites because they attacked your character and intelligence immediately (without giving you a chance). I would gently suggest that they gave you a fair chance, and that your words attacked them first or at the very least your words invited the questioning of your character.

    Furthermore, I would like to add that I was also once a very committed Christian, and changed my life around greatly because of those vey deep beliefs. I cannot prove objectively to you that I was committed, but you also cannot prove that I wasn’t.

    It seems to be your opinion that I must not have been a “real” Christian or had the right teachers or really known God if I now no longer identify as Christian. It is insulting when you tell me that you know I never really believed and when you tell me just to admit it and be honest (because it implies that I am stupid &/or insincere with my life, and a liar).
    You don’t know me or my story so you can’t know what or how much I believed. It seems to be your belief that the fact that I don’t believe now proves that I never did. However, that conclusion is merely based on something you believe that can’t be proved. It is also something that I don’t believe. That is why it why i find it so incredibly insulting when you tell me what I did or did not believe, or what I now have to do to remedy my situation.

    I am actually happier now in the life I have found without the Christian beliefs I let go of. If you don’t care if I am happy or not, that is fine, but I at least am very grateful for my current life.

    I still believe in grace, so I wish you grace, regardless of our differing beliefs. I don’t mind if you believe I never had true faith, but don’t tell me I have to agree with you and expect me not to feel personally disrespected.

    Thanks, Sara

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