July 21, 2008

Chrisitan Agnostic, part VII: Disciple

By now I hope that it makes at least a little sense how a person could start as an agnostic and end up a Christian. Perhaps Thomas' example even helps us see that it's possible to be an agnostic and still place one's faith in Christ. But - and this is directed particularly at any reader who calls him or herself a Christian - why is it important to maintain one's skepticism? Why must a person remain a Christian Agnostic once he has stepped out in faith, instead of simply a "Christian"?

The first thought that comes to mind is that it is towards our own benefit. Skeptics are ever-learning. They do not live under the illusion that they have everything together, that all the answers that are worth having have already been discovered. A skeptic is ever probing, on a journey into the mountains, its view growing ever wider, more beautiful, more complete; a skeptic begins to see connections and the bigger pictures because he has stopped dissecting the world and started building it back together. The questions asked by skeptics - disciples, really - probe ever-deeper, ever-refining the broader picture. When I said this is to "our" own benefit, I meant the plural - this is not just an individual thing, although it is that. The questions asked by the skeptic impact everyone around him, like a pebble thrown into a pond, its ripples caressing the furthest shores.

Agnosticism is really a tool, a method. It is a way of seeking answers, but realizing that those answers can never be complete. The skeptic realizes that answers only generate more question marks, not periods, produce more new subjects to investigate, new applications. How many times did Jesus answer a question with another question? To know that you don't really know, not really, is a humbling experience; when we remain skeptical, we maintain our humility towards our own abilities. We take the focus off of ourselves and begin placing it elsewhere, on the investigation of Truth. And that's what a skeptic is after: Truth. In short, a skeptic is a disciple.

A disciple does not want half-answers, to behave only a little bit like the Master; the disciple wants it just right. Skepticism not only aids us in our humility, but it also aids us in excellence. We are ever-improving, ever-growing because we see that the painting is never quite finished; we could always get the colors just a little clearer, or play with the clay just a little more, play the music just a bit better, if only we'd try one more time. It moves us forward; it does not allow stagnance or decay. We maintain awareness of our humanity, rather than becoming shells of people that find dispute with one another over the small answers. It's remarkable how often Christians proved the necessity of Christ's death and resurrection simply out of their petty disputes over a single word. Instead of acknowledging their inability to find The Answer, they allowed their own arrogance to blind them, as if God is an equation to be solved rather than a beautiful mystery that beckons to us yet is big enough that we cannot ever get to its end. That's why relationships are such an amazing image - there are always new things to learn about a person, and it takes a lifetime to learn them. Every time the world around me changes, I get to know God a little better in new circumstances.

Most importantly, skepticism helps us maintain connections with those who do not believe as we do. If Jesus was serious when he said "go make disciples of all nations," then how are we to communicate the good news and help make disciples if we do not speak the language of those we seek to help? Without a healthy sense of skepticism about our own beliefs, how are we to answer when our faith is challenged?

I've been reading Wesley this week for my Christian History class, and his answer was one of incredulity; he couldn't fathom why anyone would deny Christ, or deny God, or deny sin. Could not fathom
it. It bothered him that somebody would even consider denying what was, to him, obvious. And yet he acknowledged that people still denied his message no matter how well he spoke. See, Wesley lived in an age when he could rightly assume that those things were givens, assumptions built in the very fabric of common society. Though many rebelled against it, it was still anchored within their culture to know "right" from "wrong"; a solid, universal morality still was assumed to exist, even if its finer points were debated.

But we no longer live in that time.

As Christians, if we do not understand those that we seek to help, even slightly, then any actions we take are fruitless. Skepticism of one's own position helps him see the places where the non-believer might take issue. It gives us the ability to say "well, I can see why you might think that, and this is how I've worked through the issue," or perhaps "sure, I get what you're saying, and it's hard for me too, and here's why ... but I'm still working on it." We become more real, human beings with flesh and blood and even doubts and misgivings. We remind ourselves that we are still like everybody else, that we might be wrong, and that it's not worth shedding blood over our beliefs when it's entirely possible that the other guy might be right. But it's also not an excuse to just allow them the comfort of thinking that their beliefs are just fine as they are. The Christian Agnostic does the world a favor by asking the hard questions; through the questions, everybody begins to understand reality better. If we can inspire the world to once again seek
the Truth, humbly and honestly and openly, we would be in a very good place indeed. To seek is to find, and once the door has opened ... well, the story doesn't really end there, does it?

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