July 1, 2008

Christian Agnostic, Part II: Verb

What does it mean to call myself a "Christian Agnostic"? On the outset, the term is a loaded one, especially in today's evangelical and fundamentalist circles - agnosticism is looked upon quite disfavorably, as if it's a plague upon our nation, eroding at our values and distorting our destiny as a Christian America.

I'll get to that later in the series and why it irritates me.

For now, let's start with the basic concept of agnosticism, and go from there. To be an agnostic is to be a skeptic, to look at the world and realize that there is no possible way to know with 100% certainty anything that you want to. Our senses are not infallible; they have a remarkable tendency to fail on us from both external and internal causes. For instance, have you ever thought you heard somebody knock at the door, to discover that nobody was there? Or perhaps thought you saw something out of the corner of your eye - or perhaps even right in front of you - that wasn't there? How did you come to decide that those were hallucinations? You verified it with other people's senses that were ostensibly working well.

But why should their senses be any more accurate at that moment than your own?

True agnosticism understands that every act of belief requires a leap of faith, primarily faith that one's own senses are functioning properly and transmitting the information to one's mind in a way that is reliable and accurate. There cannot be certainty of the reliability, only relative certainty. But doubt is there, and so the agnostic is skeptical of any information he or she is given. To "know" for an agnostic, is a relative term, always heavily qualified with a statement such as "but I could be wrong, and so I continue to investigate."

However, if an agnostic was realistic, he or she would realize that taking "no position" is still making a set of belief claims. There is no such thing as a completely unbiased position, no such thing as a person that looks at the world without the influences of others or the influences of faulty equipment. Everyone has social influence, cultural influence, historical influence, and an informing worldview. In fact, to say "I take no solid beliefs" is to unconsciously take a set of beliefs and become a hypocrite! For this reason, the agnostic must still make a decision on what to believe (and a conscious decision is better than an unconscious one), and therefore must use whatever means at his or her disposal - senses (however faulty, they're all he has), experiences, investigation, and ultimately, another leap of faith - to discover the best worldview. The agnostic, though, will not cement in that worldview so strongly that it cannot be reinterpreted with new data, new input. This is not to say that every belief is ejected at the slightest whim, new information is also regarded with skepticism, especially when it conflicts with the worldview. The agnostic, in other words, is ever a seeker, drawing at best temporary conclusions, but remaining skeptical of information that challenges those conclusions.

I have chosen to put my faith in the living Triune God.

It is just as if I were to have decided that there is no God; I just happen to have experiences that testify very strongly to His existence. A Christian Agnostic, then, is one who has made the decision, in light of evidence as well as experience (and experience is a broad term that can include metaphysical realities) to believe in a "biblical" worldview. Now, what that means can be very tricky, and I think I'll wait until the next couple posts to talk about that. But suffice it to say that scripture is important.

I make no apologies for the fact that this is an imperfect worldview because that's the point - there IS no perfect worldview, at least as far as human beings are concerned. Christian Agnosticism is my effort, in a world that is broken and difficult and uncertain, to find a meaningful way of explaining the fact that I still have to live, still have to decide based on some sort of belief system. There is no such thing as "no beliefs", and you're just fooling yourself further to think otherwise. I must choose to place my faith accordingly.

You'll notice that Jesus didn't ask us to go and make believers of all nations - he asked us to make disciples. A disciple is one who follows and asks questions. In other words, Jesus expected us to forever be seekers of truth. "Seek and you shall find," he said. He was confident that our seeking would ultimately lead us to Him, as long as we didn't give up. And then we were to go out and help others begin and continue seeking. The hardest mission field for Christianity is not Islam or Hinduism, it is agnosticism for the simple reason that most agnostics are actually apathetic; they don't care about making a decision any one way and allow the currents of culture to pull them in many directions. Atheists and Muslims are far more likely to convert because they already take for granted that they believe something strongly; agnostics smile, say "that's nice" and ignore you.

It's time we contextualized the faith in a way that agnostics could appreciate. It's time we began inspiring the apathetic agnostics (and apathetic Christians as well!) to once again investigate truth because it IS important, to seek and investigate and discover in the context of a humble community.

(to be continued)

5 comments:

Dan said...

You said: "I make no apologies for the fact that this is an imperfect worldview because that's the point - there IS no perfect worldview."
- would you say then that Jesus' worldview is imperfect? I would argue that Christianity in its truest sense is a perfect worldview, as it is Christ in God who created this world...
But, I also think you are trying to say there are no perfect "human worldviews?"

You said: "It's time we contextualized the faith in a way that agnostics could appreciate. It's time we began inspiring the apathetic agnostics (and apathetic Christians as well!) to once again investigate truth because it IS important, to seek and investigate and discover in the context of a humble community."
YES, YES, YES!!!

Chris said...

Yes, you're right, I'm trying to say "no perfect human worldview," but it still throws your question into some trouble because according to our doctrine class this past semester, Jesus is also fully human. But I think that when I say "no perfect worldviews" I mean that there is no worldview without bias - and I'd include God in on that, though with a lot of qualifications. God is most certainly biased in his dealings with humanity, though it gets very complicated and is the source of endless debate in theological circles (and pretty much everywhere else, really).

Dan said...

Very true... I was trying to skim around getting into Jesus' humanity also in my question, but it's unavoidable. I like your thoughts on this so far and will be staying tuned in between Hebrew lessons!

Gus said...

Chris, for 30 years as a pastor, I've said with you, "I have chosen to put my faith in the living Triune God." As I went through two degrees in Bible/Seminary I continued to believe by choice in the Virgin birth and the divinity of Christ. However, at mid-life I realized that in looking critically at my experience and knowledge there is now more reason to not to chose to believe in these to doctrins: Not beneficial. I love the idea of Jesus. But, how much do we really now about him? Did he even claim to be totally connect to a transcendent God? I now believe that the Apt. Paul put forth much of "Christianity" out of his imperfect, flawed life and prior experience as a Pharisee. People want to believe prayer is answered... and I've heard all the rationalizations around this wishful thinking. But the reality I experience is only a very, very indirect answer from others at times, at best. I'm not given to great emotional display; But I also don't feel like I have ever dialogued with a Supreme Being or that the judeo/christian ethic is necessarily the best foundation for our culture. There are so many reasons why I now find it more reasonalbe to be an agnostic than to believe there's a knowable God. I hope you'll check out my blog for further details; There's not near enough space here! In All Sincerity, Gus

Chris said...

Gus, thanks for commenting. I haven't responded yet because your comment has gotten me thinking. If you would, I'd love it if you'd email me and we can continue the conversation that way. There's an email button on the top of my blog, so if you're up to it, I'd love to discuss it further with you. Thanks for reading!