July 8, 2008

Christian Agnostic, Part V: Forward

Let's sum up what we've said so far. We can't know everything; there's too much to know and our senses, memories, and in general, our humanity just aren't reliable enough. Because of this, we have to start with the assumption and suspician that we may be wrong. The Bible is not a science text, it is a text written by people with their own cultures and their own languages and motivations that God inspired to write the way they did. And so we read the scriptures with the assumption that our own history and culture and experiences are clouding our vision, and learn to read it from the perspective of those who wrote it, doing our best to push our own culture aside until we come around to applying it.

But apply it we must. How then can we move forward as Christians? If scripture is about a relationship with a non-verifiable being based on non-verifiable history, what's the point?


Faith is the point. As I mentioned in my first post on this, the Christian agnostic is not just an agnostic, he is a person who realizes that he must make a choice, and chooses to believe a certain way. What is agnosticism not? It is not the belief in no God; it cannot be, by definition, because that would mean having drawn a definite conclusion on the subject. To claim to believe no God exists for sure is to claim to be an atheist. While most agnostics really end up as atheists, I think there's another way to put this that might help.

Since we look at the world based on our perspective, which is generated from our history, our culture, our (subjective) experiences, our personalities, etc, it would follow that we are unable to do much about the things we believe. But human beings have proven (within skeptical reason) their ability to freely choose to change. I'm beginning to think that this applies to our cultural lenses as well. Our ability to think creatively, through the lenses of another, change our worldview every time. By inserting ourselves into the story, by placing ourselves in the midst of a worldview and immersing ourselves in a new culture, we become different, we are able to see things we never saw before.

I learned this in Australia. Despite the fact that, to many Americans, the Aussies SEEM mostly like us, they're in fact quite different. Of course there are similarities, but they prove quite effective in masking some much larger differences that run beneath the skin. Australians, for example, do not value work in the same way that Americans do. Americans view work as a way of life; we work ourselves to the bone for the chance to get ahead in a never-ending downward spiral. The Aussies, on the other hand, strongly value relaxation, so much so that their (socialist) society has build-in safeguards, such as 4-weeks vacation to entry-level salaried positions. Americans are lucky to get that, even if they work for twenty years in the same place, and often don't bother to take all four weeks for fear of "under-performing." It took me living among the Aussies to learn to see my own view of work; being confronted with an alternative viewpoint helped me to grow in understanding myself.

Since then, I've often wished that everybody could live in another culture to learn the way I did. While it's obviously impractical and more or less impossible for 350 million Americans to go live abroad for a year, I do think it's possible to recognize that within our own country, there are many cultures, and that it IS possible to learn this way. To move forward, to learn and grow in a new perspective, the Christian Agnostic must grow beyond his self-imposed borders and try something new. Hang out at a bar with some guys playing foosball, go to a football game, spend some time with the poor in the inner city ... just do something you wouldn't normally do, and keep doing it. Put yourself out in the open, at risk, in a foreign place with foreign people - even if it's just down the road.

And this is just like the way the Christian Agnostic learns about God - he suspends disbelief, as it were, and prays. I did this when I was fourteen, and was surprised when I actually got an answer. I was so surprised that I kept on conversing.

See, relationships are about interaction, and when the Agnostic moves beyond his skepticism (though keeping it in the background, an undercurrent in our stream of investigation), he begins to see the world in a new way. By taking leaps of faith into new cultures, new surroundings, new ideas, and new practices, the agnostic begins to uncover truth in a way that, as a pure skeptic, he could not. Now, understand that the skepticism must still be maintained, lest the Chrisitan Agnostic come to believe in everything that feels good. The question "why" is always helpful and should be ever-present. Agnosticism, in other words, is always a starting point. It is a baseline that gives the story authenticity and credibility, rather than a conclusion. To conclude agnosticism is pointless and leads to depression and intellectual death and despair; to begin with agnosticism leads to investigation and discovery. While the Christian Agnostic remains ever-aware that everything he is experiencing, learning, reasoning, feeling, and practicing could turn out to be wrong, this baseline allows the Christian Agnostic to further refine attitudes and claims towards and about the Truth. By ever-questioning, we are looking ever-deeper, and thus constantly growing.

(to be continued)


Dan said...

when will I see "Christian Agnosticism" by Chris Logan on the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble? (I'm not kidding...)

Jeff Rudy said...

Curious if what you're promoting here is comparable to what Kierkegaard referred to in his understanding of faith as a "great leap." Have you read much of his stuff? I am also curious as to you're calling it "Christian Agnostic" rather than "Agnostic Christian" if your starting point is Agnosticism.

Chris said...

Dan - thanks for the compliment :) It'll be after I finish my summer classes, take another semester, graduate, get a job, have another kid or two ... life gets busy :) But I have been thinking about what sort of book I'd write and what I'd use as the topic ...

Jeff - it's a bit like Kierkegaard, I suppose. I've never actually read his stuff myself, but Alan Hirsch is a huge fan and talks about Kierkegaard all the time. I do think that I got the "great leap" stuff from an excerpt of Kierkegaard from Philosophy or VOM or something ... but I don't want to say "yes, it's like that" without having actually read it and knowing what it is you're specifically referring to.

As for the title ... I like the way "Christian Agnostic" sounds better ... in English, it puts the emphasis on the "Christian" rather than the "agnostic" ... in the end, agnosticism is a method, not a conclusion, and so it seems fitting that the method only gets second place ... but mostly I like the way it sounds