Tuesday, May 04, 2010

More on Agnostic Christianity.

Grand Canyon serenity

The word agnostic is a borrowing from the Greek where gnosis means “knowing,” agnosis, “not knowing.” In the previous post I referred to the term Agnostic Christians, which some might assume to be an oxymoron. Fact is, there isn’t a branch of Christianity—as far as I know—that claims its basic tenets arise from knowledge; In general, religious tenets are held by faith, not by knowledge, and so Agnostic Christian is no contradiction in terms at all.

Admittedly, a dictionary definition, even when supported by an etymology, doesn’t necessarily complete the picture of what words mean, or what they meant to people who used them in their original form. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines an agnostic as “a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable [or] one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the non-existence of God or a god.” Most of us would associate the word agnostic with a response to religious faith, i.e. the stance that the existence of God or a god is unknowable, and that there is no reason to be either a believer or a disbeliever.

Agnostic Christians would probably argue that one can believe in God and in Christ and still take an agnostic stance on matters like, for instance, how the death of Christ is able to bridge the gap between God and humankind, or how it is possible for there to be a single, triune God. I admit, the explanations for these great conundrums are unknown, possibly unknowable to me, a stance of agnosis whether I am prepared to admit it or not.

Why bother even talking about this? Because the pretence of certainty is, in effect, a grand delusion, or even worse, a corporate self-delusion that is potentially extremely harmful. The pretence of certainty makes it possible to commit wars, supplies justification to terrorism, provides an argument for raping creation, makes theological mountains out of molehills. It also forces cracking of social cooperation and eventually, is responsible for much societal fragmentation.

Certainty inevitably requires intolerance to sustain it.

We need to shorten our creeds, weed out what is unknowable and what is as yet unknown, and admit that everything we hold as opinion or certainty now may be superseded tomorrow. We need to accept that Creator and creation are as mysterious as they ever were, and live our lives recognizing where agnosis lies.

It’s through this recognition that we might someday be able to live comfortably with the proposition that our neighbour just might be worthy, that she might just be right, or—at least—that a person’s value is not determined by how well we understand him.

Check out this link for further thoughts on the subject.


  1. Ahhhh...I seeeee. I guess I always had an understanding of the difference between "faith" and "knowledge", but was confused by the meaning of the word agnostic. Thanks for clearing that up. I also have a sense of "something's wrong here" when in the presence of people who claim to "know" things pertaining to God without doubt or questioning, but you've put it into words in a way I was never able to. Thank you for that!

  2. An intelligent and straightforward exploration of a complex issue. Good work, George. You may make an agnostic of me yet!