Sunday, June 15, 2014

Do you know if you're an agnostic or not?

A recent Facebook entry pointed to a Red Letter Christians blog post by Alan Molineaux that caught my attention, particularly because of the title: We are all Agnostic; we just don’t have enough faith to admit it! You can find the post here.
                Molineaux’s point as I understand him is simple: we tend to grow into position A as opposed to B, and because we have been conditioned to think that pole A is the only place to be, admitting of uncertainty (agnosticism, if you will) is a failed stance. Effects of allowing that there’s substance between the poles could be demonstrated by negotiation and compromise; another is the admission that “I just don’t know.” (The word, agnosticism, means “not knowing.”) Because compromise is not on in religions heavily grounded in faith confessions, admitting to doubts—let alone declaring oneself to be an Agnostic Christian—takes a great deal of confidence—that substance we frequently call “faith.”
                I’ve lost count of the people I know who have wandered away from the Christian churches because pastors and congregations don’t know what to do with—or simply cannot tolerate—expressed doubt, cannot engage in conversation that admits of possibilities between the poles. Fact is, most of the people I’m talking about haven’t left the church (point A) to join that ferocious band of atheists holding out with the same one-sided vigour for the righteousness of pole B. They mostly find themselves in the company of people who are apologists for neither A nor B while, for the most part, continuing to think of themselves as heirs and followers of Jesus Christ.
                Pole A, of course, is governed by an evolved worship of and interpretation of the Bible. Far-reaching developments are happening in the discussions about Scriptures, seems to me. I’m reading a lot of material lately that advocates for teaching scripture as a library of unequal parts as opposed to a single book, of allowing life experience and broader dialogue to influence our hermeneutic approaches, of giving present inspiration a place alongside historic inspiration. This is not to say that it’s a tidal wave of progressive thinking; orthodoxy and conservative views of Bible interpretation are still getting the bulk of ink and air time and likely will for a long time to come. At least in North America.
                And it is having grown up in a polar environment that makes people choose to leave rather than open up what would be the can of worms that uncertainty represents for conservative religion, for their colleagues, for their families. We are all Agnostic; we just don’t have enough faith to admit it!
                Perhaps Molineaux should have added a few lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (III,i,85-90):

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,*
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Certainly the tortured consideration of what a declaration of doubt may do to friendships,  natural families, church families could qualify as “a pale cast of thought,” that might well “turn aside” what for many would amount to a “great enterprise.” 
Commentaries like Molineaux’s will always draw criticism for undermining individuals’ tenuous attachment to the dogmas of belief.

* “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” could be read as “infected by the debilitating practice of thinking-about-it-too-much.”

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