More on Agnostic Christianity

As the title says, I'd like to say a bit more on yesterday's post.

Tied to the fact that "Agnostic Christian" is a little bit too "baiting" (as Wes pointed out), the title probably carries a bit too much baggage--even if I think it expresses relatively neatly how I generally view my faith. "Agnostic" has taken on a static modernist meaning--a sort of "I don't know and I don't care" attitude for the disinterested, or a belief that we can't know in any sense (which is what I think Kyle might have been hinting towards). Unfortunately, from my perspective, the same could be said about the term "Christian", which has come to be identified strongly with a specific set of beliefs--or maybe more accurately, "Christian faith" has come to suggest primarily "Christian belief" to many (which Kyle was definitely pointing out).

Agnosticism, as I'm drawn to it (and as it is sometimes used by others), isn't an admission of defeat, or a conviction of ignorance, but a position of openness to being wrong and a conviction that we probably are, to some extent. It's an admission that we aren't "there", and I think a natural quality of the intellectually humble individual. I'm skeptical about the possibility for certainty on almost all religious issues, though I do think we can piece together scripture, tradition, reason and experience to the extent that we come to some meaningful, if tentative, conclusions. The tentative part is important though.

Christianity, as I still adhere to it, has a relatively weak emphasis on "belief", and a strong emphasis on practice. That's not to say that belief isn't important, but just that it isn't all about belief (and I'd argue that belief sometimes isn't even necessary, as long as one is committed to walking the path, immersing oneself in the stream, or however you want to phrase it). That's classical Anglicanism, it seems to me--and classical Catholicism as it is generally practiced. It's also a more communal than individual expression of faith, because it is in essence an identification with a tradition and a willingness to participate in a community, though sometimes your ideas might not match up with the community's. It's a being "carried along" by the group. In Anglican worship, the affirmation of faith is an affirmation of the Nicene Creed, which is in itself both succinct and malleable enough to work for a whole community (though not all would agree with that statement). For me, that's been an important antidote to the evangelical protestantism of my youth, which was essentially a religion defined by belief and experience, and which promoted a belief system which fell like a house of cards once I admitted that the Bible wasn't a modernist/scientific rule-book for life. (This probably tells you as much as you need to know about me, and why I even bother to talk about these sorts of issues. What normal, undamaged individual writes blogs about religious epistemology?! I'm a reactionary. I can change, if I have to.)

And for a final devotional thought, I'd like to close with a bit of absolute truth I came across tonight from Mark Twain, my favorite religious skeptic: "Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes and wishes he was certain of".


Anonymous said…
Ah, you brought out the Twain...bless you.

I'm an agnostic christian, as you know (or do you? thats the issue here: knowledge...right?). The admission of agnosticism, from my perspective, is an issue of honesty and humility, neither of which i care much for. the difference i see between myself and the evangelicals that surround me in alabama is the arrogance on their part of proclaiming that they know without a doubt that "such-and-such religious belief" is justified propositional knowledge. blind conviction is a virtue in the south.

The non-religious that have had conversations with me about religion usually appreciate my agnostic approach. I frequently state that reason can take one toward or away from belief in religious matters, but that ultimately one acts in faith by making any decision in either direction. faith is the bridge that takes you from reason toward belief or action. (they usually dont like that part.)

I think that makes sense.

"For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing."
H.L. Mencken
Unknown said…
I did not know that. I agree with you that the non-religious usually appreciate the agnostic approach though, and I like the way you've stated the function of faith.
bob said…
If you say the Creed and don't believe it, you're a liar. Is that really verrry complicated? If you say you're married to someone, and take vows (old fashioned idea, that)
of fidelity, does it perhaps *mean* you don't sleep around? If not, why *say* them? The Creed is exactly the same.
Unknown said…
Well, no Bob, that's not very complicated. It's simple in fact.

But what if you say the Creed and mean something different from what some others mean, and admit that honestly? What if thousands or millions of others mean different things when they say the Creed? Maybe we're all stupid or wrong, but probably not liars. What if no one means the same thing when they say the Creed, or what if we all believe in the Creed to different extents at different times? Ultimately that's the honest reality. No lie.
Anonymous said…
I thought you had a great point on the differences between the "procedural" churches and those more modern, evangelical ones that contribute to the earth-shaking religious and political hubris that has defined the United States of America for the past 200 years.

As little as a year ago, I could not have imagined--much less predicted--that I would be so unsure of God's existence that I could no longer pray to Him without cringing. Now, as a freshman in college, I cannot, for the first time in my life, understand "blessings", spiritual warfare, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the sensation of a personal relationship with God and remain objective and rational at the same time. Plus, if I can't take the first book of the Bible at face value and still explain the natural world that I view with my own eyes, then how the hell am I supposed to trust the rest of the book?
Unknown said…
Hey Justin,

Thanks for the commentary. I'm not sure if you'll make it back to the page or not, but feel free to email me at

I feel your pain - a lot of us have gone through it and there is another side where faith and honesty can coexist. Hopefully you're not too damaged by religion yet to develop a life-giving faith.