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Agnostic Allure July 10, 2006

Posted by fajita in Christianity, emerging church/emergent, Philosophy/Religion, Post-restoration/Restoration Movement.

When people of faith rest in their certainty, there is no allure to an agnostic perspective on faith. In fact, they view agnostics as weak or faithless or in some way ruined. From certainty, agnosticism appears ludicrous.

However, when that certainty of the faithful is challeneged or rocked, they are de-centered and that which they were certain of becomes suspect, or at least not completely explainable.

Most people of faith have this experience every now and again, but they get over it pretty quickly. However, when this persistently happens on a meta level or a systemic level, rather than with an isolated fact or two, then it can become quite unnerving for the persons of faith. When the congregation or denomination no longer fits the faith – when God becomes mysterious rather than known, then the search for answers becomes more than a rehearsal of knowns and becomes and exploration into the unknowns.

When a person of faith loses her morings, in creep the questions that fuel the agnostic. “If I thought I knew ‘A’ and now I do not understand ‘A’ then what can I really know at all?” When that which was once thought to be known becomes an unknown, then the whole idea of how something becomes known in the first place becomes suspect.

This kind of skepticism creates a dilemma for the faithful. When that which was once known becomes sketchy or unknowable, it creates a situation of sort of a point of no return. “I can’t honestly go back and know that because of this.” So, the person of faith moves closer to an agnostic position. At the same time, there is the sense that there is Something, but a frustrating Something that they wish they knew better and at the same time the more they explore it the less they know.

At this point the person of faith might begin to question everything and might even forget what they believe and gain an attraction for the agnostic allure because the rules of knowing trump the rules of believing.

I know of some conservative Christians who have gotten a taste of the emerging Christianity that is all the rage, but rather than deepen their faith in it, they have gained an unhealthy allegiance to their position of not knowing anything. Not only that, they try to aggressively press their not knowing perspecitve with a strangely familiar evagelistic certainty of their uncertainty. It is almost as if they can get others to be as uncertain as they are, then they can take greater comfort in their uncertainty.  

This situation is only an extension of their unhealthy faith overlaid onto and unhealthy agnosticism. It is a mere rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic. Ship’s going dow either way.

I think that there is much that people of faith can learn from agnostics. I’m not talking about the militant and rigid agnostics, but rather the honest and searching agnostics. People of faith who live their lives with certainty around every corner might allow an agnostic teach them how to ask questions, how to challenge, how to seek.

Agnostics can teach a person of faith the value of doubt. Although it might come as a surprise to a person of faith that doubt is valuable, I personally think that doubt is essential to a living and deepening faith. Now, doubtolatry (giving doubt God status) is going to be as foolish as any other idolatry. But the judicious use of doubt can be the healthiest thing a person of faith can do for her faith.

Now, it might feel risky to intentioanlly seek doubt – and it is. However, there are hidden and sometimes spiritually fatal risks to not seeking it. Too much certainty gets people of faith into trouble with legalism, oppression, and even violence in order to “do the right thing.”

Balancing doubt and certainty seems to be a better route to health than too much of either.  



1. Justin - July 10, 2006

I think my parents have called me on this recently several times. Somehow, I’ve gotten to this point where I’ve got it all figured out that I don’t have anything figured out. They try and remind me that I may not be where I am in 5, 10, or 30 years, and I need to be careful of being certain that nothing is certain. I appreciate their willingness to dialogue with me, and ask me tough questions. I’ve moved them more towards emergent thought, but they do a good job keeping me grounded. Parents are good like that, letting you think for yourself, but bringing a good challenge or two when you need to be knocked down

2. fajita - July 10, 2006

The ultimate end of postmodernism is agnosticism. It has to be. Thus, the value of postmodern skepticism endswhen it is not kept in its proper place. It cannot be allowed to rule. For when it does – tyranny.

3. Justin - July 10, 2006

So, how does one keep a postmodern skepticism without becoming entirely postmodern? I mean, I feel like I’m on the right track, but because I’ve started questioning things, its hard to stop. I wanna deconstruct everything… and I feel like to some extent its possible. Its scary, really. Sometimes I wanna turn my back on POMO and Christianity in general and become a modern secularist, just because there is a lot of comfort in the logic of things. Anything that doesn’t have a good answer is disconcerting… and faith is full of things that don’t make sense. For example, capitalism makes a whole bunch of sense to me. Its one of the most rational things imaginable. But then, I’m torn by christian ethic as well. I know capitalism works, but it increases consumerism… which is bad for individuals but good for raising people out of poverty. When people buy lots of stuff, there are more jobs. If everyone started living simply, and gave away most of what they had… we white anglo saxon protestants in the middle and upper classes would still live a comfortable existance, we wouldn’t be making any money, making it impossible to help the poor. So how do we balance capitalism and its ability to create wealth, with moving away from consumerism in all its facets?

4. Dwiggy - July 11, 2006

This conversation is mind-boggling and hits me right where I am today. I’ve been reading the OT for the last few months and my sense of certianty is almost completely gone. As a thinking person, I simply can’t figure out how to reconcile the God of the OT, who reigns over his people with rules and regulations, with the God of the NT, who apparently lays down his life for his people, reagrdless of their willingness to turn to him. This IS the same God, isn’t it? So…do I embrace these doubts and questions and delve deeper into the mysteries, or do I stop now, hold on to “what I know is true”, and press on as before? Hm. I wonder if our inability to look doubt in the eye is a core reason for our inability to reach the “the lost”. Maybe we need to be a little more willing to say “I don’t understand” so that people will be willing to hear what we DO understand? Thanks for the post Fajita.

5. fajita - July 11, 2006

Justin, I was thinking about your comment this morning and the word “balance” came to mind. Eastern philosophy and religion has its flaws, to be sure, but the concept of balance is all over eastern worldview and is weirld or novel to western worldview. Linear progress is a western thing while circular balance is an eastern thing. Both have value, but we in the west are unbalanced.

Dwiggy, goodness. We share a common struggle. I read some Walter Brueggemann OT stuff and it didn’t solve anything for me, but did give me some new perspectives. The OT has some difficult portions (apparent God ordained genocide being the hardest) and the concept of redemption is sometimes hard to find. I do not look for my peace there, but rather in the beautiful portions of the OT. When I pan back and look at the OT as a portion of the incredible story of God, then there is some more sense to be made of it. Getting into some of the apparent means by which that redemption comes about gets me into some theological challenges I do not know what to do with.

6. justinmundie - July 11, 2006

I don’t know if this has any value, but I heard someone talking about the difficult war portions of the OT and how that ties into God’s nature. They said that maybe that wasn’t what God wanted, but it was the only way for Israel to survive. You could say the same thing about the law. It wasn’t what God wanted, but that Law helped Israel survive in a tough world.

7. Dwight - July 11, 2006

I’ve been working on a post for my blog on this topic for a long time and I can’t figure out how to get my thoughts across without sounding a little, well, scary. But maybe I can share some my questions here …

What if God’s Love ISN’T Unconditional?

What if the quality of our relationship with God were based solely on our ability to walk in His ways?

And, ultimately, what if the story of God’s nature and His relationship with His people has been changing over time because we still don’t really know Him?

How can the God of the Old Testament – a fearful, powerful God, who requires sacrifice and rituals to approach His Presence – be the same God on the New Testament – a loving Friend who washes our feet?

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