We’re All Really Just Agnostics With Suspicions

QuestionsLady

Agnostic  n. A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

A few years ago I was talking to a good friend about faith and doubt, and about the constant, annoying tension between what we believe and what we know. The subject of organized religion ( more specifically, pastors) came up, and my friend offered the following critique:

“Boy, it takes a lot of guts to get up there every Sunday and preach at people!”

Only she didn’t say “guts.” She used a more colorful word, one more befitting the gravity and intensity of the topic.

The idea that anyone would be so bold and arrogant and brazen as to stand before a group of their peers on a given day and dare to say, in essence, “What I am about to say? This is exactly what God is like, this is exactly what God says, and this is exactly how you should live and believe in light of it”, seemed to her to be the very epitome of “gutsy”.

I’ve come to agree with her.

Now, I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember; attending Sunday School and church services and prayer gatherings and youth rallies and Christian concerts galore. And as a minister in a local church for the past 18 years, I’ve been to seminary, led and attended thousands of Bible studies, participated in hundreds of small group gatherings, and preached weekly for well over a decade. Continually during that time I’ve read Scripture, consulted Bible commentaries, devoured great theological books, attended scores of ministry conferences and mission trips, and spent literally thousands of hours in corporate worship, prayer, and quiet reflection.

And yet if I am completely honest, if I remove the usual pastoral expectations and the expected accompanying party lines, I have to admit that the sum total of these endeavors has proven incomplete. None of them have yielded the kind of iron-clad, water-tight, knowing that most ministers and many Christians claim without reservation. Yes, these things have all given me a certain level of confidence at times, but even in my best days, it’s never given me beyond a shadow of a doubt surety.

And that’s really all any of us can testify to with any authenticity, whether we claim or denounce religion: something less than absolute certainty.

At the end of all our studying and praying and accepting and rejecting and feeling and dismissing and meditating and wrestling; whether we’re completely sold-out for Jesus, or unapologetically Buddhist or devout practitioners of another faith tradition or fully defiant in disbelief of any Deity—none of us really knows anything.

After all our pursuits and positing, we’re all really just Agnostics with suspicions.

Though we have strong (or rather weak) leanings in one direction or another, we don’t know for sure. We’re each using the evidence we’ve accumulated and weighed (evidence which will always be incomplete) and making the most educated guess we can regarding things and ideas which always remain just beyond our full understanding. To one degree or another we’ve all studied and had experiences and asked questions and sought truth, and as a result we have conclusions which we believe are fairly correct.

But we don’t get to know—none of us. Your pastor doesn’t know, your best friend doesn’t, your college professor doesn’t, your favorite author doesn’t, the finger wagging preacher doesn’t, your judgmental Facebook friend doesn’t either. That is the nature of life on this side of the grave, where we all stand and speak from. While here, there remain gaps in all of our spiritual hypotheses, no matter how earnestly and carefully and prayerfully we craft them.

I’m a Christian. Jesus has always been my experience of and understanding of and my path to God, yet I can’t ignore the fact that I was raised in this faith tradition and educated within it and served within it, and this all matters. I have been shaped by my upbringing and my geography and my education and my experiences.

Yes, I’ve had countless moments where I have felt what I believe to be the presence of God wordlessly speaking to me and proving His existence, yet those could also have been emotional responses to my circumstances, a manipulated state in a worship service, my mind ascribing to events or feelings what I desired to receive there, or simply the subjective lens through which I view myself, this world, and the world beyond it.

It could also all be exactly what I believed and hope it to be; I just don’t know.

I think those few words can be some of the most humble, most honest, most sacred ones we ever say. When we admit that we have something less than certainty, we aren’t shutting down anything, we aren’t denying faith or morally failing or falling away. We are simply acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers yet; that to quote the immortal bard, Bono, “we still haven’t found what we’re lookin’ for.”

I’m OK with not being certain about everything; even many things. People who are sure are much more likely to be arrogant or rigid or intolerant of dissent. They are far more likely to be insufferable jerks because they don’t consider the possibility of the wrongness. I think those with the honesty to admit that they have limitations on their knowledge and that their faith is just their best, most well-intentioned guess, make for better learners and listeners, and are generally just a lot easier to be around and talk to.

Whether you reference Science to deny the existence of God, or use the Bible to explain the character and will of God, or whether you simply go by a hunch on how you believe this all works, it’s always good to remember that you are still capable of being less than fully right.

Whatever your spiritual convictions, as you continue to read and pray and study and reflect and serve and seek and rest and move, may you hold both Certainty and Pride loosely, and cling ever more tightly to Hope and Humility.

Through all of your searching, may you be mindful that everyone you meet is on the very same partially lit road that you are, regardless of whether or not their current methods or conclusions match your own.

Admitting that you don’t really know more than anyone else about God?

Now that’s really gutsy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

70 thoughts on “We’re All Really Just Agnostics With Suspicions

  1. That explains a lot. I believe agnostics shouldn’t be preachers. Their dissent destroys faith and is intensively destructive to families and everybody around them.

    • Again you brilliantly miss the point. You’re agnostic too. You don’t know any more than anyone else. You’re using your best guess based on the info you have. You don’t care to admit that, I get it.

  2. There is a line in a Deva Premal and Miten song, which states “I have the courage to be wrong.” This speaks so much to me. I can have the courage to be wrong more readily when I am in the presence of those who are also willing to “not know,” and just be, and allow me the courtesy of being human.

    • Thank you for sharing Shannon. Your refections are rattling something deep within me that is bolstering/defining/explaining my own beliefs and desires. I love the notion of simply having the courage to be wrong … even if/when … or perhaps especially if /when you are marinating in a workplace/family/community that ‘knows’!

  3. Your conclusion sounds not so much gutsy as a little bit proud that you are so transparent and honest. Perhaps, trusting the Bible as God’s revelation is just as humbling a confession while admitting that understanding the whole Bible remains elusive. Are you sure God doesn’t want us to be at peace with Him and His revelation and confident that as far as we have gone we are His through accepting the simple gospel?

    • “…trusting the Bible as God’s revelation is just as humbling a confession”.

      You are free to draw that conclusion, but you are still in that “not knowing” the piece speaks of. That is where the humility is for all of us; in admitting that all of our methods and systems are less than complete.

      As to your question: “Are you sure God doesn’t want us to be at peace with Him and His revelation and confident that as far as we have gone we are His through accepting the simple gospel?”

      No, I’m not sure. That’s the point of the piece. Neither are you.

      • To make a claim that you know the extent that another’s faith doesn’t go the distance of God’s promises while still questioning your own faith is lunacy. It’s one thing to question your own faith but quite a different story to reduce anothers’ faith to the level of your own “faith tradition”. Their faith is in no way limited by your faith.

        • You’re still not getting it. His point is that no one CAN know, so no one DOES know. There are only people who think* they know. Perhaps you are one of those people who think, without doubting, that you know. He’s not saying that you don’t think* you know or that you have doubts. He’s saying that you don’t actually* know, regardless of what you think you know, because no one can* actually know.

  4. Amen! I’ve been saying that I teeter on the edge of agnostic and gnostic for quite some time now… I think -maybe- we get glimpses of truth… but I wonder if it’s possible to really KNOW. If I just dig enough or surrender enough, perhaps THEN I will attain this higher revelation truth. It seems that the more you know, the less you know, you know? As one wise dude said – with more wisdom comes more grief. Sometimes I wish I were in happy lala land believing – having faith – in the words of those men standing behind the pulpit proclaiming “the truth” (forgetting to say the words “as I currently understand it”). When I believed in THEM, life was easier. Now that I am trying to know and believe GOD….whoooooeeeeyyyy…. now you’re talking about a battle!

    • “It seems that the more you know, the less you know, you know?”
      Great saying. Think about it, Jesus said we should be as little children in our faith. Why? Because little children live, love, and believe with innocence. Everything about children is pure. Children do not hate, they trust without question, or reason; they just trust. And their entire life, every action is a reflection of that trust. And this is because they do not yet know, they are only starting to learn, and have built up little to no knowledge. It is only once they build knowledge through observation of us, and teaching by us that they start to not trust, to hate, to be selfish, to not love, to believe in YHWH, Allah, Buddha, or to not believe in gods at all. So you see; “the more you know, the less you know, you know?”
      What is faith but trust? Stop trying to know so much, and just trust in the creator; be that creator Allah, YHWH, Buddha, or The Big Bang. The less you know, the more you will understand.

  5. Wow! I say that alot in response to your blog. Because you constantly blow me away, challenge my thinking, open up new unopened vistas of thought. And this is no exception. I have often been proud in my faith, but I have to say your blog really made me realize that I really, really don’t know for a fact any of the things I deeply believe. Thank you for helping me see that and hopefully to walk with greater humility and more understanding of where others on this dark path of searching and seeking are. You are an incredible blessing.

  6. I can’t remember how I found your blog, but I’m so pleased I did. I thoroughly enjoy your thoughtful perspective, especially when there seem to be fewer and fewer voices (at least those that you can actually hear) who are willing to admit that most issues are nuanced and complex. I am continually frustrated by the lack of respect that people show to one another and how the lack of civility is becoming a badge of honor. If more of us could admit that maybe there are other ways to look at things, we would be astounded at what we could learn about others as well as ourselves. Thank you for your writings!

    • I so agree with your points of view. My life has been haunted by the thoughts expressed in this essay. I would be arrogant to say that I understand and thus, believe the teachings or commitments needed to say “I am part of this family of believers”. Those who say ” I have found the way The only way to salvation thru one, or another, religious teaching. I an simply still traveling to know how to be genuine and compassionate and loving etc. I truly dont understand joining those who have a family of grace and God at their Beck and call. So glad to hear there are others.

  7. Then, if they Bible is not what it says it is (i.e., the Holy Spirit inspired word of God) and that Jesus and God themselves are not who the Bible claims them to be, and if the scriptures do not mean what they say, then we might as well throw the Bible and all of the thousands upon thousands of commentaries and the resulting thousands of different opinions out because no agreements can be had and they cannot be relied upon, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to give us a true picture of the ambiguous God and his supposed pland for mankind it is written about. So, in the end, it’s a fallacy and we’re all just wasting our time with the constant arguements concerning the Bible and searching for it’s “hidden” meaning. Why not just live our lives as we see fit, sinful or not, and just forget the whole God/Bible thing? That would make more sense then wasting valuable resources in creating jobs for ourselves as Christian authors, scholars and pastors and wasting our own, and everyone else’s, time with topics that have little meaning, if any at all? It simply does not make sense to me.

    • Never mind, Terry! Maybe one day you will understand. I’m really not sure why you read John’s blog when you get so little out of it. Just stick to your Bible and your commentaries. Bless you!

    • Ma’am. You’re being stupid right now. What you said is not what he is saying. He is saying that there is a difference between “faith” and “knowing.” And no. The Bible and its words are not reliable in all respects that you might like to dream up. It is a book about spiritual matters—not a textbook. It is reliable in spiritual matters—but even there—the question is ALWAYS whether we are understanding what it is saying to us—and we often are not understanding what the words are saying to us—hence all the different Christian denominations and all the endless and conflicting Christian arguments about religious matters.

      I know. I know:

      “But I just desperately need to have my Bible and one lone and true understanding of it that is the absolute, total, final, and unshakable truth. And…and…and if I don’t get that in this world, then I might screw up and do something wrong that gets God really, really, really pissed at me…and…and…and you have no idea what this God of mine is like—how mean He is to people—and most of all I just need something every day in this swirling, dizzying, and confused world that is changing so fast—I just don’t understand anything anymore—I need something as an anchor—something that will stand still until I can catch my breath and try to understand why I now live in a world that is so hard to understand and has left me so far behind.”

      Well you ain’t getting it lady. It’s not the book you cling to. It’s Jesus. And it is all about faith, which is very different from knowing.

      “But I need to know that I know that I know I am saved!!!”

      You ain’t gettin’ that either. Jesus. Faith. Faith. Jesus.

  8. Get ready to be raked over the coals by the “know that you know that you know” crowd down at the local Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches where “certainty” and “absoluteness” are the dual gods who get more attention that Jesus.

    “John. doancheech see. It says right here in this Bible verse “so you may know that you are saved.” Hits possible to know if you believe all the rot docterns.”

    But hey. I think Jesus said it best with his mustard seed. Mustard seeds are tiny. Jesus said that if our faith is only as large as a tiny mustard see we would be able to move mountains. I know of no Christian who his ever moved a mountain with his faith—meaning that most faith is something less than a mustard seed. Although Jesus did leave open the possibility that this faith could grow into a large mustard plant with time.

    However, I think the most important thing Biblically is to understand that God does not want us to know or knows that we have no way of knowing reality as it truly is in the spiritual realm. Throughout the Bible we are asked to have faith—not to know. Faith and knowing are two different things. There is no such thing as faith when you know. Knowing is knowing—period. There is no need for faith when you know. If 2+2 = 4, you know that. How many of you have ever had faith that 2 +2 = 4?

    I can hear them down at the fundie churches now. “Now wait a minute: 2 +2 = 22. Which is it. Don’t we really just have faith that 2 +2 = 4? Hit could really be 22.”

    Overwhelmingly, taken on the whole from Genesis to Revelation, we are called to faith—not to knowing. We also may find along the way in our journey that many things we once thought were true by faith enter the realm of knowing—and we find out that the thing we had faith in was dead wrong. For example, many Christians once thought that the creation stories in Genesis were history and science—even though the Bible does not say that they are—and it turned out that they were parables—-because the known facts of creation do not jibe with the story. The story of Noah and a worldwide flood are also not known to be false as a matter of history and science. The Bible takes the position that alcoholism is solely a moral failure. As it tuned out, the fact of the matter is that alcoholism and addictions in general are chemical changes that happen in the brain—and they are definitively tied to genetics in about 15 percent of the population. God revealed the facts that these things once held in faith were not true, eventually in his own time and for his own reasons. We have to be ready as Christians to recalibrate our faith when things that were once believed on faith enter the realm of knowing and turn out not to be true.

  9. P.S. Why would God do this? Why would God tell us that certain things are true in the Bible—and then they turn out not to be true? Doesn’t that make God a liar? No, not at all. It makes him a good Father. When your child asks you where babies come from, how many of you adult Christians out there tell your 5-year old child that babies come from a really good fuck—and then tell them all the biological details about how it happens? You don’t. You tell them something simple and not necessarily true in all respects that their young minds can grasp—or at least hold onto for a while.. You know they are not ready for the truth. The truth will be revealed in time when the child is ready for it. God makes the decision as to when we are ready—not us.

    I have had stupid fundies—and they really are stupid—tell me that God could have dispensed with Adam and Eve and instead told us some very basic and truthful elements about evolution and geological time in Genesis—if that was how things were created. He did not do that, so evolution must be false. Wrong!!! Biblically wrong!!! God reveals the truth in his own time and his own way—not when we choose FOR HIM. Also, God demands that we accept him and follow him by faith—not by knowing. Men would have figured out one day that the scientific and geological information in Genesis were all true—and ask a damning question: “How in the Hell did these ancient people know all of these scientific facts about creation and life that we learned in our laboratories only yesterday.” At that very moment, faith in God as the creator no longer is possible because what was once faith in the Bible enters into the realm of KNOWING. You cannot have faith with regard to what you know. Knowing purges the need for faith. God places an emphasis on faith rather than knowing—because He knows we are too immature to deal with the truth. We are mere babes in his arms—and we really know and understand very little of WHAT IS in our universe and the 32 parallel dimensions. God asks us to hold onto faith until it is time for him to reveal the fullness of certain truths to us. Then and only then does faith turn into knowing.

    • Wow….never heard it put like that! 🙂 That is a great perspective. We can all just follow in Faith and stop trying to dissect it all, it really is easy.

  10. ……and while we are all trying to get our perspectives and interpretations across, we are losing folks. I don’t blame them for not wanting to have any part in it. Great read as usual. Thank you!!!!!

  11. Thank you John for having the guts to post this!!! So wisely stated, so where i am at too. I will cling to Hope and what I “loosely” know of Jesus and try do so in humility – thanks for this post.

  12. John, I’ve recently had a bout of this myself; however, I’ve come to the conclusion that “trusting” isn’t *knowing* and it’s the best that can be expected and all that’s required while we’re in this disappointing tent of flesh. In the end, we (as Christians) are just “taking someone’s word for it”.

    • No one is disputing the difference between trusting and knowing. My question is HOW and WHY do you trust, or have faith in something in which not having that faith results in a consequence more horrific than anything I could ever do to another human being. Surely my small mortal self cannot be more loving/compassionate than God. The lifetime:eternity ratio for “hell” is as disproportionately cruel as heaven is generous, given that “good works” aren’t even considered in the outcome. I wish someone could answer this for me in their own words, and not quotes from the very source in question.

      • OK, thanks for the clarification. I understand and empathize. I guess the most up-front answer I could give is the “HOW” do I trust? I don’t know, I just do…the Holy Spirit is warm and validating, personal and is peaceful. WHY? I don’t know that for sure either, I just do because I know God is trustworthy in the sense that He is God and God is SUPPOSED to be trustworthy…I learned that from childhood, I wasn’t taught that by my parents, it’s just every time I was in church (I was raised Lutheran) something just resonated within me despite my ignorance. Of course, later as a teen to my early 20’s I rebelled (kinda/sorta) and explored life for myself as I sought independence but God was always at the boundaries and I sensed that. Eventually, I’m where I am now….a comfortable Believer/Agnostic! = “Just being human” to me. We can’t know for sure because we tend to live life experientially and we can only have just enough faith to suspend disbelief until we finally arrive. I used to think at times “what if I’m wrong?” because the thought of Hell troubled me, but in the end, I trust God will do right and as a result, I try to live my life pleasing to Him. That’s really about it. 🙂

      • To give just a little more information, those who do not believe in eternal torment tend to be more knowledgable about what the Bible really says on this topic and the true meanings of scriptures mistakenly thought to teach this hideous doctrine.

      • Maybe you should consider something else. Why is it that we see the notion of eternal torture in Hell so extreme when it does not seem to have too much bothered the many generations before us going back to A.D. 33? Let’s ask a man with a thick cockney accent in ancient Great Britain:

        Why is God so angry, violent, and unpredictable in the Old Testament?

        Answer: “Why aven’t you hurd? It goes back a long ways here in Britain and in the ancient world. Kings are capricious, arbitrary,and cruel. God is a king. So, it only follows that ee is too. Roight?

        Do you ever wonder why a loving God could torture people forever in Hell?

        Answer: Why no. Listen. We is all under kings here on Earth. Our kings torture people all the time in their dungeons at the castle. They tortured me brother and cousin just last week, and I know me own number must be coming soon. God is a king—and torturing people is just what kings do. It is all really quite common, natural, and expected.

  13. God is not a dictator. He is a benevolent Father who, through faith, provides us with an opportunity to be on his team. If we knew with certainty of God’s existence, would we not have to follow his dictates to the letter and if that were the case, how would soul growth take place and what value would it serve God? We were given free will for a purpose. We can choose our own course of action or we can choose the WILL of God but for that to happen we need to first find God and that’s an inner, one-on-one undertaking, not a scientific fact finding journey or a religious set of guidelines.

  14. Wow! Thank you, thank you!!! My thoughts exactly! Awesome post. You have helped me know how to respond to these people. Just don’t respond to them. . They have all the answers. I don’t.

    • Beware of anyone and everyone who claims to have all the answers. Jesus probably has all the answers—but there was only one of him—and everyone with answers since his time—not so much.

  15. That’s the essence of faith. When there is doubt, curiosity, questions in my mind, Christianity demands allegiance to ‘faith,’ and that’s fine with me. If we ‘know’ it all, there is no room for faith. It’s fine with me for the very reason that I don’t know, and Christianity requires I don’t know; I have faith. I don’t have all the answers; I have faith. I don’t know with any real certainty what heaven holds or that I will be there; but I have faith. So, I find peace and stronger faith with each doubt, curiosity, question, as faith always brings me back to Christ, and without that faith, I would be nothing more than a suspicious agnostic.

  16. I worry pretty frequently that what I do think I understand about God is completely wrong. That bit about the road to hell being wide and easy? I would think a God of love would make it easier to get into heaven than not. Too many people out there think they’ve got it “right” when they couldn’t be further from the truth (whatever that is!).

    • Some Native American tribes believe that the “Path of Souls” that leads the spirits of the dead to their final peace in the Upper World has obstacles on it that the disembodied soul must overcome to get to its final destination. One of these obstacles is a huge raptor bird with a sharp beak that tries to crack open the soul skull and suck out its soul brains to end its progress.

  17. Thank you. If I were to describe my faith it would be pretty much as you’ve described. Only perhaps without the Bono quote 😉

    I shall be pondering this more fully. How can I call myself Christian if I am *this* unsure? Is it enough to agree that our received understanding of Christ’s teaching are a good blueprint for life? Is this a sufficient grounding for ministry?

    Thanks again.

  18. “Gutsy” indeed . . . and spot on, even though it will be too “gutsy” for those who cling to a need for certainty.

    My journey to agnosticism began at an early age. Raised as a Roman Catholic I was taught in Catechism class that only good Catholics would get into heaven, a notion that I quickly rejected as nonsensical when I was eight or nine years old. In the small, rather WASPy New Hampshire town where I grew up us Catholics were a decided minority – and it made no sense to me that my best friend Robbie would be excluded just because he was Protestant. Even as a young child I had figured out that I was Catholic because my Dad was Catholic . . . and I knew that Robbie was a Congregationalist because his parents were. That Robbie and my mom (a non-practicing Baptist) were to be excluded from heaven was . . . well . . . so nonsensical as to call the entire notion of selective salvation into question.

    And question I did . . . and question I still do.

    There is, as you say, little that we can really “know” for sure, and each one of us develops our own understanding of God (or whatever word or notions one may choose to describe the Ultimate Source) as well as the specific paradigm that makes some sense of that notion be it scientific, theological, mystical, mythical . . . or some combination of the above.

    What takes a great deal of “guts” (or the more masculine-oriented colloquialism your friend used) is to insist that others accept my understanding of God and my path to getting there.
    Yet, there are a few things I think I do know with a significant level of certainty, at least as much certainty as is possible to us mere mortals.

    I know, for instance, that you and me, and all of those reading this blog . . . and the people next door . . . and the homeless guy who stands at the Interstate onramp every day at 5:00 . . . and the undocumented immigrant . . . and his kid . . . and the CEO of the mega-corporation . . . and the starving child in Somalia . . . and the angry Muslim youth who has been told that we are his enemy . . . and every other human soul on this little blue ball floating around the sun . . .

    All of us are made of the same stuff.

    All of us came from the same source.

    As did the bright-eyed golden retriever standing in front of me wondering why I would rather play with this silly iPad instead of the ball she is holding expectantly . . . as did the butterfly on the flower and the flower . . . as did the soil on which it grows and to which it and we will all return.

    Christians are made from the same stuff as did Jews, as Muslims, as Hindus, as Buddhists and Sikhs and Celtic Pagans and confirmed atheists and questioning agnostics and . . . and . . . and.

    All from the same source.

    And what is the nature of that source? I don’t know.

    And what happens when we return, as all of us surely must – as at some point this Earth itself must too return? I don’t know.

    And that’s okay.

    And that one certainty that I do have . . . the iron-clad knowledge that you and I are brothers along with all of creation compels me to live humbly and walk with all others knowing that same spark lives within every person I know, every person I will ever meet, every person I have never and will never meet.
    And how you pray, or who you pray to, and what scripture you read . . .

    May you find it fulfilling, and may you grow in your understanding.

    And may you live in blessing.

  19. Once again I am reminded that many Christians–theologians, pastors, lay persons–have been saying these things for decades. 60 years ago my pastor taught us to “doubt” in our confirmation classes. The fundamentalist, inerrant view is sort of the new kid the block, but they have the loudest voices, and were hijacked by conservative politicians who used those views to control people’s minds and votes. If you still want to be in community with Christians in a place where your questions and doubts are welcome there is still a church out there for everyone.

  20. Pingback: I Don’t Know | Don't Push Send

  21. Thank you for admitting what I suspect so many Christians are afraid to say about themselves. I know that you have described me. I think that a previous preacher of mine may have thought he was doing the best for the faith of the congregation, and the best for his own faith, by professing utter, non-questioning, confident, “Jesus and I were talking this morning” and “we know the true truth” kind of preaching. But honestly, it made me feel left out and a little distant.

    • My atheist friend Bruce Gerencser was a Baptist pastor for the better part of three decades. Watch this closely. In a recent post on his blog, Bruce said that pastors are under a lot of pressure from the members of their congregations to answers questions—all sorts of questions. You know. What does God think about this issue? Are the Germans really the master race? Is it really true that petunias fart only on Thursdays? Bruce said that the people in his pasts congregations were asking him all sorts of questions all the time—and expecting him to have all the answers. It is like that for every pastor. After a time, there comes a feeling that maybe you are not doing your job unless you answer all the questions—and maybe wonder if you might get fired. So, pastors feel compelled to give out answers to all sorts of questions—whether they know the answers or not—so they just feed out their best guess and a lot of bullshit about various things known and not known to them just to keep everyone in the pews pacified and happy. You people really need to bear this in mind when you go to a pastor for help and to ask questions. Some of them are not very bright, and they do not have all the answers—but you are quite liable to walk away from a meeting with your pastor having an ear full of bullshit about something the pastor really knows little to nothing about.

      “But if we cain’t trust our pasters—who can we trust?” Why not do some research to find the answers for yourself? Gather information from various sources, evaluate it all, and see what answers drop out. I know. I know. I know. You re too busy for that and you just want someone to provide you with a quick easy answer. Warning: This attitude may be your ultimate downfall.

  22. Looking at the word “agnostic” it literally means “not a gnostic”. Gnostics thought they possessed secret knowledge of God. Only thru this secret knowledge could you achieve salvation. The church declared gnosticism a heresy because mystery and not-knowing is a part of faith. “Who hopes for what is seen” as Paul says. So all Christians are agnostics. I too am a preacher and I have learned the older I get the less I really know.

  23. Faith is belief and trust, it’s a two part formula. There is no doubt to be found in that formula. If you have doubt, you have just that, doubt, not faith. Look up the definition if you don’t believe me.

    • “There are similarities between absolute power and absolute faith: a demand for absolute obedience, a readiness to attempt the impossible, a bias for simple solutions—to cut the knot rather than unravel it, the viewing of compromise as surrender. Both absolute power and absolute faith are instruments of dehumanization. Hence, absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.”
      Eric Hoffer

      • No, I’ll let God himself be the final arbiter. I’m pretty sure He uses Merriam-Webster though as well.

        Liberal agenda item #86; change definitions whenever the need arises.

  24. To state (or re-state) the obvious, belief requires faith, not knowledge. God is unknowable. If we could truly know (understand) God then we would be his equal. To read the bible and not understand that faith, not knowledge, is the key is to completely misread it. Doubt is normal: see John the Baptist, the disciples, etc. for examples. They had faith, yet at times they doubted. For me, one of the key verses in the Gospels is the father’s response to Jesus explaining that “all things are possible for those who believe,” is the father’s response, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.”

  25. I found your blog a long time ago and erroniously gave the wrong non functioning email. Now I found you again. I like what you write! Here is an email that works.

  26. Thanks for your post. I have found that my level of ” knowing” can vary every day, sometimes to the most extremes. On one hand, just in the last few years my faith, both through experiencing God’s presence and through reason, has become stronger than ever. Some days almost feeling 99.9% certain. On the other hand just a few weeks ago I experienced a time where I literally became an atheist for a day – not out of rejection or out of reason but because it just seemed so much simpler at that moment. Faith can be hard and just in that moment not having to believe in anything gave me a sense of peace. Now, being a person who places a high value on always pursuing truth, tempting as it was I could not stay there for more than a day. No matter how peaceful it may have seemed I simply could not deny the presence of my God, my best friend, who had so often in the past spoken into my life. Nor when I looked at all the evidence could I deny what has overwhelmingly led to my increased faith. But dang faith still feels hard some days and I can identify with even the fact John the Baptist had to ask one day if Jesus was really the one.

  27. Agnostic n. A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

    I am not agnostic. The key word here is BELIEVES. I believe much can be known about the nature of God. I CLAIM FAITH. This doesn’t mean there are doubts or times of conflict on certain issues. I think that is part of being a Christian and growing in your faith. Even if I say, “I believe, help my unbelief,” I am still believing and claiming and that means I am decidedly not an agnostic. I get your point that none of us knows for certain. But many of us are choosing faith. That means I don’t have to know it all. I can believe and trust in God, which again means I am not agnostic.

  28. Pingback: Deconstructing Faith – Part 2 | Heretical Love

  29. Mark Twain’s quote applies. “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Also my dad used to say something to the effect of – when you have learned enough that you start to realize how much you don’t know, that’s a sign that you’re starting to learn something. When I hear someone insist that the Bible is the literal word of God, and should be followed to the ‘t’, I tend to think they must not have read it.

  30. “Now, I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember; attending Sunday School and church services and prayer gatherings and youth rallies and Christian concerts galore. And as a minister in a local church for the past 18 years, I’ve been to seminary, led and attended thousands of Bible studies, participated in hundreds of small group gatherings, and preached weekly for well over a decade. Continually during that time I’ve read Scripture, consulted Bible commentaries, devoured great theological books, attended scores of ministry conferences and mission trips, and spent literally thousands of hours in corporate worship, prayer, and quiet reflection.”

    What I wonder is how far you have stepped outside these zones of “comfort”? Have you read the Q’ran, the Baghavad Gita, the Epic of Gilgamesh? Have you read Plato, Aristotle, Berkeley, Hume, Locke, Machiavelli, Voltaire, Rousseau, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung? Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Cervantes, Flaubert, Balzac, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens, Proust…? Have you watched thrillers and pornographic movies? Have you travelled? Have you experienced variations on your own religious sect, or entirely different beliefs?

    Have you studied Pythagoras, Avicenna, Newton, and Einstein?

    Do you follow the discoveries and/or speculations of modern physics, biology, genetics?

    And finally, are you familiar with Rev. Thomas Bayes and “bayesian probability”.

    With the claim “we are all just agnostics”, you have achieved half the humility of science (and of Descartes at his starting point). You need to work harder. From a bayesian perspective, Christianity (and all other religions) are very improbable, to the point that any un-indoctrinated person would reject them. The only point at which an objective person would say “I really don’t know” is at the Big Bang (the “creation”), for roughly the same reason as a rational Christian would: if this was the first moment, what came before it?

    You sound like a nice man. But your “humility” about knowledge is false unless you are prepared to go up to a high place and genuinely face multiple challenges, the first of which is why your story is more plausible than anyone else’s.

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