Monday, March 31, 2014

Agnostic Christianity

This last week I preached on the story from the Gospel of John about how after Jesus heals a blind man the Pharisees get into a heated debated over how this was even possible.  My main thesis was that part of our faith is being open to not being right.  The Pharisees were so sure they were right that they were unable to see the miracle that God was doing right in front of them.  By contrast the blind man was open to the possibilities of God's miraculous work in the world and so in turn was able to see.  This got me to ponder if maybe the term "Agnostic Christian" would be a good one for me to try and claim.

One of the central problems we are facing in our culture right now is a lack of healthy agnosticism.  On almost every issue people are rooted firmly in one camp or another.  The idea that a person could not have a position or be clearly uncertain about their position is seemingly foreign and such a voice is rarely welcomed in a debate.  Whatever you believe it seems to be clear that you need to be certain about it.  Unfortunately, as we see from the story in John, being certain you are right is not really a good way to learn anything.  In fact it seems to be a sure recipe for missing the obvious signs of things all around you.  For that reason I like the idea of being an Agnostic Christian.

Now I am not saying I think of myself as being agnostic in the strictest definition of the word.  Rather what I am saying that as a Christian I think it is important to embrace the faith aspect of faith.  What I believe is based solidly on my experiences of the world but it also contains within it assumptions and the possibility that I could be wrong.  Scientists have been working to understand the effects of religion and faith on the brain.  Simply knowing these effects does not prove something.  It could be that my experience of God happens because of the way my brain is firing OR my brain is firing the way it is because of the presence of God.  I believe the philosopher Hume is one of many who points out that our belief in causality is rooted in faith. (Intro to Philosophy was a long time ago) If we try and work only about what we know for certain we cannot really do anything or function in the world.  We have to take some things on faith.  At the same time it is important to remember that things we take on faith exist with a certain degree of doubt ... we can be wrong.  Holding this in tension is a necessary challenge for us but one that I think we need to work on as a culture.  We need to find ways to be much more agnostic about matters of faith and life than we currently are.  In my mind the Christian faith is really rooted in agnosticism, the acknowledgement that God works in ways beyond our understanding and all we know about God really gets filtered through the lens of our experience.  That is part of what makes the incarnation so powerful it gives us a more direct and tangible understanding of a God beyond comprehension.  At least I think it does, I could be wrong.

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