Through my years in school and my time at university I’ve come into contact with people who have all sorts of perspectives on God and faith, but the people that I find it hardest to engage with, if I’m being honest, aren’t militant atheists or whatever, they’re actually agnostics. As you’ll hopefully see as you read this post, I’m not out to attack agnostics for this reason or any other. The case is actually that I find agnosticism intriguing as a concept. You see, I was thinking about this, and what I realised is that we’re all agnostics if we’re being honest about what we believe.
Christian orthodoxy has maintained for centuries that we cannot know God completely, and Jews maintained that millennia before Jesus ever walked the earth. There is a certain amount that we can know – as much as is revealed in the Bible at the very least – but there is also a lot that we can’t know in this life. David says that if he were to count God’s thoughts ‘they would outnumber the grains of sand’. He is infinite and eternal…those are two things that I believe we simply cannot comprehend in our current states.
On what is popularly considered the ‘other side’ in the current view of a conflict between the religious and the non-religious, we have atheists, those who, if they’re truly atheists, claim that they are sure that there is no God. And yet there is so much closed to them. They – or we, if I include humanity generally – will never know all there is to know about the universe and everything in it; no one will ever be able to look at every shred of physical matter and conclude without a doubt that there is no God.
My intention in giving those brief examples is to suggest to you that maybe everyone is agnostic in a sense, even those of us who claim to be sure about something. And yet even though all of us are agnostic to some degree, there are those people who claim that they are ‘agnostics’ as though it is a separate category of belief. There is the danger of a difficulty in saying that you are confident that you know you can’t know the truth, but that aside, it’s a viewpoint that I struggle to engage with, and I wonder if part of that is because from where I stand, agnosticism does not need to be an alternative to Christianity. When it is used as some sort of alternative, then from a Christian point of view it’s no more helpful than atheism, because although many people claim they do not know, a lot of them use that as an excuse not to try and find out, and therefore end up living as if God doesn’t exist anyway.
But how can I hold my own apparent agnosticism and my faith in tension? The key here is that I believe that the teachings of Christianity demand to be either accepted or rejected. There’s no third option that allows you to say ‘I don’t know’ and hope that if God’s real he’ll let you off because he didn’t give you enough evidence to make your mind up. How can I say this? Because the centre of Christianity is a man – Jesus. A man who died and, apparently, was resurrected. A man who changed the world forever. It is this that we are called to accept or reject. Do we look back at the person of Jesus and call him a fraud, or do we look back and call him God?
Therefore, despite the fact that I know that there are many things that I will not understand, I have faith that Jesus is God incarnate, because I choose to accept the bold claims of Christianity. Does this qualify as intellectual suicide? I don’t think so, not when atheism does the same thing but in the negative. We have the same evidence available to us – evidence that demands a response – and they have chosen to reject Christianity’s claims. From this point of view, agnosticism as a belief is not an end point, but at best a delay.
I’m not trying to offend anyone by this, I’m just trying to get you thinking about possible relationships between agnosticism and faith. Crucially, faith can exist alongside agnosticism…to a degree. In my life it is faith that helps me to accept the teachings of God even when I can’t understand Him completely. In a different way, I think that it’s faith that gives the atheist the confidence to assert that God doesn’t exist even when they can never know this for sure. Faith works in spite of agnosticism…one might exist that faith can only exist alongside agnosticism, that is, if we accept that faith is belief in things unseen and potentially uncertain.
If you are an agnostic reading this, then I would encourage you not to ignore the challenge that Christianity makes. It does not allow for an agnostic middle ground, but it does allow you to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Importantly, I believe that questions and doubts should not be swept under the carpet by a doctrinal broom, because faith can be at its most powerful when we admit that we don’t have all the answers.