Friday, April 8, 2011

Why I am an Agnostic Theist Moving Towards Christianity and “Jesus Rediscovered”.

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

"These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8, NIV)


Agnostic Theism

Agnostic theism is the philosophical view that encompasses both theism and agnosticism. An agnostic theist believes the proposition at least one deity exists is true, but per agnosticism also believes that this proposition is unknown or inherently unknowable. The agnostic theist may also or alternatively be agnostic regarding the properties of the god(s) they believe in…..The classical philosophical understanding of knowledge is that knowledge is justified true belief. By this definition, it is reasonable to assert that one may hold a belief, and that belief may be true, without asserting that one knows it....Christian Agnostics (distinct from a Christian who is agnostic) practice a distinct form of agnosticism that applies only to the properties of God. They hold that it is difficult or impossible to be sure of anything beyond the basic tenets of the Christian faith. They believe that God exists, that Jesus has a special relationship with him and is in some way divine, that God should be worshiped and that humans should be compassionate toward one another. This belief system has deep roots in Judaism and the early days of the Church


Many people seem to believe that the term “agnostic theist” is a contradiction in terms. The English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley first coined the term "agnostic" in 1869, though the concept goes back to well before the time of Christ. Huxley wrote , attempting to explain this concept:

When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis,"–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble.

So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of "agnostic." It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the "gnostic" of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant. To my great satisfaction the term took.


Richard Dawkins apparently considers “temporary agnosticism” as acceptable, but “permanent agnosticism” as unacceptable. In other words, given enough learning, time and effort, one should “naturally” be led to atheism, and to avoid this conclusion is “fence-sitting, intellectual cowardice”. My counter-argument to that would be, well about people like Antony Flew? As another example, let’s imagine an old man who lived in a village all his life, and claimed to be atheist. What if he had a miraculous heavenly visitation, or some kind of miraculous or supernatural experience which convinced him to reconsider his atheistic view? Dawkins would consider this “impossible”, because he (Dawkins) operates on a fixed paradigm; one that can never, and should never change once one “knows” all “the facts”.

Michael Shermer , another “supernatural denier” (I’m parodying Dawkins’ “history deniers” here), has recently written:

In all fields of science there is a residue of anomalies unexplained by the dominant theory. That does not mean the prevailing theory is wrong or that alternative theories are right. It just means that more work needs to be done to bring those anomalies into the accepted paradigm. In the meantime, it is okay to live with the uncertainty that not everything has an explanation.


Shermer apparently doesn’t even realise his absolute dogma here, so let me make it clear to the reader: “It just means that more work needs to be done to bring those anomalies into the accepted paradigm.” In other words, if something doesn’t fit into a naturalistic paradigm (i.e., nothing supernatural can ever occur), then we have to “work” to bring it into “the accepted paradigm”. In other words, both Shermer and Dawkins will define for the rest of us intellectual trilobites what “reality” is, and anything outside their paradigm is “nonsense”. One good thing about modern atheists is that they don’t believe in stake burning, but they totally fail to see how their dogma is in spirit indistinguishable from medieval inquisitions about what is “acceptable” or “unacceptable”.

I don’t know what the rest of you folks think, but I think the “scientific” dogma pedaled by the likes of Dawkins and Shermer are just as hollow as the dogma pedaled by the Church. Bear in mind that I’m not denigrating science, per se, only the idea that we can find absolute truth in science, and if you look very carefully at what I have quoted so far, you will see that this is indeed what both Dawkins and Shermer advocate, that one can only find truth within certain “acceptable paradigms”, and one that must totally discount the possibility of the supernatural, and their devoted disciples love them for it, almost to the point of worship. The amount of recorded miraculous and supernatural phenomena they have to deny, through all recorded history, to maintain this dogma, is nothing short of mind-boggling! Perhaps the least they could do, to be objective, is to be agnostic regarding things for which there seems to be powerful witness evidence. But no, they must ridicule and deny any such possibility because it doesn’t fit their “acceptable paradigm”. “I didn’t see it happen”, to them means, “it cannot happen”.

Let me put a whole new light on Eric Hoffer here:

To most of us nothing is so invisible as an unpleasant truth. Though it is held before our eyes, pushed under our noses, rammed down our throats- we know it not.

The Passionate State of Mind, aph. 59 (1955)


For though ours is a godless age, it is the very opposite of irreligious. The true believer is everywhere on the march, and both by converting and antagonizing he is shaping the world in his own image. And whether we are to line up with him or against him, it is well that we should know all we can concerning his nature and potentialities. (The True Believer)
.

It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs.(Ibid.)


The truth seems to be that propaganda on its own cannot force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something wholly new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe. It penetrates only into minds already open, and rather than instil opinion it articulates and justifies opinions already present in the minds of its recipients. The gifted propagandist brings to a boil ideas and passions already simmering in the minds of his hearers. He echoes their innermost feelings. Where opinion is not coerced, people can be made to believe only in what they already "know." (Ibid.)


Now on to why I remain an agnostic theist. The main reason is that I believe that we are infinitesimally small and insignificant creatures who live on an obscure planet in the Milky Way Galaxy, and cannot possibly comprehend “ultimate” truth in the universe, much less “ultimate” truth in a theoretical multi-verse

I believe in God, not because I “know” God exists, but as per the above definitions of agnostic theism. I believe that in this state of existence, almost as mere microbes in a possibly boundless multi-verse, we can no more comprehend its designs and purposes any more than an ant can comprehend a super highway being built above it, or a dog can understand Newtonian physics, which, incidentally, was Darwin’s real position:

With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.– I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I [should] wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.— Let each man hope & believe what he can.
(Emphasis added)

Dawkins would have you believe that Darwin would be atheist if he were alive today, yet the man known as “the world’s most famous atheist”, Antony Flew, converted to theism several years before he died. This should alert everyone to the fact that the issues are not quite so simple and clear-cut, and that even the most intelligent atheist may be forced to reconsider lifelong personal dogma.

I was raised Catholic, but converted to Mormonism at the age of 20. I “officially” abandoned Mormonism in 1987, yet I still retain a healthy respect for the basic teachings of all the world’s religions. I do not see exclusive and absolute truth in any of them, but because of my biased Catholic upbringing, I have to admit that I’m very biased towards the man known as “Jesus of Nazareth”. Even though doubts surround the historicity of Jesus, I personally see in his teachings the solution to many the world’s social ills. I’m not about to endorse Malcolm Muggeridge, especially his support of Mother Theresa, but I think this is worth nothing from his book Jesus Rediscovered

It is with the utmost trepidation and diffidence that I have collected together these miscellaneous pieces all directly or indirectly concerned with my attitude towards, and feelings about, the Christian religion. They do not set out to present a coherent, or even consistent, statement of faith. I am well aware that they are often contradictory, repetitive and imprecise; I have deliberately refrained from trying to trim and prune them into conveying an impression of coherence and consistency which would falsify my own actual mental state. All they represent and it's little enough is the effort of one ageing twentieth-century mind to give expression to a deep dissatisfaction with prevailing twentieth-century values and assumptions, and a sense that there is an alternative propounded two thousand years ago by the Sea of Galilee and on the hill called Golgotha.


What I marvel at is the number proclaiming themselves “Christian”, who have not even read the Gospels, much less the New Testament, and who have not, it appears, the faintest understanding of what Jesus really taught. His message was, primarily, one of forgiveness and love, as exemplified in the parable of the prodigal son; his condemnation of Pharisaic rule-living at the expense of the spirit of the law; his willingness to accept “publicans and sinners”, not to justify them, but to let them know that God loves them, and that they could probably live far more productive lives, and not least of all, that he was willing to die to save the repentant . When some of his disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume the unbelievers, his response was, “you know not what manner of spirit you are of, For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” (Luke 9:55).

In my opinion, many of the Christian religions created are only poor mimicry of the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. But it may be better to have poor mimicry than total unbelief, though I’m sure some will disagree. So, yes, I do have to confess that I have an “agnostic theist” faith in Jesus too. I cannot prove that he even existed, and I can prove nothing to the satisfaction of the skeptics. All I can say is that I think he did possess “the words of Eternal Life”, and that “the first shall be last, and the last first”, and no one can take their salvation for granted. The “idol-worshipping” Roman Centurion had more faith than the “chosen ones” who rejected Jesus.

I suppose, like the aging Muggeridge, I’ve sort of “rediscovered Jesus” (and, ironically, at about the same age), and I have done this not only because of my scriptural readings and re-readings, but because of practical life-experience. We fail and fail, time and time again, yet in Christ there is still hope of redemption; redemption from the misery and despair that mortal life can be. He is willing to give us all a chance at life, even Eternal Life, when everyone else has given up on us.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)


And a thought from Mormon scripture:

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged. (The Book of Mormon, Moroni 7)



To be real frank, I see little hope for humanity, and our long term survival, unless we learn and inculcate the teachings of Jesus. One can look for all the evidence for or against this man; his very existence, or even his teachings, but I would agree that, 2,000 years later, "no man ever spoke like this man" (John 7:46).

Link: Irrational Atheists on the Loose?

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