Sunday, July 13, 2008

True Agnosticism

At around the age of fourteen I flirted with atheism. I did not hold to that position for very long, probably due to an innate sense of integrity. I knew that I perceived the reality in which I lived from a finite perspective. I simply could not know enough to make the absolute declaration that God did not exist.

It was at that point in my life that I adopted an attitude of agnosticism. I recognized that I did not know if God did or did not exist. I eventually expanded that philosophy to become what I referred to as True Agnosticism. This became the starting point of my spiritual quest.

Keep in mind that I was still a child at this point in my intellectual growth. I had thought through the implications of science. I loved the trappings and language of science. The romance of science. However, the limits of time and space denied me the prospect of answering my deepest questions through science. Science defined the how of things, but did not often touch on the why.

I wanted both.

So, I approached the world in which I lived with as few preconceptions as I could manage. I tried to be a blank slate, awaiting some spontaneous automatic writing to inform my carefully cultivated ignorance. I also tried to eliminate my emotions as much as possible. They appeared to me to be irrational, and inclined to inform my experiences in ways that were not conducive to gaining knowledge.

Of course, I was just making my best guesses as to how to “build a philosophy.” I suspect that such is pretty much the way it is done if you don’t have a master to follow.

As a True Agnostic, I determined the best way to examine systems of thinking and believing was by acting as if I believed the basic tenets of that system. I first attempted to explore Hinduism. Unfortunately, the same limits applied. I was young, and I was finite in time and space. Still, I preceded as best I could in my blindness and ignorance.

During this unguided period of exploration I moved from place to place. While my personal focus was a vague quest for “Truth,” I was also compelled to live a human life. I lacked a guide, and was in many ways floundering in a great and confusing sea of possibilities.

In the midst of this turmoil I made the acquaintance of a follower of Jesus. This happened at a strange confluence of human events that became known as The Jesus Movement. I was ripe for evangelism. Christianity was on my list of systems to explore. As a True Agnostic I adopted the Christian beliefs as they were explained to me.

Over time, as I explored Christianity doctrinally and historically, many of those beliefs became my beliefs. However, I never adopted the evangelical culture as my own. I recognized many rifts in the overall Christian system, and again faced the daunting task of sorting it all out as a finite being.

It is still something I wrestle with.

In retrospect, my greatest error was adopting the preconception that human emotions were bad and to be eliminated. Granted, they are complicating. However, I have come to recognize that we are largely emotional beings, and stunting my own emotional growth was neither healthy nor was it profitable.

True Agnosticism is a valid perspective in that it recognizes the value of ignorance. If we begin with the statement “I don’t know” and move honestly forward from there, we can gain knowledge with perspective. Ignorance establishes a baseline.

True Agnosticism may be adopted at times to assess our own preconceptions. If I drive myself back to ignorance, and move carefully forward, I can more honestly assess what I believed to be true before I began examining my experiences.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of True Agnosticism is that it compels honesty. We really don’t know much, and assessing what we think we know from a baseline of “I don’t know” can show up the weak points in whatever belief structure we are currently living within.

Is True Agnosticism a good way of thinking for everybody?

I don’t know.

3 comments:

priyanka said...
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rgmann said...

Hi Michael,

I found your blog through your post on my Pastor’s blog, Reepicheep (Tony Felich). I’ve only read a few of your posts so far, but you seem like a very interesting guy. After reading what you had to say on “True Agnosticism,” I thought you might be interested in reading the following online book by Vincent Cheung entitled “Ultimate Questions”. You may not agree with everything he has to say, but it’s a very interesting read and will definitely get you to think about this issue from a different perspective (by the way, I happen to agree with pretty much everything that Cheung says in this book). Here’s a few excerpts demonstrating his basic premise, which he thoroughly fleshes out in the rest of the book:

“Only the Christian conception of God, as revealed by God himself in Scripture, is consistent with a God that possesses all knowledge, and at the same time makes knowledge possible for man. In God dwells "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). Since God has all knowledge, he requires no one greater – there is no one greater – to justify his knowledge. His absolute sovereignty implies that he wills what he knows, that he knows what he wills, and that there can be no error in his knowledge. At the same time, "the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever" in the words of Scripture (Deuteronomy 29:29), and so we have knowledge as well. God has all knowledge – his knowledge consists of what he wills – and our knowledge consists of what he wills to reveal.”

“On the other hand, since non-Christian religions and philosophies cannot produce an adequate and defensible – not to say infallible – epistemology, on the basis of non-Christian thought, there can be no knowledge at all. If non-Christian systems of thought cannot provide a foundation for knowledge – if they cannot know anything – then they cannot even begin or produce any content. If they cannot begin or have any content, then they can pose no challenge to Christianity. Without an adequate and defensible – and even infallible – epistemology, it remains that no intelligible proposition can be uttered on the basis of non-Christian worldviews, let alone objections against the Christian faith…”

“However, since all non-Christian worldviews (including all non-Christian religions and philosophies) are without any ultimate justification, there is really nothing to prevent them from collapsing into total skepticism, but one cannot remain a skeptic because skepticism self-destructs – it is self-contradictory to affirm that we know that we cannot know. Only Christianity rescues the intellect from complete skepticism; therefore, rather than depending on a non-Christian foundation to construct a case for the biblical
worldview, the Christian adopts the revelational epistemology of biblical infallibility.”

By the way, I noticed from your profile that you’re a Correctional Officer in California. That’s interesting. Where at? I grew up in San Jose myself, and worked 3 years as a Military Police Officer and 8 years as a Correctional Officer in the U.S. Army. Also, for the past 13 years I’ve worked as a Federal Correctional Officer at the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas. So we have something in common! Take care, and let me know if you decide to read Cheung’s book and what you think of his argument.

Roger Mann
rgmann at kc.rr.com

pboyfloyd said...

“Only the Nazi conception of der Fuhrer, as revealed by der Fuhrer himself in Mein Kampf, is consistent with der Fuhrer that possesses all knowledge, and at the same time makes knowledge possible for man. In der Fuhrer dwells "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Mein Kampf). Since der Fuhrer has all knowledge, he requires no one greater – there is no one greater – to justify his knowledge. His absolute sovereignty implies that he wills what he knows, that he knows what he wills, and that there can be no error in his knowledge. At the same time, "the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever" in the words of Mein Kampf (Mein Kampf), and so we have knowledge as well. der Fuhrer has all knowledge – his knowledge consists of what he wills – and our knowledge consists of what he wills to reveal.”