Saturday, September 25, 2010

Letter to a Christian Friend

As some readers may know, I grew up Christian, mostly among Mennonites in the Midwest. I even attended a Mennonite Bretheren college, and count many of my friends from that time as dear friends still. But I no longer share their faith.

Some friends still gently nudge me toward faith. And I understand the good intent of their efforts, even if it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I received one of those nudges today -- and I responded thus. The letter is lightly modified to omit unnecessary details:

Hi Friend:

It's true that I'm not too enamored of how many, perhaps most, Christians choose to live their faith. It seems at odds -- to me -- with the ethic of Jesus that I find in the Bible. But that's not the fundamental reason I'm in my current rather faithless state.

I think the best way to describe me now is "apathetic agnostic." That is: I simply don't know whether there is a God or not. And it seems to me that if there is a God, that God has chosen to reveal himself (I'll skip gender-neutral language here for the sake of simplicity) at something of a distance from my own 2010 existence. Because of that, it seems to me that time spent trying to deduce the details of God and God's wishes is akin to debating the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin. (The answer is 19, by the way.) I feel -- at this point in my life -- that my time is better served facing the solid facts of the real life that I live.

And I've made something of a reverse Pascal's Wager along these lines. Pascal decided to go with Christianity because if it was right, he guaranteed himself an afterlife and if it was wrong, well, no harm done. My wager: If there IS a God -- as big and amazing as all the religions would have us believe -- then that God probably isn't going to be particularly concerned with the particulars of my belief system and wouldn't punish me anyway.

And if there is a God, and that God decided to punish me because I didn't love HIM, or because I didn't have precisely the correct way of understanding him or obeying him -- even though our last overtly direct communication with him came over 2,000 years ago -- perhaps that God isn't worth worshipping. Powerful abusers are still abusers.

Now: I know you'll disagree with the details of this. A couple of thoughts:

* My current way of thinking isn't the result of not having a good understanding of the Bible or the church. I spent 30 years of my life immersed in both. I understand the arguments that might be made against the scenario I just presented -- at one time, I made those arguments.

* I don't explain myself here in an attempt to persuade you. I still feel a keen responsibility not to cause my brother to stumble; I have no interest in undermining anybody's faith -- though I will challenge them if I feel their faith is used for sinister ends. But I do want to explain to you my thinking.

Now, all of this might be temporary. I've gone from being a fervent Christian to an agnostic in the span of 20 years, and I cannot discount the possibility of a return trip. I know there are many people who pray for just such an event -- and I appreciate the spirit of their intent, even if the action causes me some discomfort.

But: This is who I am right now.

With respect and affection,

1 comment:

DOTDOT said...

Agnosticism is not antithetical to faith. It is at the core of faith. Pascal was a cynic, but the argument has been played to me over the years as a foundation for belief. Believe or perish.

But what is believe? Believe is not faith. Believe is a profession of allegiance to a belief system. Adherents of these belief systems deride non-adherents as unbelievers, mistaking God for precepts attempting to define god.

Such tribal urges are fundamental to civilization, and have manifested in the development of religion and the blood shed in support of it. The folly of man is that we can understand God, yet we must offer the illusion that we do so we can teach our children and harass our neighbors. The protection of these illusions has created wars, destroyed families, and seeded multi billion dollar lawsuits over the abuse of children.

True faith accepts and embraces unbelief. True faith acknowledges that the only thing we know about God is that we know nothing about God. True faith accepts the consequences of not knowing our fate, but living ethically for the sole sake of manifesting goodness. True faith needs no lies to embellish or sell God. True faith accepts the humility inherent in the human experience.

There are those that say we cannot exist without God. While that may be true, it's a mistake to equate God with religion. I say, and I paraphrase Lennon, imagining no religion is not imagining no God, it is imagining no bullshit.

Agnosticism is a stigma suggesting uncertainty. Well, I must beg some pardon. Just because I'm an agnostic doesn't mean my faith doesn't run deep and wide. But I am certain I do not know the nature of God, and in this certainty I experience God.