And I think I mean that quite literally.
The word comes from the Greek agnosis [α-γνωσις] which simply means “not knowing.”
Is there a God? Is there no God? We simply don’t know, if by “know,” we mean, “are certain about the facts.”
I am not sure why this is a scandalous thing to say. It seems quite biblical to me. In fact, the famous passage on faith in Hebrews 11 seems to say that faith can only exist for those who are agnostic.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible . . . 8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going . . . 13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised . . .”
If we believe that our Christianity consists of what we know then you will not be able to accept what I am saying here. But if our Christianity consists of how we live, then what I say may be more palatable. What makes one an agnostic, a Christian, or an atheist, is not whether or not we “know,” it is what we do with our “not knowing.” Or, as I have become accustom to saying, our faith is not in our “certainty” but in our “confidence,” and the difference between those two terms is relational trust.
As such, to me those who claim agnosticism are the least courageous of all. What they say is, to me, mundane, redundant and uninteresting. “I am agnostic. I don’t know if there is a God or not.” Yes. And?
Of course, what they generally mean is, “and so I will choose to stay as detached as possible from the whole conversation. I will hedge my bets.” And I find that to be an uninteresting mode of living. The atheist and Christian then are like the man who knows that he cannot know for sure if he will get hit by a car today, but goes out to live his life anyway. The agnostic is like the man who knows that he cannot know for sure if he will get hit by a car today, so he stays home. The atheist and Christian may calculate the odds differently, but they still go out.
And in this way, the Christian and the atheist are more alike than different. We are all agnostic. But it is only the Christian and the atheist who are willing to take a risk with their lives. They both courageously make an existential stand when no conclusions are available. Of course, I would argue that the atheist is only slightly more courageous than the agnostic and lacks imagination; they are not able to imagine that “with God, all things are possible,” and that “there is more to it than just this.”
So that the Christian is the most courageous of them all (as Hebrews 11 attests). The Christian thrusts her agnosticism onto God, not knowing, but believing, not understanding, but trusting. Instead of living by the rules of others, out-rationalizing the rationalists, out-sciencing the scientists, the Christian ought to celebrate her ability to create new rules, to out-imagine those without imagination. And this is not because we have more knowledge, it is because we have more trust.
I understand this may not be the Christianity that most Americans are used to.
In fact, everything I have said might sound downright anti-Christian. And maybe it is. I just don’t know.