Having grown up in a good Christian home and now blundering my way through adulthood, marriage and parenting, I have happened upon several points in my life when I became aware that I don’t believe what I once did. Belief is a funny thing like that. One day it just dawns on you, “I don’t believe that anymore.” I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. Having inherited whatever matrix of values and concerns growing up, whether explicitly religious or not, we, at various points, emerging into adulthood, find ourselves reflecting on and navigating through what we have inherited (and continue to inherit). Then one day, it happens. We realize that something we once thought was good and true just doesn’t fit anymore.
There has been a lot of movement on that front for me – a lot of those moments over and over again. Since my late teenage years, I have attempted to consistently reflect critically about big questions. A lot of conversations, thinking, reading, and living later… I’m to a place today that I can say I am an atheist with respect to the God I grew up with. That’s not to say that I don’t believe in God. I do. But with respect to the God that I believed in as a 19 year-old, I’m convinced that God does not exist.
I don’t mean to say that my thoughts about God have just changed significantly. No, so radical has this movement been for me, that the God I once believed in looks nothing like the God I know today. If the God I once believed in were the only God I could believe in, I surely could not.
Blame it on persistent curiosity or a pernicious need to try to sort things out, I don’t know, but I do know that the God I once believed in, I can no longer abide. I’m still as much of a Christ-follower as I ever have been, but the God that I now believe Jesus reveals is not the God I once believed in.
Back in March, I did a post on “Why I am an Agnostic.” Continuing that thought today…
Typically, “agnostic” refers to a personal disposition that is ambiguous or undecided on the matter of the existence of God. This is not how I’m attempting to employ the term, as I do believe in the God revealed by Jesus, the God of Abraham, the creator-god. I mean to use “agnostic” as a self-discriptor of a disposition of knowing, as an attempted approximation to the truth. To the “truth,” because I believe that we all relate to the same fundamental world, but “an attempted approximation,” because we all relate to the world from limited, situated, and traditioned contexts that inform our interpretation of the world, which, by the way, is just part-and-parcel of being human, and, I think it’s a good thing.
So, “What can I know of God?” If interpretation is un-circumventable, this “knowing” can’t be an applied science (ala modernity), and can’t be a “supernatural understanding.” In science, it’s “my pile of facts” vs. “your pile of facts.” In religion, it’s “my enlightened understanding” vs. “your enlightened understanding.” Everyone wants to make the appeal to some sort of ‘revelation.’
So, what is the ‘space’ of knowing?
To be continued…
If the choice I have before me is Theism vs. Atheism, then I choose Atheism. If I must first decide that “God exists” and then decide, “what God is this?” then I have nothing but to believe in no God at all.
I wish that all the Theists, Deists, and “higher-power” believers would join me in my Atheism. I wish they would join me in my rejection of the generic-god. For what is a belief like this?
But I want to be a certain kind of Atheist. One that rejects the generic-god but embraces the particular, for it’s only the particular that is believable. I believe in Jesus and this is what makes me an Atheist. Yet, I am also an Agnostic, (see Why I am an Agnostic).
There is a tension between God and I. Between the infinite and the finite. Between the perfect and the unperfected. What can I know of God? What can I apprehend of the divine? Who is this God, and what are these “facts” about God that can be conceived of? In a world full of “answers,” I must confess that anything that I could conceive or say of God, I conceive and say as a mere approximation to God.
Even then, how might I ‘ground’ these approximations? One says, “faith” and another says, “reason” and still another says, “faith and reason.” And yet another says, “scripture, faith, reason, experience, tradition, etc…” I find these “answers” disconcerting. They speak of these things, but by approaching what they speak of, have I really “found God”? Have I really begun to resolve the tension between God and I? Have I moved on from approximations of God? Even by the Spirit living in me, telling me that I am His, have I resolved this tension?
No. I must confess that I am an agnostic. But, I am an agnostic because I can’t know, and I can’t show you what God is ‘really’ like. When I speak of God, or I speak of Jesus, this is not who God IS, but yet it is something like who God is. When I have a relationship with God, this is not who God IS, yet it is something like who God is.
There is a tension between God and I. A tension that I’m OK with, and I think He’s OK with it too.