Posts Tagged ‘Agnostic’

I have asked around to see what questions people would like to see answered through this blog. So, this is the first in a series of the questions that people have asked to have answered.

This question can be taken on a number of levels so I hope I can cover most of the angles. My first reaction was that I believe that religion is a human construct. Religion to me, along with many others has negative associations and connotations. To me religion is man’s reaction to the belief that God exists. If you strip Christianity down to it’s essentials all the bells and shackles fall away and you are left with a simple relationship between you and God through Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit. You don’t need rituals and doctrines, church buildings and church meetings. You don’t need the bells and smells, the lectionaries and holy days. Now, this is not to say that all these things are not helpful to people in their relationship with God, but they are not essential. In fact sometimes the trimmings of Christianity can get in the way of the relationship which needs to be at the centre. Christianity is less about religion and more about relationship.

So, I don’t need irrefutable proof that religion is man-made because I already believe that it is. Having said all that I know that that reading of the question was not what was meant. So, let me rephrase the question to hopefully bring about a little clarity for myself. What if the idea of the existence of God is a purely made up concept by man? What if irrefutable proof were found that God didn’t exist but was just a man-made idea?”

I have found this question quite a difficult one to get my head around. In some respects, for me, it’s been like trying to think of a new colour – a concept that is almost impossible to do. The piece I struggle with is the concept of finding irrefutable proof. Where would it come from? What would it look like? Would everyone accept it as irrefutable? In general terms it is far easier to prove that something exists than doesn’t exist. Photographs, film, footprints and I guess ultimately a body would prove to most people of the existence of the Abominable Snowman. However, what proof could there ever be that it didn’t exist?

People for thousands of years have tried to prove that God doesn’t exist. With all man’s intelligence, resources and theories no-one has even come close. In many ways Christians and Atheists are in the same boat. They both have strongly held beliefs that have no proof. They are either as wise or as stupid as each other. Both have weighed up the evidence and have drawn different, opposing, conclusions. The main difference, as I see it, is this. Some of you will have read this analogy before, but please bear with me.

When it comes to belief and faith I like to use the analogy of a chair. It’s perhaps because I’m quite a big guy so it is more relevant to me than others, but I hope you’ll understand the gist if it. When it comes to the question of belief in God billions of people around the world would say they believed in Him. Yet for only a much smaller percentage of the world’s population does that belief have any real meaning. Billions of people believe in God but far fewer have faith or trust in Him. Here is where the chair comes in. When it comes to a chair or a stool or anything you can sit on, when considering sitting on it we have to believe that it will take our weight. We don’t want to end up in a pile on the floor along with the remains of a chair that didn’t quite do the job. As a bigger than average chap I have to consider this more than most, especially when it comes to camping chairs or chairs that look less than robust. I can pick a chair up, examine it from every angle, pull it about, check the joints and even read the label for it’s weight limit. I can come to a stage where I can look at the chair and wholeheartedly believe that it will hold my weight. It is not, however, until I sit in the chair that I can be said to have moved from that belief in the strength of the chair to having faith that it will hold my weight. So it is with many people’s belief in God. They believe in His existence but have not yet moved to faith in Him. It is one thing to believe in God but another thing to put that belief into action by having faith in Him.

So with the Atheist they look at the chair, examine the chair, test it a little, read the safety label and come to the conclusion that the chair won’t hold their weight. With the Christian they also examine the chair, test it, read the safety label and come to the conclusion that the chair may well take their weight. However, for the engaged Christian they then take that belief a step further and sit down on the chair. It might feel a little wobbly, for a while they may feel uncertain that the chair will hold their weight but eventually the proof is in the sitting. Either the chair holds or it doesn’t. So, although in the testing of the chair the potential atheist and potential Christian are in the same boat it is when the Atheist walks away and the Christian sits that the difference occurs. The Atheist doesn’t continue his journey finding more and more proof for the non-existence of God. They don’t even continue, in a meaningful way, to experience the non-existence of God. However, for the Christian as they sit on the chair they start a journey where they begin to see God at work. They see prayers answered, they see prophesy fulfilled, they see things recorded in the Bible coming true, they experience the touch of God. Lots of little things that happen build up into an overall belief that God is real and working in their lives. Now, the atheist, quite understandably, will put this down to psychological factors, delusion, hype, hysteria and many other factors. However, to a Christian they are the same feelings as love, pain and fear. Things that you can’t always understand but are as real to you as anything you experience in the physical world.

Therefore, it is extremely hard to imagine irrefutable proof existing. It would be like finding irrefutable proof that pain or love didn’t exist. Once you have experienced something it is almost impossible to imagine not having experienced it. So, having said all that let me imagine that a proof did come forward that proved, without any shadow of a doubt, that God did not exist and that he was just a construct of the human imagination.

How does anyone react to something so huge? Something that was the centre of your life, that informed your thinking and your actions suddenly being swiped from under you. I guess you’ll get a much more objective answer now than if it really did happen. In the short term there would be a mixture of disbelief, confusion, anger, fear, despair, disappointment and so on. There would then follow a slow process of realignment where I’d have to get used to a new world view. However, in the long term I guess that not too much in my life would change on a day to day level. So why is that?

Many people who believe there is no God or just don’t know see religion as this big evil that suppresses the masses, spreads lies and is general a bad thing. However, and I’m speaking solely for Christianity here, I believe that the teachings of the Christian faith are basically an excellent way in which to live. If the Bible were proven to be a man written, man inspired, totally human creation I would still have to say that whoever wrote it was an extremely wise and informed person. I believe that if people followed the teaching of the Bible, whether they believed in the God behind it or not, the world would be a much better place. I have always found it hard to understand how someone, or indeed a society, with no faith can decide on the nature of right and wrong, just and unjust. This is not a criticism or saying that people with faith are better moral people. In fact the opposite is true. Christians have the perfect reason and motive to do good and yet we still do wrong. If you live in a society with no faith, no moral compass what is it that stops you living solely for yourself? How do you decide that it’s wrong to be cruel to animals but OK to eat them. What makes a civilised country civilised? How would a faithless society make laws and why would people abide by them? Most people would agree that they have within them a sense of decency, of right and wrong, good and bad etc. but where does that come from? Who is to say person A’s sense of right is better than person B’s when they differ? Having come to terms with there being no God these are the things that I would really struggle with.

So, I think my everyday actions (apart from dropping the Church services!!) would change very little. I would still believe that it was better to give than receive, love than hate, live at peace not war, care rather than ignore, treat people as I would like to be treated. I would still hold onto the teaching that it is a good thing not to murder, steal, lie, covet, commit adultery etc.

However, I believe that there would be a huge gap in my understanding of this world if I knew God did not exist. I do not believe science holds all the answers. The questions of Why am I here? What’s the point? Why bother? Why believe this? Why not live entirely for myself? What is my purpose? Why don’t we all just end it here? How do I decide what is moral and not? All of these questions and so many more would keep coming back to me again and again. Christianity doesn’t give you all the answers, far from it. However, the non-existence of God would create far far more. So I guess, at least in the short to mid-term I would feel lost, aimless and maybe even purposeless. I would need to find a point of reference from somewhere else. Things that I took for granted as being important because the Bible says they are such as family, honesty, other people, integrity, our planet, leaders and so on would have a huge question mark over them. Are these things important just because we’ve grown up being told that they are? What tells me what is important, moral, ethical or not? A government who changes it’s mind from year to year? The majority? Those who shout the loudest?

At the end of the day I believe that there will never be irrefutable proof that God doesn’t exist. For thousands of years people have been seeking for that proof it without success, who is to say that that won’t change. I also believe that proof will not be found (in this life) of the existence of God. Living as a Christian, I believe, takes nothing away from my life but in facts adds to it. I don’t sit around longing to do things that I’m not allowed to but I have had my life enriched by the Christian journey, by people I’ve met, experiences I’ve had and the comfort, peace and hope that my faith has given me. I personally believe that it is better to live with hope than live with no hope. Even, at the end of the day, if it is false hope.

I guess I must finish with the reverse of the question. What if irrefutable evidence existed that God did exist? How would that change your life? I suppose at the end of time or the end of our lives we will all get an answer. Either God exists in some form or other or He doesn’t. If the Christian is wrong and the Atheist is right then I guess the end of the story lies in a wooden box and a hole in the ground where the Christian and the Atheist lay side by side. Both having lead, more or less, the life that they wanted to. If the reverse is true though and the Christian is right and the Atheist is wrong then at death the story is much different. I don’t believe in God just so that if it just happens to be true I will go to heaven. Belief in God is not my insurance policy. I believe in God because all I have read, heard, seen, and experience point to the existence of God. I have seen the chair, tested it and have finally sat in it. It took my weight and I have continued to sit in it. I don’t believe in God to keep me from hell or from rotting in the ground, but it sure does make me think!!

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So, you came back for more.  Curious to read my response to my Agnostic friend?  (See last week’s post – Part 1 of 2 – for his side.)

Here is how I responded to my dear friend:

I know you said you couldn’t help but think that it (one of my own blog posts) was specifically directed to you.  Honestly, yes, a small portion of it was written with you in mind as well as knowing that I have many friends and family who could possibly be reading it that think very much like you…

I must say, I am glad to hear that you took me up on the challenge.  That’s more what I was fishing to find out than anything.  Did you read the whole book, or did your gauntlet stop you “in the beginning”? (That was a pretty good pun, if I do say so myself!)

Seriously, though, as far as answers to all of your questions and points made…I do not and will not pretend to have them.  (As I have said before, I have had many of the same thoughts and questions myself over the years.)  Neither will I attempt to proselytize you, as I know you likewise are not doing to me.  I merely am here to share with you the Essence of who I am – Jesus in me.  Though I cannot begin to battle wits with you in the intellectual realms, nor do I want to – battle with you is the farthest thing from what I would ever want (I, of course, mean that in a very complimentary and endearing way.)…I merely can share with you why I am the person that you know and are kindred spirits with.  How you chose to respond to that is, well, not something I intend to try to force a certain direction, nor is it of my concern. I respect your very thoroughly contemplated and eloquently expressed views and honestly do not feel it is my responsibilty to change them.

  • Yes, I do whole-heartedly believe there is a God and that He loves me (and you and all of the world – John 3:16) and that He is working out His divine plan in my life (as in everyone’s) every minute of every day.  (I know all of that opens up several more cans of worms, but I am just stating who I am and what I believe.  I leave the cans of worms up to Him.)
  • My life is not defined by my death, rather by His death on the cross for me (John 3:16).
  • And because my life is defined by my acceptance of His gift of His death on the cross, my life is truly now and forever an eternal life.
  • And, because of His death, I may die a physical death (even before I have the chance to see you again, or not) but I now and forever am free from having to pay the ultimate price of spiritual death and eternal separation from God that is the price of my inherent sin-nature.
  • I at one time worked very hard to believe that there was nothing beyond this life and no meaning to my existence, because that for me was much easier (in a sense) than living with the knowledge that I would one day face my Maker and have to give an answer as to why I did not choose to accept His costly-to-Him yet free-to-me gift.
  • Honestly, though, for me, convincing myself of the nothingness of life and existence was a very tiring and difficult struggle. Something always, deep down, ate at me and would not let me ultimately and deeply believe what I was trying so hard to believe.  I had many of my own “gauntlets”, as you so cleverly and accurately call them, that would be thrown down in my face right and left.  I was just never at peace, not once, the entire time I was trying so hard to believe in a way that seemed to lend itself to the most peaceful, freeing, and consequence-less life possible.  I read things, even in the Bible, that I attempted to use to prove what I so wanted to believe, but ultimately, for me, it was all a dead end…a dead end that lead to life, that is.
  • I cannot begin to explain to you in words what it feels like to have “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), but I can only hope that one day you may come to experience that for yourself.
  • I cannot begin to describe to you in words what it is like to know and feel “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3) who is always with me – Emmanuel.
  • I cannot begin to accurately explain to you in words what it is like to pray, not just seeking an answer – though those often do come, rather just to pray – to talk to the One who knows me better than anyone on this earth ever could (because He made me just the way I am, my faults and all, just like He intended for me to be) – to cry to Him, knowing He understands every struggle I face and that He, because He was once on this earth as a human (as is so well chronicled in the Book of John), understands so truly those human emotional as well as physical experiences that I have.
  • These are all things I cannot explain to you in words as much as I may try, because they are things you just have to experience for yourself to understand.
  • I realize you may not agree that there is any legitimacy to experiences such as these, at least in your own life, but all I can say is that they are very real and very legitimate in my life.
  • I would never want to nor try to force you to feel these things for yourself by succumbing to agreeing with me on anything or everything I have put forth.  However, because of what I know in my heart to be true, I can only hope that you, my very dear friend, can and will also one day come to experience my God for all He is and even come to a point that (one can dream, can’t she!?!) you will even call Him your God one day. Not because I want so bad to be right, nor that I want to say “I told you so” or anything at all like that, rather because I know the love and peace and freedom that comes with knowing and accepting Him and the gift He offers us all.
Again, I must remind you that, as much as it may sometimes seem otherwise, I truly am not trying to proselytize you, rather I am merely sharing my heart and the Essence of who I am with you, for all it is worth.
Because of Who He is,
Haelie

Remember the challenge I issued a few posts back?  The one in which I challenged you to read the Book/Gospel of John in the Bible.  If not, you can click HERE to go back and read it briefly.

So, have you taken the challenge?  Have you started to read John, finished reading it, or do you at least plan to read it?

My dear Agnostic friend did.

I have a close friend who is a professed Agnostic and is also one of my most faithful blog readers.  Upon reading my first few posts (on my separate blog “To Not Decide…Is To Decide“), he replied in length to some of my points.  Here in today’s post, I will share with you one specific response I received from him.  Then, in Part 2 of this, I will share with you my reply to him.

Without further adieu, here is his very thorough, intellectual, Agnostic thought process about God and things related to Him:

Upon reading your last entry I couldn’t help but think that it was specifically directed to me (for the rest of you this is based on other off-line conversations). It’s not so much that the gauntlet has been thrown by you its more that it has been there already, in front of me, for a long time now. Yes, I began reading the Bible. Yes, I began with John 1 as found on the site you mentioned. And, yes, I immediately stumbled over my gauntlet. Who would have guessed!

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

Short. Sweet. But fraught with nagging uncertainties (my gauntlet). God is used in the singular, with the presupposition that this one god was there from the beginning. If so, why did he decide to allow the ancient cultures to practice polytheism and pantheism for so many millennia? When did he decide “Ok, enough of this fun. Let’s get down to business…” If he was there from the beginning why was he so loathe to make it apparent that he was there? What ever happened to all these ‘other gods’? Weren’t they real for those who believed in them? Is the belief in many gods any more false/true then the belief in one god? (For an interesting perspective on where these gods are, I’ll challenge you to read the novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman.) Then…

What relevance, if any, does God (any god, pick a god) have today? This question, for me, goes way beyond Belief and Faith. Strip away B/F and it runs to the pure, elemental core of the matter – existence. Why do we exist at all? This is a terrifying question when taken on its own, in freefall with no ground below, for us to answer. It causes anguish. It causes dread. This Nothingness we face, out of which all else emerges and where all returns is the cause of this dread and anguish.

We truly exist. But concomitant with this is the crushing onus of inescapable uncertainty; save for one thing – our eventual annihilation, our death (and taxes if you’re a comedian). Our life is defined by our death. We wonder why there Something rather than Nothing. We are always afraid that the notion of what-is (our being-here) will slip into the what-is-not (our being-not-here).

Our being-here, the Something, is continuously being defined by Nothingness. Humans have the remarkable capacity of self-creation. This is a standard feature of human existence. We are the only beings that can define our essence. We can be what-we-are. Essence follows existence. We create the purpose of the Something.

We have the ability to become what-we-are-not-today. It’s our choice to become what-we-are-not from what-we-are. You are not the same person you where twenty years ago. You will not be the same person you are today twenty years from now. Temporality places further stress on this process of becoming. This also is quite onerous to accept – a total commitment to self-responsibility, self-determination. We were thrust into Somethingness as freewheeling entities; free to exist as being-here for ourselves. (This is does not come capriciously… there is an element of moral obligation… yet another troublesome burden to shoulder). Sometimes all this self-authenticity is just too much to comprehend, too much to bear. This now leads back to the thought began two paragraphs ago.

God (any god, pick a god) solves many of these existential problems because with him at the helm of the Universe the conflict between Something vs Nothing is suddenly ‘answered’. It comforts us that some greater power is handling all these messy details of our being-here. It’s all a matter of how our being-here, existence, is interpreted. With god in the mix, our Humanness is explained by essence preceding existence.

It is only within this latter notion that B/F can take hold. It is much easier to allow our being-here to be in someone else’s hands; divine or temporal. It allows prayer to be meaningful. For, after all, praying is a statistical coin toss with only one of two options available to it every time it’s employed. Either the prayer is answered or the prayer is not answered. If answered to your satisfaction it then strengthens the belief that there is a god. But, interestingly enough, the opposite corollary is not assumed – if the prayer is not answered the one praying does not announce that it disproves god but rather the blame is placed on the one praying. The faith was not strong enough (doubt), some past event was viewed unfavorably (moral failing), disingenuousness in the request, etc. But, worst of all, prayer can be the complete abrogation of our responsibility, the annulment of self-determination, if you allow its answer to be the final arbiter. (The answer it self, is totally meaningful/meaningless due solely to your interpretation of it. Hmmm, back to that troublesome Self again.)

For when I choose to decide or not to decide I am still responsible for the decision I make. Only within the realm of Self can I choose with any authenticity to follow whatever advice I receive from whomever I ask it of.

So, now that you have read the true and deep thoughts of an Agnostic–some of which may be your own thoughts as well–I challenge you to continue to come back here on What If…Wednesdays (and anytime in between) so that you can catch Part 2 of this Conversation between an Agnostic and a Christian.

After all, there are two sides to every story, and you have not yet heard my heartfelt, respectful reply to his side.

Come back to read it soon…

Answers…

Posted: June 7, 2010 by Haelie in What About..., What If...
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I want to share a response I wrote via email to a friend of mine who is a professed Agnostic and reads my blog faithfully.  He has had two very good comments/replies that he tried to post to a couple of different posts of mine, but…in case you didn’t know…Blogger’s comment fields do not accept more than 4,096 characters!!!  (My blog is a Blogger blog, not WordPress)  So, instead he emailed his comments/replies to me.  I really wish his would have fit, as they have some very interesting and probably commonly shared thoughts in them.  So, in order to let you in a bit on his thoughts and my responses, I will just have to share some snip-its with you that you may find of interest.  I believe my friend of whom I am speaking will not mind a bit, as like I said, he attempted to share his comments publicly himself.

What I am actually going to primarily share with you right now is a portion of my response to one of his comments.  So, keep in mind that some of my statements are specifically spurred by some of his.  Either way, I think you’ll follow it just fine.  And, please feel free to comment anytime! 

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

…As far as answers to all of your questions and points made…I do not and will not pretend to have them. (As I have said before, I have had many of the same thoughts and questions myself over the years.) Neither will I attempt to proselytize you, as I know you likewise are not doing to me. I merely am here to share with you the Essence of who I am – Jesus in me. Though I cannot begin to battle wits with you in the intellectual realms, nor do I want to – battle with you is the farthest thing from what I would ever want (I, of course, mean that in a very complimentary and endearing way.)…I merely can share with you why I am the person that you know and are kindred spirits with. How you chose to respond to that is, well, not something I intend to try to force a certain direction, nor is it of my concern. I respect your very thoroughly contemplated and eloquently expressed views and honestly do not feel it is my responsibilty to change them.

– Yes, I do whole-heartedly believe there is a God and that He loves me (and you and all of the world – John 3:16) and that He is working out His divine plan in my life (as in everyone’s) every minute of every day. (I know all of that opens up several more cans of worms, but I am just stating who I am and what I believe. I leave the cans of worms up to Him.)

– My life is not defined by my death, rather by His death on the cross for me (John 3:16).

And because my life is defined by my acceptance of His gift of His death on the cross, my life is truly now and forever an eternal life.

And, because of His death, I may die a physical death (even before I have the chance to see you again, or not) but I now and forever am free from having to pay the ultimate price of spiritual death and eternal separation from God that is the price of my inherent sin-nature.

– I, at one time, worked very hard to believe that there was nothing beyond this life and no meaning to my existence, because that for me was much easier (in a sense) than living with the knowledge that I would one day face my Maker and have to give an answer as to why I did not choose to accept His costly-to-Him yet free-to-me gift.

– Honestly, though, for me, convincing myself of the nothingness of life and existence was a very tiring and difficult struggle. Something always, deep down, ate at me and would not let me ultimately and deeply believe what I was trying so hard to believe. I had many of my own “gauntlets”, as you so cleverly and accurately call them, that would be thrown down in my face right and left. I was just never at peace, not once, the entire time I was trying so hard to believe in a way that seemed to lend itself to the most peaceful, freeing, and consequence-less life possible. I read things, even in the Bible, that I attempted to use to prove what I so wanted to believe, but ultimately, for me, it was all a dead end…a dead end that lead to life, that is.

– I cannot begin to explain to you in words what it feels like to have “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), but I can only hope that one day you may come to experience that for yourself.

– I cannot begin to describe to you in words what it is like to know and feel “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3) who is always with me – Emmanuel.

– I cannot begin to accurately explain to you in words what it is like to pray, not just seeking an answer – though those often do come, rather just to pray – to talk to the One who knows me better than anyone on this earth ever could (because He made me just the way I am, my faults and all, just like He intended for me to be) – to cry to Him, knowing He understands every struggle I face and that He, because He was once on this earth as a human (as is so well chronicled in the Book of John), understands so truly those human emotional as well as physical experiences that I have.

– These are all things I cannot explain to you in words as much as I may try, because they are things you just have to experience for yourself to understand.

– I realize you may not agree that there is any legitimacy to experiences such as these, at least in your own life, but all I can say is that they are very real and very legitimate in my life.

I would never want to nor try to force you to feel these things for yourself by succumbing to agreeing with me on anything or everything I have put forth. However, because of what I know in my heart to be true, I can only hope that you, my very dear friend, can and will also one day come to experience my God for all He is and even come to a point that (one can dream, can’t she!?!) you will even call Him your God one day. Not because I want so bad to be right, nor that I want to say “I told you so” or anything at all like that, rather because I know the love and peace and freedom that comes with knowing and accepting Him and the gift He offers us all.

– Again, I must remind you that, as much as it may sometimes seem otherwise, I truly am not trying to proselytize you, rather I am merely sharing my heart and the Essence of who I am with you, for all it is worth.

Because of Who He is,
Haelie