It is surprising to read that some are intolerant towards those who are ‘agnostic’ – why should it offend to be undecided? Yet here’s three commentators with that view:
- ‘I may have had a prejudice against agnosticism as a body of thought: sort of a fence-sitting theory, where you can't make up your mind one way or another’ – S. T. Joshi
- 'I have a great love and respect for religion, great love and respect for atheism. What I hate is agnosticism, people who do not choose’ – Orson Welles
- ‘Agnosticism has nothing to impart. Its sermons are the exhortations of one who convinces you he stands on nothing and urges you to stand there too’ – Anna Julia Cooper
True, agnosticism is sometimes described as ‘sitting on the fence’ in an attempt to keep options open. Perhaps these comments were fired by some of the drawbacks to the position of an agnostic – it is uncomfortable, it leads to passive inactivity, it results in paralyzing indecision that debilitates and is ultimately futile. Coming to a decision that you can live with and die with will give a new momentum.
First, what are some causes that lead to agnosticism?
- Being sure when there are so many alternatives – yet logically, ultimately only one can be true, so you have to weigh the likelihoods and evidence. The first jump of the parachutist is a leap of faith but it is based on training manuals, careful evaluation of equipment, seeing others who’ve done it and then trust in the instructor. Christians do not throw away their brains but learn to use them for life to the full.
- If there is a God, why do things go wrong and why is there suffering? If a person uses a product without reading or following the instruction manual, it is not surprising when something goes wrong with the product. The Bible shows this is what happened when mankind broke relationship with God in the beginning – the perfect world was also broken and suffering ensued. The measure of God’s loving determination to resolve this was to step into the suffering in the person of Jesus and take that suffering upon Himself – only in this way can things be made new.
- Why trust the Bible? The entire thrust of the Old Testament points forward to Jesus Christ who is the ‘fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets’. Everything recorded about Jesus Christ in the New Testament reveals someone people trusted, one who people turned to for help, one who people have followed for 2000 years, one whose teachings still shape society and one who can still be trusted because he overcame death with many proofs of his resurrection.
- Prevailing culture is transitory and education is secular – yet many eminent scientists, educators, brilliant minds, poets, artists and leaders from all nations and cultures believe in God.
- Church divisions, hurts and disappointments caused by church leaders and Christians – once again, these are caused when people ‘go their own way’ rather than humbly follow God’s way set out in the Bible. Jesus never failed though many failed him. His forgiveness for our failings is at the heart of his mission, the cross where he died to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus didn’t fail in this greatest endeavour.
- Did Jesus even exist? No serious historian doubts the weighty evidence – the formation of the church, the BC/AD date, the Christian calendar, secular historians such as Josephus. Added to this is the personal testimony of the early followers pre- and post-resurrection, as well at the many millions who have followed Jesus since.
Putting off a decision can seem the easier option but it doesn’t stop the clock or the tension of unresolved choice – the sand in the time-glass steadily trickles on with none of us knowing the timing of our physical end.
‘I think of myself as a positive agnostic. I don't know, therefore I'm open. I don't know, therefore I'm interested’ – Grace Slick
‘I was an agnostic until I realized that I had to choose between God and fate. The idea that humanity and nature are the result of fate was not convincing at all. I find the presence of God everywhere’ – Andrea Bocelli
Could this be the time for you to move to a decision? Hebrews 9:27 indicates we all have a choice but that it must be made in this life. The evidence is compelling for belief in God (see section, ‘Taking Atheism to Heart’) and the consequence of leaving it too late leaves no defence.
Thomas was not the only disciple who found belief a struggle – one other man uttered words that were acceptable to Jesus and that may be helpful to you: ‘I believe! Help me with my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24).
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