Analysis, Faith

The Crisis of Agnosticism

In the modern world, many individuals find that they are spiritually conflicted. Undesiring to be religious, while also holding a disdain for blatant atheism, these persons may identify as agnostic. Agnosticism is the belief that, since one may not empirically prove nor disprove the existence of the divine, it is irrational to profess faith. This is not the same as atheism, which is denial of (a) divine being(s). This impartiality of faith has a unique nature, and in this paper, I will venture to elaborate upon agnosticism’s said “nature” and prove that it is indeed appealing as a scapegoat to remain blissfully ignorant of Truth.

This paragraph will summarize the aspect of agnosticism which pertains to doubt. In volume 4 of The Encyclopedia of Religion, there is a section titled “DOUBT AND BELIEF” that tells, “The word doubt, signifies primarily vacillation, perplexity, irresolution… doubt, therefore, is not to be equated with unbelief or disbelief but rather a vacillation between… unbelief and belief”(DOUBT AND BELIEF 424-425). To believe is to profess faith, and though faith is fortified by strong belief, it is never totally absent of doubt. One may be religious, but one does not become irreligious by being troubled by doubt. Further, the section elaborates, “Doubt… [is] a necessary ingredient in or component of belief. The characteristic attitude both of the ancient Greek thinkers and of the Renaissance men who admired and followed them has doubt as one of its fundamental inspirations”(425). This section later tells that doubt and belief, being attitudes, are susceptible to deformity wherein the human psyche is rational. Intellectually advanced beings such as homo sapiens possess the power to rationalize what is primarily deemed foreign and strange. Rationalization serves to take the ideas presented to humanity and remove the lingering alienation behind them. In fact, Saint Augustine himself, a devout Catholic convert tells in his dictum, “si fallor, sum,” which is Latin for “if I doubt, I exist”(425). Thus, to merely doubt is not to renounce or lessen one’s faith but instead act according to what an atheist would deem “evolutionary impulse” or a Christian would deem “an act of a human, imperfect conscience.”

Now, allow the nature of faith, or the Latin term fides, to be determined. The encyclopedia explains that religious texts such as the Holy Bible commonly equate fides to two English terms: faith and belief(426). However, faith and belief are not wholly synonymous. The encyclopedia states, “…the Greek word pistis (‘faith’) often has the older connotation of intellectual conviction alongside the notion of trust, the bending of one’s whole being to God in complete confidence in his infinite goodness and in his ability to guard”(426)… Faith is separate from belief wherein faith is modified by trust. To lack faith is to lose trust in the existence or goodness of some entity. However, belief is not susceptible to the concept of trust in the same way. We as Christians do not profess faith in Satan because we reject the notion that he is virtuous in any sense of the word. However, we believe he exists and that his presence is very real. Though different, both faith and belief are volitional acts of will, Aquinas proclaims in his works, wherein one may choose whether or not to profess faith or hold belief. Therefore, to believe is not to profess faith, but to have faith is inclusive of belief nonetheless; faith is trust in both existence and perceived goodness.

The battles between doubt, faith, and belief have undoubtedly exposed the human conscience as conflicted by virtue of its longing for answers; this is to be rational. Our restlessness to achieve certainty regarding the divine led Thomas Aquinas to conclude that, as Frank N. Magill’s Masterpieces of World Philosophy in Summary Form tells, “The existence of God, then, needs to be demonstrated from those of his effects which are known to us… God’s existence can be proven in five ways”(Magill 323-324)… these five ways, Magill’s summary  elaborates, concern the motion, nature of efficient cause, argument from possibility and necessity, gradations of perfection to be found in things, and order of the world. Aquinas’ work Summa Theologica serves to elaborate upon each point in daunting depth; he was truly a scholar. The first way to triumph against agnosticism is to entertain the idea that the divine could exist. Scholarly discourse is carried out with an open and inquiring mind. I too was an agnostic in days past, but after deep spiritual reflection, some education, and what I perceived to be encounters with God, I now profess faith in the Roman Catholic Church. I was not brought up to be a very religious person, but I believe God has led me to Him. I cite my experience not to expand bias against agnosticism but rather to use it as testimony as to how matters of theology are deeply personal; theology, being that which pertains to the humanities, is not as empirically based as the sciences. Rather, it is philosophical and demanding of the mind’s ability to make truth of looser hypotheses.

Agnosticism serves as a temporary, comfortable solution to that which supposedly “cannot be answered.” Magill tells that Aquinas regards faith as, “…a kind of knowledge, since we gain a more perfect knowledge of God himself by grace than by natural reason”(Magill 325). Rationalization can solve many intellectual dilemmas that we face on a daily basis, but the “God question” cannot be answered by that which is empirical, and nor can it be studied as one would study something physical and within sight. This is where the idea of mysticism plays in. In my freshman year of high school, a tepid Catholic, I was in the choir at my school’s end-of-year graduation mass at the Providence cathedral for the seniors. I didn’t think much of the whole ordeal. I went to confession now and then, but my faith was weak, and I believe to this day that it was that night that led me to where I am today in my journey. The acoustics, ornate nature, and beauty of the mass overwhelmed me as a shiver made its way down my spine. I blushed, and looked to the ceiling where I saw the massive pillars and many saints looking down. It was then that I felt God had been communicating that there is more to my being than mere existence; we are destined for greater. This mystical circumstance, which cannot be measured nor scientifically validated, is the kind of encounter that leads individuals to either convert to various religions or rather strengthen the loose faith within their hearts in the moment. As God descends, I have been taught and Aquinas reinforces, man is elevated; it is through the intervention of God and His stirring of our hearts that man strengthens his faith and offers his being up to His Creator (326-327).

Regarding mysticism, a spectacular work worthy of mention is Saint John of the Cross’ own The Dark Night of the Soul, a written elaboration upon each verse of a collection of poems he wrote in the 16th century as a Carmelite monk. In the title, “The Dark Night” refers to the time where souls face major life conversions. The first book of his work tells, “Souls begin to enter this dark night when God proceeds to lead them from the state of beginners, proper to those who meditate on the spiritual road, and begins to set them in that of the progressives”(John 8)… Saint John continues this thought by comparing the journey from despair (etcetera) into faith as God bestowing tenderness and grace, similar as to how mothers bare their breasts to their young for the sake of unconditional love (John 8-9). The mysticality of conversion concludes, opening a door to a Christian life when, “The house of our sensuality being now at rest, that is, its passions mortified, its greediness extinguished, and the appetites [are thus] asleep and deadened by means of this happy night of sensitive purgation”(John 45)… Saint John expands upon this topic by affirming that the divine union of love with God purges our sins, not wholly due to the Earth’s imperfection, but to a degree that far surpasses the lifestyle that sinners had led before the dark night.

It is a lack of this encounter with God that leaves persons identifying as agnostic lost. To bond with God is not merely to believe in him, but to have faith in His goodness. Having this faith, and further wishing to destroy our sinful nature as much as individually possible, forges this bond along with His divine intercession. Thus, if there is an absence of not only faith but morality and ethics within an agnostic’s heart, God, or at least the very idea of the divine, is all too distant to seem “plausible.”

Ultimately, the greatest act of charity is to spread the Word of Christ to others. If we stand by as atheism, and in this instance agnosticism, jail the minds within the confines of nihilism and such, we have wronged our brothers and sisters of flesh. I implore you- spread His Word, but do so prudently; the salvation of our kind depends on our example as Christians.

Works Cited

Jones, Lindsay. “DOUBT AND BELIEF.” The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 4, Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, pp. 424–430.
Magill, Frank Northen. Masterpieces of World Philosophy: in Summary Form. Vol. 1, Harper & Row, 1975.
Saint John of the Cross. The Dark Night of the Soul. Barnes and Noble, 2005.
“What Kind of Thinker Believes in God?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers

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