It is human nature to desire truth – especially the most fundamental truths of our existence. Like, why are we here? Where did we come from? Is there life after death?
And humans have pursued the answers to these questions for as long as we’ve been able to ask them.
It always seems a bit strange to me the number of people who don’t even bother fooling about with such questions. And even more strangely that the number of such people in our culture seems to be growing.
Such people often call themselves agnostic. Although, I’m not sure that’s really what they mean.
Agnosticism is a belief that certain truths, specifically about our existence, are unknowable.
Now, I know first hand that it often takes quite a bit of study and effort to come to know many of the truths about God. It seems it would be an even greater challenge to convince one’s self of the absence of God (proving a negative) – atheism. And it seems like still an even greater challenge to determine that such truths are themselves unknowable – agnosticism.
This is why I don’t think the current agnostic fashion is truly all that agnostic. What I really think most people are saying when they call themselves agnostic is that “they don’t know – therefore they don’t believe.”
And that’s fair enough I suppose. And it’s probably an honest answer. But what doesn’t seem to add up is their response to “not knowing.”
Let’s take atheism. An atheist believes there is no God and therefore no eternal life. There is nothing more. So a natural behavior for an atheist would be to live in the present, enjoy every moment, do whatever they want, be as selfish or as selfless as they want, shoot themselves and end it all right now, do this…do that, etc. It really doesn’t matter.
In fact, nothing can truly matter for an atheist in the end. There is no such thing as good or evil. There is no such thing as justice, honor, or moral objectivity. Our finite life is reduced to exactly nothing in the eternity of time. Everything we do and say, every pleasure and every pain, are absolutely and utterly meaningless. So virtually any behavior by an atheist, whether we like it or not, is at least consistent with their world view.
Theism is entirely different. If one believes in God, now everything we do is potentially meaningful. And if we believe in eternal life then anything we do could potentially affect our eternal state. And even just being mathematical about it, our eternal state is exactly infinitely more important than our current temporal state.
A theist who believes in eternal life should behave in a way that positively affects his or her eternal state. And of course, in order to behave properly, we must first spend time learning how to do so. So, rationally, the priority of a theist’s life is that of first understanding what will affect their eternal state, and second, behaving in that way.
In the middle we have the true agnostics and those that “just don’t know.”
Being a true agnostic, one who believes that the truths about God are unknowable, seems problematic to me. I don’t see how anyone can come to the conclusion that such knowledge is unknowable by us? Simply because one may not yet know is no basis for then assuming that we cannot know. All one could conclude is that they simply don’t know.
And it seems that if a person did not know for sure about the existence of God or the future of their eternal state, this would greatly affect their behavior. Right?
I see two rational responses to such a situation:
1) Assume that there is a God and act accordingly (see “theism” above). Certainly at the very least Pascal’s Wager would apply.
2) Drop everything you’re doing and spend the very next moments of your life trying to figure it out. Don’t stop until you do.
That’s it. If there is eternal life after death then there is nothing else more important than figuring it out. And if there isn’t eternal life after death, then absolutely nothing you do has any meaning whatsoever anyway(see atheism above).
But then why do the vast amount of people out there who “don’t know” or proclaim themselves as “agnostic” not behave in this way? If you don’t know, then the first thing you should do in the morning is cancel all your plans for the day, go to the library and work on figuring it out. Scratch that. Drop what you’re doing and do it this very moment. There is nothing more important. Nothing. This isn’t religious fervor, this is mathematical probability!
And that’s exactly what we’d all do if we were perfectly rational. But we’re not. Instead we get lazy, distracted, and apathetic. And worst of all, we lose hope. When we lose hope, we don’t care about anything…not the present moment and especially not our eternal future.
This is not a new cultural problem, it’s a human one that’s always existed. Even St. Augustine recognized it in the late 4th century:
“It seems to me that the hope of finding the truth must be restored to humankind.” – St. Augustine
It’s not that people don’t want to find truth. And it’s not that they won’t search it out. It’s that they don’t even know that they are able to do so. They look at all the division and disagreement and they assume that there must be no way to know for sure. They’ve lost hope in even being able to find the truth. So it’s no surprise that they don’t even think to bother looking.
But we can indeed know this truth. And those that are willing to honestly search for it will eventually find it. But it starts not with an exercise of the mind – but with an opening of the heart. It starts with Hope.