A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Agnosticism and Reading Induced Hypochondria

Ever noticed when you read about illnesses in any detail, whether studying biology or attempting some self-diagnosis via the internet, how you end up thinking you have nearly every disease you read about?  I think the same thing is happening to me as I read about various theologies and belief systems.  I read about something and I think, "Hey, that's me!"  Does that make me wishy-washy?   Perhaps it is because many, many theologies and world-views have wisdom to share.  Sometimes this wisdom comes from surprising places.  

I was reading further about Process Theology when I stumbled upon something else which in some ways fits me well: agnosticism.  I would never have thought about myself as agnostic.  It would seem my commitment to following Jesus might preclude agnosticism.  But, reading this article  by Mary Herczog I found a mix of agnosticism and Process Theology which makes a lot of sense to me.  

I generally think of agnosticism as the belief there may be a god and there may not be a god but we cannot know either way.  As with any belief systems there is variety within agnosticism.  Herczog defines her brand of agnosticism this way:  
"I will borrow from Scriven and dub my position “wide sense agnosticism,” and present it as a viable alternative to theism and atheism. Wide sense agnosticism is open to the arguments presented by both theism and atheism. It rejects the apophatic notion that there can be no positive knowledge about God, while denying that any one person or belief system can contain all the knowledge there is about God. It also tends towards skepticism, and so that same God-knowledge does not escape such scrutiny. Wide sense agnosticism is dubious that there can be a clear distinction between objective knowledge of God and subjective belief about God."

It makes a lot of sense to me to hold all of our beliefs, theologies, and ideas with this kind of skepticism.  After all, if we cling too tightly to our own beliefs we are in danger of making them into idols.  And, within the context of community and open conversation it is crucially important to always consider we might be wrong.  Otherwise our minds are closed to alternative view points and our own arrogance gets in the way of hearing others.  

Yet this does not mean we cannot have our own somewhat firmly held suspicions about God.  Indeed if we do not believe anything about God or the way the world works or the greater good or something, it would be difficult to make decisions in our lives.  What would we base those decisions upon?  

In a fascinating and involved argument, Herczog goes on to show how one could hold on to Process Theology in the midst of agnosticism.  Since Process Theology says God is affected by us and that God is within us, Herczog give this final summary: “The process God knows our hearts and is changed by them.  In turn we can, and indeed we do, know God.  We just don’t know it.”

So, I find myself pondering my beliefs as agnostic process theology, with a dash of anarchism, a tinge of non-theism, and a dollop of liberation theology (these last two I will hopefully address later).  I am sure that is only for starters.

As is the case with the afore mentioned reading induced hypochondria, there are always also diagnosis which absolutely do not fit.  There are things we read about and say, “holy mackerel, at least I can be sure I don’t have that!”  Likewise, I am not completely wishy-washy when it comes to theology.  There are theologies I can be fairly certain I do not give credence to: I am not a prosperity theologian, a fundamentalist, an evangelical or at all even dimly related to the 700 club, for example.   

How about you?  What theologies and world-views intrigue you?  What ones ring false?  What do you think of agnosticism?  How many philosophical, theological, etc. labels might you give yourself?

by Sheri Ellwood


Charlene said...

Depending on how one defines the terms, I can claim ignostic, agnostic, atheist, Pagan, Wiccan, Buddhist(ish), green witch, and probably more (those last four being more about practice than belief for me). Pantheism and panentheism make sense to me but I reserve judgment as to their actual truth (I don't think they make falsifiable claims).

BTW, check out Jessi's comment on my link to your post on FB. She does a very good job parsing the difference between knowledge and belief.

I've recently been studying up on what exactly it was that I was taught growing up. It appears to be straight-up Arminianism, with the occasional debatable dabble in related theologies such as Calvinism. I've rejected all of that, along with anything else that claims to be the One and Only True Way.

So, now you know!

A humorous note: I once saw a man wearing a t-shirt that said, "Your God Is Dead", and I wanted very much to go up and ask him how he knew which one was mine.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks, Charlene, for the comments. I checked out Jessica's comment. It was very informative and makes sense. Part of the problem is the difference between what some of these words mean and what people think they mean. I think many people either don't know what an agnostic is or think it is the same as an atheist. So, conversations like this one are important. I like your list of terms which might apply to you, now or in the past. I must confess I will have to look some of them up though:)

Charlene said...

Sheri, I just recently got around to reading that link on process theology and agnosticism. It's quite interesting. Is it weird that I like most of the premises, but find most of the conclusions to be non sequitors?

Laurie said...

Your going to have to start adding a glossary with your blogs on these topics. The engineers in the audience don't know many 'ologies and 'isms.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Charlene, I am not sure I agree with all of her conclusions either. But it was an interesting read. Laurie, hopefully I define my ologies and isms within what I write or will in the near future. But, I will try to make sure I do a better job defining terms. I definitely don't like it when people talk seminary speak.