Tuesday, August 29, 2006


No, an agnosticath isn't the fossil fish some fishermen found back in 1938- that was the Coelacanth. But some people have asked me to clarify my religious position, and Agnosticath is the best way I can figure out to describe it.

I have no problem describing myself as Christian, though I don't like calling myself 'a' Christian, though I will in the right context. Using the article implies something that I usually don't mean. I don't lend any special credence to a one-time born again experience that ushered me into the ranks of the 'saved', so I'm sure that even if I were a 100% dues-paid-up Roman Catholic, a lot of my evangelical friends would exclude me from the fold. And that's OK by me.

The person known as "Jesus" (an unfortunate Hellenization of something that probably was more like Yeshua) nevertheless occupies a fair amount of mental real estate for me, and because I move in circles that include both the washed-in-the-blood and the unrepentant heathen, with pretty much every grade in between, I have been quite happy to be both 'Catholic' and 'agnostic', with emphasis placed on who I wanted to argue with. Agnostic to the Catholics and Catholic to the Agnostics.

The question is, for most believers, and by default, for most non-believers is "Who do you say he (or He) is?"

I'll get to that. And to why it isn't really possible for me to just believe or not believe.

I picked the mosaic picture of Christ for a couple of reasons. First, I think that it is important to recognize that the picture that contemporary people have of Christ is, in fact, made up of many different shards. Looked at through mostly closed eyes (eyes closed to the history of Christianity, and of the multitudes of god/man myths) the picture appears continuous. As if it were not constructed, carefully, by many hands very conscious of wanting to control the image.

But that is very much an illusion. The 'Jesus' we are taught about as Sunday School children never existed(yes, I know most Catholics don't go to Sunday School. I was raised in a thoroughly heterodox environment, though). The sort of sleepy, dreamy Jesus who just loves everyone, who won't let anything bad happen, who never had to take a shit and knew from infancy everything that would ever happen just isn't there, now or in history. He is imaginary.

I'm not in the camp of those who think Jesus, the man, didn't have a physical existance, but boy, they are interesting, and worth a look. I'm just saying that whole story of Christianity isn't just what is written in the Gospels, because Christians were Christian before there was a written Gospel, and the writers of the Gospels had agendas, as did the people who decided which of these got to be the official stories.

Likewise it isn't possible to get the full image from Paul's epistles, because Paul might well have been trying to graft Jesus onto the "Sol Invictus" cults that he was familiar with. Retasking the existing myths and holidays was great sport back in the first few centuries of Christianity. (If you think that my contention that Christian tradition is a retooling of mainly sun worship mythos, consider that you go to Church on Sunday. This isn't coincidental. It was deliberate, back when Christianity had competition (until it killed off the competition...)) While this sort of unabashed syncretism is now considered heretical, to be heretical is necessary when founding a religion.

In the same vein, many pew-sitting Christians would be disturbed to realize that the Trinity is not mentioned in the scripture, that a council of human beings decided this (along with the divinity of Christ, which is only obliquely referenced in the Gospels, and only in later Gospels). They would like to believe that it was all handed to the Church as Jesus ascended into Heaven, in the Bible or Catechism or Book of Common Prayer. That it was handed to Man by God, written in the Elizabethan English that Jesus himself spoke.

The fact is that I don't know how much of the story is reliable history, and neither does anyone else, nor do I think that it matters, at least not to the value of the story. The contortions people go through to 'harmonize' the Gospels is a small indication of the pressure that they must feel to relieve the cognitive dissonance that having a set of stories that they feel obliged to believe, yet are demonstrably self-contradictory. It is, in the end, an admission- if they really thought that the Bible were inerrant, they'd just believe the contradiction. That they cannot suggests that they recognize non-contradiction as 'logically prior' to faith in the Bible- that they think that even God is bound by logic and non-contradiction. As one releases the Bible from historical constraints that are inappropriate for such a book, and as one is able to recognize allegory, this is less a problem.

The fear that sits at the heart of a need for biblical inerrancy is unwaranted I think, because it misses the point of religion and the Bible. There are Christians that recognize and celebrate the heterodoxy inherent in a movement as radical as early (pre-Constantine) Christianity, back whe it could still remain connected to the important part of Christianity, which is not belief, nor faith, but experience.

What experience do I mean? I mean this- the Christian understanding of the divine is that it is experienced in others, in other human beings. The making of God into Man is not to exalt humankind, nor to diminish God, but rather, to give the two a common vocabulary. The experience of the Resurrection is the experience of encountering undeserved suffering unto death, and yet, having the story continue. The Savior exits, but tells us that we can know Him by knowing ourselves in community, and in fact suggests that this is the only way we can know Him.

And the sin that pervades is lifted by faith- not belief, which is what is apportioned to the evidence, which as I have said, is scant- but to hope in unseen things, the hope that we can do what I see as the 'Christian Two-Step': see Jesus, be Jesus. We see Christ in others, and seek to serve. We be Christ for others, and relieve suffering and hunger and fear. The faith is that the experience is significant. That it is a sign of something deeper.

So, I have faith. Not in a book. Not, in the conventional sense, in God. Not in a person, but in a Person. One who lived 2000 years ago? How do I know? I encounter this Person in the people I meet, in the service I imperfectly try to render, in the struggle against the injustice I see. Do I believe in Jesus? What possibly could one mean by that? Who do I say He is? The Christ. Everything else, I don't know. Hence, Agnosticath. Irrational? Yeah, well, so's your old man.

Why a scientist talks all this faith/God stuff will not be apparent to some in the scientific camp, who are happy to embrace an unfettered athiesm. I recognize the drive toward intellectual purity that sits at the heart of this, an unwillingness to believe in something for which there is no evidence. That's why I made the distinction between faith and belief above. I have faith, in that my experience fits into a schema provided by Catholicism as I parse it, that leads me to try to love and serve others. I won't defend belief in the irrational. I fit the world into the schema without making demands on belief. I find it to lead me to be something that transcends what I would be in its absence, something that I find that I can live without, but still choose not to forgo.

To the persistant few, especially the "New Atheists", that want to purge the Earth of all religious belief- whence flows something so quixotic and irrational? Why do you demand that the rest of us bow to you, or suffer your denunciation and derision? Irrationality is human to the core, and how is one to look at your attempts to dictate what others think, other than to equate it with flinging feces like many other primates encountering a threat. Science, the intellectual love of my life, is the anomoly, and seeks for itself far more that it will ever have, and more than is warranted. Science as a process does not keep scientists from being irrational as hell. But good luck. It is an interesting and fun project to watch, and I support the confrontation of bigots and prigs and fools. It is a worthwhile endeavor, in parts. Doomed, but fun to watch.

Most of my Christian friends probably think I throw it all away because I won't say I believe in the Bible or Jesus or God or St. Prude the Incontinent or whomever they think is central. So be it. I won't bend to your demands, either.

There is a a bit of self-contradiction inherent in my position, and I recognize it. I It would be grand to just jettison it all. But it would be dishonest, and destructive to me, and I don't intend to back down. So, Agnosticath it is.


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