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The Way of the Agnostic -

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So good.....

On the one hand, religions express perennial human impulses and aspirations that cannot plausibly be rejected out of hand as foolish or delusional.  The idea that there is simply nothing worthwhile in religion is as unlikely as the idea that there is nothing worthwhile in poetry, art, philosophy or science.  On the other hand, taken at their literal word, many religious claims are at best unjustified and at worst absurd or repugnant.  There may be deep truths in religions, but these may well not be the truths that the religions themselves officially proclaim.  To borrow a term Jürgen Habermas employs in a different context, religions may suffer from a “self-misunderstanding” of their own significance.

The problem with being an Atheist or even an Agnostic is you get no holidays!

Joking aside, this article was a great find.

I love that line: "Religions may suffer from a self-misunderstanding of their own significance."

The cases intellectually sophisticated religious believers make are in fact similar to those that intellectually sophisticated thinkers (believers or not) make for their views about controversial political policies, ethical decisions or even speculative scientific theories.  Here, as in religion, opposing sides have arguments that they find plausible but the other side rejects.  Atheism may be intellectually viable, but it requires its own arguments and can’t merely cite the lack of decisive evidence for religion.  Further, unless atheists themselves have a clearly superior case for their denial of theistic religion, then agnosticism (doubting both religion and atheism) remains a viable alternative.  The no-arguments argument for atheism fails.

As in the case of morality, there is no exclusive or infallible mode of understanding, religious or otherwise.  Religions should, and increasingly do, accept other modes of understanding and try to integrate them with their own.   Expressions of religion in art and poetry (Fra Angelico, John Donne), have always implicitly done just this.

I suggest that “non-believers” like Simon Critchley, who express serious interest in and appreciation of religions, are thinking of them as modes of living and of understanding.  Both they, and the believers who welcome their attention, should keep in mind that this says nothing at all about claims to religious knowledge.

Knowledge, if it exists, adds a major dimension to religious commitment.  But love and understanding, even without knowledge, are tremendous gifts; and religious knowledge claims are hard to support. We should, then, make room for those who embrace a religion as a source of love and understanding but remain agnostic about the religion’s knowledge claims.  We should, for example, countenance those who are Christians while doubting the literal truth of, say, the Trinity and the Resurrection.  I wager, in fact, that many professed Christians are not at all sure about the truth of these doctrines —and other believers have similar doubts.  They are, quite properly, religious agnostics.

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