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An Agnostic Manifesto

November 18, 2010

Spiritual Envy, a new book by Michael Krasny–host of the nationally syndicated radio show, Forum–has just hit book stores, and it was recently reviewed by Reza Aslan in the Daily Beast. Aslan calls the book “an agnostic manifesto” that takes aim at the fundamentalist certainty of those religious who are so sure of (among other things) “what the Bible says” and “what we are to do,” “how we are to live,”  and “the Gospel” and so on, as well as, on the other side, the fundamentalist certainty of the militant “new atheists” who stridently insist that religion is and has been a solely destructive force in human affairs based on purely magical thinking.

As Aslan puts it:

Pity the poor agnostic these days, caught in the middle of an ever-widening gap between an increasingly assertive religious fundamentalism on one side, and on the other a new brand of atheism whose dogmatic certitude and zealous proselytizing make it appear more fundamentalist by the day. Where in the conflict between these two competing claims of absolute certainty—religious and scientific—is there room for the person willing to throw his hands in the air and say simply, “I don’t know?”

I, for one, have long insisted (echoing a rabbi I had as a professor in seminary) that if we are honest with ourselves–much like our youth group preachers this past Sunday), then we are all agnostics. We do not know with certainty anything about God. We have all sorts of tantalizing clues and evidence in the Bible, in our various religious traditions, in the testimonies and lives of saints and prophets, and in the way our individual human hearts respond to those special moments in our lives when we can deeply feel God’s presence, the undergirding presence of the almighty good.

But certainty? The absence of doubt? As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Notice the paradox in each of those two phrases as they pit “assurance” versus “hoped for” and “conviction” versus “not seen.” And as Paul writes in first Corinthians, describing his great hope for God and the Kingdom of Heaven: “For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end… For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

To have faith, in my opinion, is not to know, but to hope.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. C.A. Child permalink
    November 19, 2010 11:39 pm


  2. Matt permalink
    November 20, 2010 10:42 pm

    “We do not know with certainty anything about God.”

    As I read it, I am lead to believe that religious agnosticism states that we cannot know anything about God even with the help of revelation.

    In revelation God has revealed Himself. Thus, we know God only in so far as He has chosen to reveal Himself.

    With revelation and reason we can know God. Thus, through faith, an act of intellect and the will, we can ascent to knowledge of God.

    We know God, now, in an imperfect way – chiefly through negation and analogy. However, this is still knowledge. While we know see ‘through a glass’ and not ‘fact to face’ we still know God.


  1. We Don’t Know ‘Right Now’ « Cathedral Crossings

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