From atheism to ‘agnosticism’
First of all, I will admit that in the title, I’m doing something I normally wouldn’t do. I’m using “agnosticism” in a different sense than how I would normally use it. Normally, I would insist that agnosticism is about knowledge (“I don’t know”) but it says nothing about belief. Atheism and theism are about belief.
But today, I’ll use it in the more common colloquial stance…that position of thinking that there is “something” out there, but not being sure what to call it. So in a way, the agnostic believes in something, but since he doesn’t yet feel comfortable calling it God, he is still not a theist.
So, in this way, I’ll say that I am moving from atheism to agnosticism. But why?
Consider my car crash from a while back.
Back then, at no point did I even consider any divine or miraculous intervention. I just thought I had been stupid (I knew I was tired), but fortunately, modern engineering worked out in my favor(airbags, seatbelts, crash testing, etc., etc.,).
But I did question whether I were being unduly ungrateful.
My father once commented on something I had written on Facebook that had really bothered him. I had written at some point, “Things just work out for me, because that’s how I operate.” And he noted that was at the height of arrogance. Things might indeed just work out for me, but that’s not because that’s how I operate.
Looking back now, it’s clear to me that the two parts of that sentence don’t even make sense together. The first part features me as the object of the preposition “for.” The subject of things working out is unknown and unstated. So, then, how can I come back and impute all that to how I operate? Such hubris.
At least at that time, I realized the interconnectedness of people. So, in a very real way, things work out for me because there are lots of people in my life, directly and indirectly, who help me out. I don’t know who engineered the seatbelt for my car, but I owe a great debt to that person. I owe a great debt for my father, who called my uncle, and my uncle, for getting out to the hospital as soon as possible. (And again to my father [who is a nurse and who knows the procedures that should’ve happened], for driving a state away to make sure that everything was ok, when the first hospital didn’t do everything they could’ve.)
What I’ve noticed recently is how many things I owe to other people (both good things and bad things in my life) that I don’t even recognize at the time they occur, and so there’s no way for me even to consider being grateful (or to suspect something’s amiss.) As I wrote about in A Lesson in Grace, the most interesting thing has been learning about the “mysterious political world of adults. Especially of parents trying to be the best advocates for their children while keeping the children blissfully unaware of how much work that can often take.”
As a child, it seems like things go smoothly because that’s how they are supposed to go. Or, even I even notice anything, it seems like it is simply coincidence. Or luck. And if I’m even more perceptive, I might begin to suspect that I have a secret admirer watching out for me. But for the most part, I can be blissfully ignorant of everything that happens.
The other day I tried to apply that analysis to the car crash. Was there something or someone involved with that that I was simply “blissfully unaware of”?
…at that point, I reasoned that that was silly reasoning. How can I attribute my safety to some being when there are so many — people who are doubtlessly better than me, who are doubtlessly more innocent than me, who doubtlessly were less negligent or reckless than I was — who don’t make it out so well?
That’s always what bothers me…when people say God helped them find their keys, then what about the people who starve? Where is God for them?
Or, even with something like life and death…why would you say God saved your loved on from 9/11, when there were others yet who still died? (Or, even worse, why would you say that God helped “save” your loved one before they died on 9/11?)
So, it was the question of fairness that blocked me from considering it further.
I think a car crash is a pretty big deal, and last night, I experienced something that was from all intents and purposes not as much of a big deal. I was at fencing practice, trying to teach someone new something. I was not wearing a mask (ugggh, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence). After showing the other person a move, his weapon hit my eye-lid.
I was knocked back by the impact. I thought I wouldn’t be able to see (but I have experienced objects poking my eye before, and I didn’t feel that excruciating pain.) When I removed my hand and opened my eye, I didn’t feel any pain…but there was still blood on my hand.
I went to a bathroom mirror, and saw that he had in fact struck my eye-lid right next to my nose. If he had even been a millimeter off, my eye would be gone.
…that event shook me far more. I knew that it was completely my fault…that there was no one else I could blame but myself if something worse had happened…and yet, I had survived it with nothing more than a mark on my eyelid to show that I was in fact hit.
I first thought I was lucky, but then as soon as the thought crossed my mind, it seemed totally wrong and unconvincing. That was the difference between the times before and now. It just doesn’t feel right to say it was just luck or coincidence.
Again, the fairness issue doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t seem fair, but because it doesn’t seem fair, I feel all the more grateful. I don’t understand it. But the most appropriate thing I feel to do is to thank something or someone…but there’s nothing and no one mortal I can really “impute” this one too. I mean, I think people who make fencing swords have engineered a lot of safety mechanisms into them (so that, in case a sword breaks, it will tend to break cleanly rather than jaggedly), but this one really couldn’t be explained to any of that. I couldn’t blame quick reflexes or anything.
It seems to me that if I throw out preconceived notions of fairness, then I can get past previous hangups and be thankful.
…But does that make me a theist? What a lame conversion story!
No, I think that puts me in that agnostic square that I used not to understand or even agree with. I have to admit that in the same way I don’t know whether God exists or not, at the same time, I don’t know who or what it is who is looking out for me. I have never heard it, never seen it, and in the same way I had to throw out preconceived notions of fairness, I have to admit as well that I don’t know anything about it (certainly not what I was taught growing up), yet…here is this trail of experiences that now I find difficult to explain without it serving as a plug figure.
I recognize too that this is all very subjective and personal, but I never had a problem with that to begin with.