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romansh

Agnosticism

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I tend to think of agnosticism, not as a humble approach to objective/scientific knowledge but rather as one religious statement along side of others. The atheist says he does not believe in God (at least the theistic God?), the theist believes in God, while pantheism and panentheism are somewhat different takes on God or Reality. Next to these, agnostics are merely saying they don't know whether or not there is a God. All are belief statements about (objective) reality.

I too, as a non agnostic, don't find the claims of mystics (or others) binding on me

Edited by thormas

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3 hours ago, BillM said:

Not to contentiously resurrect or derail a thread, but agnosticism is, IMO, simply a humble approach to what we limited humans can claim to know. Scientists say that we currently probably know (scientifically speaking) about 0.08% of what can be known about the universe. That leaves an awful lot to what we don't (yet) know and to our claims of objective truth. Objective truth (reality as it really is) may exist, but we only know it through our subjective senses and ponderings.

Most agnostics are reluctant to claim to know for certain, as certain knowledge seems to imply omniscience, something that we don't have. So most of our knowledge centers on probabilities, on what seems most likely. For instance, as an agnostic, I don't know for certain that there is not some kind of consciousness that created the universe. I suspect that maybe there is. But it is highly improbable, IMO, that it is the deity of the bible. On the other hand, there have always been mystics who claim to "know" the sacred through experience. I find such claims interesting and worthy of serious consideration. But I don't find them to be binding on me.    

Welcome back from your travels Bill

I agree with your assessment of agnosticism ... Here are Huxley's own words on the matter ...  as he coined the term:

  • Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe. Consequently, agnosticism puts aside not only the greater part of popular theology, but also the greater part of anti-theology.

Now sure meanings change but this agrees with your view somewhat and it is in contrast to Thormas's point of view. And for Thormas I would point out the likes of Mark Vernon, who describes himself as an agnostic theist ... ie someone who cannot be sure god does exist but believes anyway. Either way agnosticism need not be simply relevant to god, but to how we approach life.

Gods appear to come in two general flavours: Theistic (personal) or deistic (impersonal) in character. 

And as an aside many modern atheists describe themselves simply as someone who does not believe in god. ie a negative belief in the philosophical sense as opposed to someone who believes god does not exist.  ie the positive belief. 

Edited by romansh

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3 hours ago, thormas said:

All are belief statements about (objective) reality.

This too is a belief statement about objective reality.

Also my statement is a belief statement about objective reality.

And onto infinite regress. It is not terribly helpful, I find, dismissing other people's as beliefs as beliefs Thormas; especially if they can bring corroborative evidence to the table with them. 

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47 minutes ago, romansh said:

Either way agnosticism need not be simply relevant to god, but to how we approach life.

Gods appear to come in two general flavours: Theistic (personal) or deistic (impersonal) in character. 

Yes, Romansh, that's what I meant. My own approach to religious agnosticism is an extension of my philosophical and experiential agnosticism. Like everyone else, I certainly have beliefs. But they are my own (usually) and very much subject to revision. I don't hold to agnosticism as some kind of "ace in the hole" card that I can play at life's end. I hold to it because the more I know (which isn't very much), the more I discover that I don't know. So it is, for me, simply a matter of intellectual honesty.

I also suspect that the flavors of gods might include pantheism and panentheism. Even pandeism and panendeism. There is much to choose from. The fun part is the exploration and building (if we so choose) of our own philosophy/theology. 

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5 hours ago, romansh said:

Welcome back from your travels Bill

I agree with your assessment of agnosticism ... Here are Huxley's own words on the matter ...  as he coined the term:

  • Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe. Consequently, agnosticism puts aside not only the greater part of popular theology, but also the greater part of anti-theology.

Now sure meanings change but this agrees with your view somewhat and it is in contrast to Thormas's point of view. And for Thormas I would point out the likes of Mark Vernon, who describes himself as an agnostic theist ... ie someone who cannot be sure god does exist but believes anyway. Either way agnosticism need not be simply relevant to god, but to how we approach life.

Gods appear to come in two general flavours: Theistic (personal) or deistic (impersonal) in character. 

And as an aside many modern atheists describe themselves simply as someone who does not believe in god. ie a negative belief in the philosophical sense as opposed to someone who believes god does not exist.  ie the positive belief. 

First to Mark Vernon: what he calls an agnostic theist, I simply call a believer. Without scientific grounds, without surety, some believe (anyway). A theist believes; he/she is not 'sure;" there is no scientific ground for belief

I have no problem with the broader definition (Bill's definition) of agnosticism, I merely stated how: "I tend to think of agnosticism." And I have no problem with Huxley's statement as it pertains to "the essence of science." However, and Huxley should have known this, the one who says he believes in God does not do it because of, nor does he rely on, scientific grounds for his profession of belief.

So an atheist, depending on their self definition, is one who does not believe in god and/or does not believe god exists. 

And, as a further aside, many modern believers describe him/herself simply as one who does not believe in the theistic god: like Ben & Jerry, they move beyond vanilla and chocolate to new and sometimes bolder flavors.

4 hours ago, romansh said:

This too is a belief statement about objective reality.

Also my statement is a belief statement about objective reality.

And onto infinite regress. It is not terribly helpful, I find, dismissing other people's as beliefs as beliefs Thormas; especially if they can bring to the table with them. 

Oh, Rom - if, as you said, all are belief statements, how can my stating this be dismissal while you agree with the statement - even unto infinite regress? Goose and gander, my friend, goose and gander :+} 

And corroborative evidence? Huxley links belief (including religious belief) to scientific grounds (certainly his right but not a universally accepted belief) and Vernon simply calls belief by a different (although catchy) term?  There is no dismissal, although there is, at times, disagreement - or as we say in the business: a difference in belief statements.

Edited by thormas

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To me, friends, part of the problem is the binary approach that we often tend to take towards beliefs or claims of knowledge. We often say, "I believe" or "I don't believe". Or we say, "I know" or "I don't know". Discussions on many things, from science to politics to religion to social issues, tend to become polarizing, wanting us to "choose sides" before all the data is in. IMO, very little data is in. We are left to make our very best guesses based upon what little evidence or "proof" we have available to us. I strive to make the best guess that I can, but they don't call me, "Often-Wrong-But-Seldom-Unsure" for nothing. :)  To me, knowledge and beliefs are best considered in binary terms. I'm more comfortable with a sliding scale which ranges from "highly improbable" on one end and "highly probable" on the other end. This allows me to move what little I think I know or believe in accordance with new evidence, with new experiences, with new growth. One of the tenets of PC (my paraphrase) is that we, if we label ourselves as PCs, know that we don't own the Truth. We seek it. We stay open to it. We may even strive for it. But to think that we have arrived and completely know all Truth is, IMO, overstepping our bounds of human knowledge and experiences.   

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Bill,

Did you intend to say "part of the problem is the binary approach" and also "knowledge and beliefs are best considered in binary terms?"  Thought it might be an oversight but not sure.

I agree, especially in the realm of belief, we must guess (at times called a leap of faith) and one literally bets their life on it. Have to think about the sliding scale but, at first glance, not sure I agree. I'm comfortable with a sliding scale when considering, for instance, which NT words might be attributed to Jesus or if a particular passage is this or that kind of literature - but for the basic questions of whether there is God, of the meaningfulness of reality or the 'essence' of Reality - there is no scale, it is a faith decision. There is experience that one reflects on and the insights of others (those who have come before and contemporaries) to study and consider and this can lead to new insights (and growth) but this is not 'evidence' as traditionally defined. 

However, I do agree that since it is belief, we do not own Truth; we stay open, we strive and we live and commit to the Truth that we believe. In other words, at some point, people live the Truth they accept. One never arrives because Truth is (for me) primarily something to be, something to do and Truth must be done endlessly: one never fully arrives. And, it is out of one's Truth that we try to present our insight to others, question when another's position does not resonate (or to clarify) and disagree when necessary. 

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Thormas,

Yes, I meant to say that knowledge and beliefs are NOT best considered in binary terms. An oversight. :)

As to the basic question of whether there is God, PCs often say, echoing Marcus Borg, "Tell me about the God you don't believe in." If one defines God as Reality, then, yes, I'm fairly confident that Reality exists. I know that there are those who would disagree with me. We could all be deluded, living in some kind of Matrix. But I still have "faith" that the universe is real and science seems to back this up (although things get really strange on the quantum level).

I agree with you that we do reach a point where we seem to choose to follow a certain path that leads us to Truth, at least for those who are concerned about what we might call the Bigger Questions. We are, after all, rational creatures that make decisions as to how to respond to our lives. For me, without using the word "God" because it is so loaded, I live my life as if there is no deity running the show, as if I'm not a puppet on a string, as if I'm not having my every move judged against some arbitrary basis for sin, as if there is no heaven and no hell. I'm open to further evidence of a Creator, but due to the lack of evidence and coherency, I'm fairly convinced that such a Creator is not Yahweh. That kind of anthropomorphism no longer works for me. And, of course, all of this comes from my 5 pounds of very fallible brain. :)

 

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As most of us know, many Christian theists generally claim to know that God (as a supernatural being) exists. They claim this knowledge based upon external evidence or authority (the testimony of the bible, of the Church, or of Christianity). In reality, even their appeal to external evidence or authority is based upon their internal understandings and interpretations, so they often use their external "proofs" to support their internal beliefs. IMO, such theism is a "hearsay" religion. These theists claim to know God, but what they claim to know is what others have testified to. This makes for good unity amongst theists (shared beliefs, doctrines, and dogmas) and I suppose this is how major religions survive.

On the other hand, we have Christian theists who claim to know that God exists through their own personal mystical experiences. They don't require the bible or the Church or institutional Christianity to support their beliefs or faith. They are not necessarily opposed to these trappings, but they are at least aware that what they claim to know comes from within, even if their experiences are of something bigger.

To me, I don't find "hearsay" religion to be very helpful. It tends to be unchanging, and while there may be some good tenets or principles that are passed along, it usually also has a lot of baggage that is outdated and no longer relevant to the human condition. I suppose this is why I like the UCC (as far as Christian denominations go). They have an adage that says, "God is not done speaking." This is, IMO, somewhat in concert with process theology. And, in my experience, if there is any kind of theology (based in theism) that deals with the issue of theodicy in a half-way convincing way, it is process theology. It is still a bit to theistic for me, but if I were still a theist, that is the kind of theist I would be.

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I agree the term (God) is loaded but I also recognize that many have made great strides to unload it and I agree with much of this work/insight. I too live as if a deity isn't running the show because this is not how I understand 'deity' or Reality (which is not defined or limited by the universe).

I too do not consider myself a puppet, rather I consider myself and all of us as essential actors in creation. Also, I too don't recognize some arbitrary basis for sin but I have always liked the old understanding of sin as 'missing the target."  This target does not seem arbitrary, it is our only path or option: becoming and being truly Human and it seems evident, given the history of the world, that some are more Human than others - and it seems to be what we most fervently wish for our children. 

I don't look for evidence of a creator as I think such 'evidence' if it existed, would overwhelm our freedom and compel us to 'believe' or accept. I also have moved away from anthropomorphism when trying to talk about 'God (although I do think it is helpful to think on man/woman and reverse it a bit - if, indeed we image God); but I do like the human depiction of the God that appears to Moses: I AM. This is a good reflection point and shares something with metaphysics: the emphasis on Being/Is.

 

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41 minutes ago, BillM said:

As most of us know, many Christian theists generally claim to know that God (as a supernatural being) exists. They claim this knowledge based upon external evidence or authority (the testimony of the bible, of the Church, or of Christianity). In reality, even their appeal to external evidence or authority is based upon their internal understandings and interpretations, so they often use their external "proofs" to support their internal beliefs. IMO, such theism is a "hearsay" religion. These theists claim to know God, but what they claim to know is what others have testified to. This makes for good unity amongst theists (shared beliefs, doctrines, and dogmas) and I suppose this is how major religions survive.

On the other hand, we have Christian theists who claim to know that God exists through their own personal mystical experiences. They don't require the bible or the Church or institutional Christianity to support their beliefs or faith. They are not necessarily opposed to these trappings, but they are at least aware that what they claim to know comes from within, even if their experiences are of something bigger.

To me, I don't find "hearsay" religion to be very helpful. It tends to be unchanging, and while there may be some good tenets or principles that are passed along, it usually also has a lot of baggage that is outdated and no longer relevant to the human condition. I suppose this is why I like the UCC (as far as Christian denominations go). They have an adage that says, "God is not done speaking." This is, IMO, somewhat in concert with process theology. And, in my experience, if there is any kind of theology (based in theism) that deals with the issue of theodicy in a half-way convincing way, it is process theology. It is still a bit to theistic for me, but if I were still a theist, that is the kind of theist I would be.

I agree that in an earlier age (and continuing for many) what is properly understood as belief has become a claim of knowledge. And of course, 'evidence' and knowledge of God is delivered via revelation from that God to men and contained in his Holy Book. Tis a bit circular. Many do not accept this understanding of God, revelation, the Bible - especially in light of the work of critical biblical scholarship. Some (believers) have a more progressive take on theism while others have moved to a dialectical theism, also called panentheism.

I am also skeptical of mystics because I do not believe that 'God' can be know directly; the Christian understanding, properly understood, is that God's mode is always incarnational, in and through creation (not direct), always embodied. However, mystics, reflecting on experience and attempting to 'see' in and through creation to God (so to speak) and offering insights based on this work is valuable. To me it is not very different from the insights of the greatest poets.

Again, I don't disagree with your take on 'hearsay' religion but I do recognize that some have moved beyond the baggage and found a true/new relevance. I agree with the UCC adage and I have studied and liked much of process theology - then the interesting question becomes how do they understand the continuing speaking of God.

Interesting comment on theodicy as I have been disappointed in the writings of some process theologians on this issue. I have recently read the insights/perspective of Wendy Farley on the topic and am in the 'process' of reading Douglas John Hall. 

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I appreciate your thoughts, Thormas.

One of the NT scholars I respect is Bart Erhman, and his book, "God's Problem", which deals with the issue of theodicy does a fairly good job, IMO, of showing how the bible doesn't really address this topic in a satisfactory way. If you have time, could you send me links to the insights/perspective you are considering?

I find panentheism interesting, although, I suppose, it still posits God as some sort of super-being or consciousness. And I run into the walls of what it means to be a being. Beings occupy time and space. Unless one appeals to the supernatural (which I don't), beings are physical in nature. Once the supernatural is appealed to, it is no longer subject to evidence, at least of the verifiable or scientific kind. And consciousness, as far as we know, is a product of the physical brain. Is there a huge brain (as opposed to a teapot) in orbit around Jupiter? :)

I do like the idea of God as being incarnational. But I don't like the Christian idea that God is and was incarnational ONLY in Jesus of Nazareth. That doctrine seems to me to controvert what Jesus taught.

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I love Ehrman and being in his backyard have attended a few of his presentations at UNC's Adventures in Ideas; I thought God's Problem was insightful and witty but left you hanging for a theodicy that one could live with. Let me get back to you on links, most are books and I can provide the titles and authors.

My take on panentheism is that God is not a super, external being but Being itself (for lack of a better description right now) but I agree it is hard to get one's head around the entire topic of being. I was introduced to the idea at the age of 20 by a philosophy professor and it turned my thinking (and that of my friends in class) on its head. He stood in front of us, hands behind his back and said the word "nothing"repeatedly then his hand came out from behind his back, he held a small rock and said, "being." Or, sitting in a circle on the floor, he would roll a ball to someone, they would pick it up and he would ask, "What is?" The most radical (re)learning I have even encountered. He is still alive, living in NM and I exchange emails with him but have to have a bottle of red wine opened and at the ready and a quiet space when I sit down to read/interpret his latest writings. So for me, in a nutshell, being does occupy time and space but I also allow, without fully understanding, that there is also a 'transcendent element' along with the immanence of being (thus the dialectical idea in dialectical theism). I agree that beings are physical in nature but also that there is a 'part of us' rooted in the physical that is 'more than;' there is something transcendent (reaching/moving beyond self) that is part and parcel of our physical being. I am less concerned with evidence (of the 'supernatural', of Being in Itself) because I don't think it is or will be forthcoming - yet there is human insight which led, my old professor, to talk about the 'Realm of AM' (the insight of Moses?) in which, out of which, by which (?) all IS and man is called to relationship (covenant). Now I need the wine!

I too disagree with the idea of Jesus as the only incarnation. For me, Jesus is the same in kind (and possibility) as all of us, the difference is one of degree not kind. In other world, if God is incarnational, then the way or mode of Presence is in/through creation and as man/woman embody (incarnate) that Presence, they Are or become Human; they become as the Presence Is (gets easier with more wine :+}). Jesus was the one, or one of the ones, who most embodied Being. And, for me the resurrection tries to capture that once man IS he cannot not be. This goes to the Greek Fathers' idea of the deification of humanity. 

I have come to 'suspect' that the gospel writer was onto something with this insight: God is Love. I believe it is best reversed: Love is God. What we incarnate and give one to the other is love; what we incarnate and give one to the other is (literally) God/AM. It seems the most loving among us are the most human, the ones who 'miss the target' are not (but, having said this, I still do not believe in Hell)

Human is something you do and in the doing become, You ARE (I AM). Love is both gratuitous (gift, freely given) and transcendent (more than): we must be given love to be able to live, to become Human, yet we who give it, also stand in need of that which we give. No one owns it; we give More than we have, More than we are. Yet we are the essential ones: it can only be given in and through us. We are not puppets, we are essential, we are the co-creators.

Love is Power, upon reflection, the only true Power: Think of the mother: she creates, she calls the child into consciousness, further and further into life, she gives the support and courage that are essential to meeting the call/challenge of life - she is the incarnation of love yet she is not Love's author. She too stands in need to receive it, to be gifted by others. She gives more than she is and, in the giving, becomes her Self. She is, I think, humanity expressing Divinity; she is Being embodied. Or so I suspect.

And this idea of Love as Power picks up where Ehrman leaves off and leads to a meaningful theodicy. 

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One of the things in the gospels that still gets me is that Jesus' favorite title for himself was "the human one." Most bibles translate this as "the son of man", but the meaning seems to be, as you have said, that Jesus shows us what it is like to be fully human. In that sense, if we are not loving, if we are not compassionate, then we are not fully human. I don't mean that we aren't homo sapiens, just that we are not yet fully humane if we are not compassionate with ourselves, with others, and with our world.

So I find it odd that Christianity deified Jesus and turned him into a god, distancing him from humanity by declaring him to be inerrant, infallible, a theophany. The typical Christian stance is that while we can worship Jesus (because he is now God), we can certainly never be like him. Why? Because, except for in the case of Jesus, God is a being separate from the universe. Yet there are plenty of scriptural passages that say that we are the Body of Christ or that what Christ was, we are to be.

One of the reasons I gave up traditional Christianity is because of the teaching that Jesus was a theophany, not truly human, not like us. He was perfect. We are but sinners, wretches saved by grace. Incarnational theology restricts God to one person, to one place, to one time. How might Christianity be transformed and transformative if we believed and lived out the notion that *we* are God's manifestations in the world? It wouldn't solve the total problem of theodicy, but it would go a long way in suggesting that if God does anything about suffering and death in this world, God does it through those who strive to be compassionate humans.

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I too believe Christianity 'overstepped' when trying to come to terms with the divinity/humanity of Jesus. I think it was a human effort gone wrong; I think believers, Church leaders and thinkers were trying to 'capture' or say something about this man in whom they 'experienced' God and lost their way. They were limited by their worldview, by Greek philosophy and by the desire to head off what they seriously thought was wrong opinion. However, harm was done, yet one wonders if Christianity would have made any impact if not for them.

I agree that the theophany is and continues to be a stumbling block yet many theologians and thinkers have moved to the ideas that we 'are born to be' the manifestations or embodiments of Divinity. And realizing and living out this reality would/could be incredibly transformative.

As to the idea of God doing something about suffering and death in the world, I accept that the latter is inevitable since we are mortal. It is the former, especially the undeserved tragic suffering (cf. Wendy Farley) that is the issue for many. Following others but especially influenced by Farley, I believe she has hit on something important and I believe you have hit on it too: Love which created and by its very nature must 'step back' is immanent, impacting creation. However, that Love must be incarnated or embodied in and through humanity to heal (very broadly understood) and effect a change in the 'undeserved tragic suffering' that robs us of our 'humanity' before death takes us. Source will follow soon.

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