7 Benefits of Faith-Based Agnosticism


By Brian Donohue, re-printed from Daily Revolution Since it’s a holiday weekend and no one is likely to be bothering much about a semi-anonymous blog, I’ll be writing to myself a little. I recommend you ignore what follows and see who’s getting naked over at Huffington Post. Or, why don’t you go outside and play? […]

By Brian Donohue, re-printed from Daily Revolution

grassSince it’s a holiday weekend and no one is likely to be bothering much about a semi-anonymous blog, I’ll be writing to myself a little. I recommend you ignore what follows and see who’s getting naked over at Huffington Post. Or, why don’t you go outside and play?

After I had posted the little piece on perfection the other day, a question formed, as questions often do. “What if the religious and spiritual among us simply decided to remove perfection as an attribute of God?” Jesus always said he wasn’t perfect; what if we entertained the same possibility of his Dad? Muhammed said he wasn’t perfect; what if Muslims simply wondered whether that’s true of Allah as well? My Jewish friends tell me that to them, nothing is ever perfect — what if they tried that attitude out on Yahweh? As for the Buddhists, forget them — they’ve already got that thing down.

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” the old Zen expression goes. Imagine how transformed Christianity might become if a priest or minister stood in his pulpit one Sunday and cried out, “if you meet Jesus on the road, kill him!”

I’m not saying, mind you, that God may not be perfect. I’m just saying that for us, it doesn’t matter. If He/She/It is perfect, then as I mentioned in the other post, Nietzsche was right: God is dead. Not dead in the sense of being non-existent or terminated, mind you; just dead in the sense of being incapable of growth, transformation, or development. Anything that is perfect has nowhere further to go; no air in which to spread its wings; no path on which to improve, change, or evolve. In other words, an empty Ideal, a specious wad of nonsense that can give our minds nothing but confusion and a sense of inadequacy before It.

So it seems as if it might be more practical, not to mention a lot saner for us, to either declare that God is imperfect like us, or else to simply knock the subject off the table…or altar, that is. Thus, you may continue to believe in God but remain an agnostic as to His/Her/Its perfection.

The introduction of this attitude into religion would make a big difference, because it would add some much-needed and real humility to the religious mind. The essence of humility, as best as I can perceive it, is the awareness that “I can’t know it all and I can’t do it all myself.” This, of course, cannot be a merely intellectual premise: it has to be a whole-body revelation of sorts; a thread that winds through the entire tapestry of thought, decision, and action in a human life. And if my God isn’t Perfect, then it’s all right that I’m not either: I’m OK, You’re OK, Big Guy in the Sky.

The natural humility that accompanies the agnostic mindset allows for possibility while it also searches out reality. Even Richard Dawkins admits something like a .7 per cent probability that God exists (go to BBC and do a search and you’ll find a video of an interview in which he mentions this). So even if you choose to live removed from that 99.3 per cent mountain of certainty (and I have no blame or judgment upon you if you do), at least you can enjoy the agnostic uncertainty as to God’s perfection.

The benefits of this kind of an agnostic faith are numerous:

1. there is a nearly immediate psychological gain. The ability to hold seemingly opposing ideas or, as psychologists like to say, to tolerate ambiguity, is a hallmark of good mental health;

2. kicking perfection off the altar of ideology really lightens the load of faith. Who can be serious, self-righteous, or violent in the name of a God who might not be any more perfect than I am? God becomes a lot like Seinfeld: some of his lines are total gems, as perfect as can be imagined. But those Microsoft Vista ads — they came out of one of His black holes.

3. religion all of a sudden becomes more fun. The more I live the more I suspect that it is humor that is really the “thing greater than which none greater can be conceived.”

4. Guilt — one of the most malignant psychological and ideological forces known to mankind — instantly sails out the window. Who can feel guilty when his God maybe isn’t Perfect?

5. I guarantee that your reality-testing and your use of language will improve exponentially with this simple stroke of clarity. The All-That-Is may be good and very cool, but it is not necessarily the All-That-Is-Perfect.

6. You will also be able to give Evangelism the razor-toed boot. Who could do a Jerry Falwell with a God that ain’t perfect? And imagine trying to recruit suicide bombers with the notion of an imperfect or dubiously-perfect God. You’d get laughed out of Baghdad.

7. Best of all, you’ll learn the value of critical thinking. If the Almighty ain’t all that mighty, then He/She/It is subject to questioning and criticism. Imagine the Sunday school essay contest: “write three paragraphs on how God can improve himself and be a better Ruler of the Universe.”

But I guess the overriding benefit of questioning God’s perfection, inclusive of all the above, is that it brings God back to life; it pulls God right out of the grave that Nietzsche had dug for Him. Our life here is the only life we can know, sense, or feel: wouldn’t it bring God closer if His/Her/Its life were more like our own? Sure it would.

Once again, the Buddhists can help us here: the Tibetans among them worship a God-King who looks like comedian Phil Silvers, laughs like a teenage girl, and attempts to negotiate with his enemies. His name is Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dali Lama. And he’ll be the first in line to tell you that he is not perfect. He’s just a guy — a monochromatic monk with a beautifully keen mind, little geopolitical power, and no biceps. Now that’s my kind of God.


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