The Trap of Agnosticism

April 11, 2012
By Sissy Sullivan SILVER, Eureka, Missouri
Sissy Sullivan SILVER, Eureka, Missouri
7 articles 0 photos 1 comment

I was eleven the first time I questioned the existence of God, an oddly premature age for someone who’d been inundated with scripture since she was in utero. My father literally used to whisper Bible verses to me through Mom’s bellybutton. I could recite the Ten Commandments, Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and first half of Luther’s Small Catechism by the time I was seven. My Sunday School teachers used to turn to me for the correct pronunciation of convoluted biblical names. You’d think I’d be the poster child for religious indoctrination. Instead, I’m probably the only one in my group of homeschooled friends who’s seriously considered atheism.

I don’t remember any definitive point when I thought to myself, “Hey, here’s a bright idea: What if there isn’t a God?” Rather, my doubt in the Christian faith seemed to sneak in the backdoor of my consciousness . . . and then proceed to propagate throughout my brain like a cancer. Instead of a snap-decision, my disbelief has been annoyingly protracted, interspersed here and there with periods of sudden, fleeting faith triggered by some glorious mountaintop experience or youth camp. Gosh, I would think as I looked out across a Colorado sunset, God must have made this. Yet every time I begin to move back into the remission of Christianity, I swiftly relapse into my usual cynical, anti-Christian mindset.

I can’t seem to reject God once and for all despite the fact that he – either his real self or the figment millions of people worship – annoys the crap out of me. I’d like to believe in God. Life would be much simpler if there was a God out there watching over me, waiting to carry me home when I die, a nice old guy sagely nodding along with all his children every Sunday morning at church. Yet I can’t seem to reconcile myself with the idea of an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God who for some absurd reason loves mankind, alternately catering to our petty desires and blasting us with fire and brimstone. My childhood image of God was of a man constantly waiting beside the telephone and sometimes throwing violent temper tantrums when the people on the other line didn’t call often enough. To some extent, that image hasn’t changed.

I won’t go into gory detail regarding all my specific complaints about God’s existence (or lack thereof). There’ve already been countless books published on those subjects, many of which I’ve read: John Ortberg’s Faith & Doubt, Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God, R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God, J.B. Phillips’s Your God Is Too Small, Robert J. Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God, etc. My dad is a pastor with a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and a Master of Divinity. I’ve discussed theology with him for hours at time. I even took a Calvinist-based doctrine and theology course in tenth grade simply to understand their view of predestination (I’d already gotten the Lutheran side). I probably have all the answers I’m ever going to get, but for some reason they don’t satisfy.

I’ve sporadically kept a journal since second grade, and my entries pretty clearly track my religious evolution, specifically my idiosyncratic relationship with God. I constantly vacillate, as if I’m picking petals off a daisy: “There is a God, there isn’t a god, there is a God, there isn’t a god . . .” However, this daisy has an infinite number of petals, and I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point in my faith life where I can say with 100% confidence, “There IS a God!” or “There ISN’T a god!”

I’ve come to realize that eventually, everyone must take a leap of faith, both theists and atheists. There is no irrefutable proof for either atheism or theism. For all its modern verification, the Big Bang Theory remains just that – a theory. Yet it is one that scientists around the world embrace simply because it remains the only logical atheistic explanation for our existence. Similarly, millions around the globe claim that they are Christians despite the fact that most – if not all – have never truly experienced divine intervention or some comparable burning bush experience (or perhaps they attribute divine intervention to what an atheist would consider mere coincidence).

In any case, the leap of faith is inevitable. My parents both made their leaps in their early twenties when they accepted Christ into their lives. I’m still teetering on the brink of a narrow precipice, deciding which way I should fall. I’m trapped in the reasoning of Pascal’s Wager. I have nothing to lose in believing in God (aside from a few hours on Sunday mornings) but if I don’t believe in God and it turns out that he does exist . . . An eternity in hell is a very scary thing.

To be honest, eternity in general scares me. My brother once came into my parent’s room late at night, crying because he couldn’t grasp the concept of infinity. Sometimes that’s how I feel too. I can hardly comprehend forever. Everything around me is finite – aside from, say, pi and human stupidity – but those aren’t exactly tangible entities that allow you to grasp eternity.

In short, I feel trapped by my childhood indoctrination. I once complained to my dad that I can’t get God “out of my head,” and he chuckled and said he hoped it stayed that way for the rest of my life. For all I may try, I don’t think I or anyone else will ever truly know the state of the afterlife until it’s too late. We all have to take a Leap of Faith eventually.

Last December I was unduly intrigued by the death of Christopher Hitchens, (in)famous author of God is Not Great and champion of neo-atheism. I couldn’t help but think, Now the guy who called religion “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children” knows what all us poor living mortals still don’t: Whether he was right or not.

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