"Reverent Agnosticism"


A. J. Jacobs writes:

By the end of the year, I had moved from my old agnosticism to what a minister friend of mine calls "reverent agnosticism": Whether or not there is a God, I think there's something to the idea of sacredness. The Sabbath can be sacred, rituals can be sacred, and there's an importance to that. Do you think there's anything to the idea of being a "reverent agnostic"? Or is it just oxymoronic?

Matt Labash and Stephen Colbert think it is. And if you think faith is a one-off, moment-of-total-revelation from which everything else follows, then I can see their point. But this, of course, does not exhaust the varieties of religious experience, to echo James. And there are times when intelligent believers, in periods of doubt or just spiritual drought, pray without assurance the God is truly there; or attend Mass or other services and feel and see nothing. But they still show up; and they still pray: unsure but still aware that what is beyond us will not always be clear to us, and the the struggle to believe is as important as the achievement. If this is "reverent agosticism," then it is another phrase for thinking faith. J.K. Rowling speaks to it in the Harry Potter books. Here's a recent quote of hers, debunking the notion that somehow her work is anti-Christian. It isn't. It's just not fundamentalist. Money quote:

"The truth is that, like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes that my faith will return. It’s something I struggle with a lot. On any given moment if you asked me [if] I believe in life after death, I think if you polled me regularly through the week, I think I would come down on the side of yes that I do believe in life after death. [But] it’s something that I wrestle with a lot. It preoccupies me a lot, and I think that’s very obvious within the books."

Or as Montaigne put it:

"Some impose upon the world beliefs they do not hold; others, more in number, impose beliefs upon themselves, not being able to penetrate into what it really is to believe."

(Photo: Peter McDiarmid/Getty.)