The Accidental Agnostic

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

"Even if I throw in my theoretical lot with agnosticism, I am nevertheless compelled in practice to choose between two alternatives: either to live as if God did not exist or else to live as if God did exist. If I act according to the first alternative, I have in practice adopted an atheistic position and have made a hypothesis (which may also be false) the basis of my entire life..."

I feel that Benedict is quite wrong here.

Part of this is an intensely personal feeling. I somehow manage to be raised in America and yet still only encounter the very question of whether there could be a god or not till very late in life. The result of this has been never truly having internalized the question, and having a somewhat particular form of agnosticism where I've never wondered or seen any reason to wonder at this question, despite repeated attempts by people to try and explain to me why there is something important about it. So it bothers me to have someone pronounce that as I child I made a decision on something I never considered, or that I have as I continue not to now.

I suppose then one would have to argue that I have to act as if god did not exist. But then, having found the existence of religion late, how would I practice it? Observing the religions of the world, I could eat or not eat any of a variety of things. I could refuse all violence or kill in god's name. I could hate or love almost anyone.  I could even pray or not pray, observing some modern american Christians.

Denominations aside, one finds in each individual their own particular interpretation of that religion, each listening to or ignoring to their own pastor, if they bother to listen to one at all.

There is no singular life which is living as if God exists, and amusingly, I've more than once found myself closely living some such possible life. I was as committed to non-violence and attended church exactly as many times as the Quaker who lived down the hall from me. I've been as free of vice at times as the most committed born again, foreswearing even swearing. I've turned the other cheek even on literal striking of the cheek. I've done some things even religious people found superstitious just because they felt right at that moment, a sign of respect to nothing in particular.

So I don't see where one can draw the line then between these sides simply in the way they act. There are extremes where it becomes obvious, but in between there is a cross over in the ways we act.