Guest Post - Amanda on her agnostic theism

This entry is about my personal beliefs. I would never expect anyone to read it and change their own beliefs; it's simply an informative essay. If you have any questions, I'd love to answer them in the comment section.

In order to fully understand my religious beliefs, I need you to first strip away the title of “Jewish.” I will re-apply this title later in the post, and explain the part it plays. But first you need to understand my core religious beliefs, which are my own and not necessarily a part of Judaism (although they were developed because of the lessons the Torah has taught me).

In scientific pursuits, we first ask a question. Once we investigate this question, more often than not, we end up with more questions rather than finding a definite answer. Eventually, we end up with some answers, and a heightened understanding of the universe and its structure. But even then, there is often a gap in our understanding. In order to illustrate this, I like to picture a stone arch. Each piece in the arch is necessary for it to stand, but most important is the keystone at the top – the wedge-shaped piece that allows the two sides to support one another. Imagine that the stones in the arch are facts; knowledge derived through scientific endeavors. And now imagine that the keystone is invisible. We can’t see it, but we can see its outline, and we can use that information to inform our understanding of its structure and function. We know there must be something holding up the other pieces, and we know where it must sit, and its approximate shape. Moreover, we can even assume it’s made of the same material as the rest of the arch. But we still can’t see it or know its exact nature for certain.

It is my belief that the last unknown in each scientific field will all lead us to the same conclusion. We will eventually find a construct at the center of existence that affects all things, is a part of all things, and is necessary and essential to existence. I originally found this concept in the Hebrew name for God. It has four letters (which is unique because all other words in Hebrew have three-letter roots), which stand for “I Am Who Am,” and has been interpreted to mean that God is the source of existence. Not in the sense that he woke up one day, pointed his finger and created the universe, but in the sense that he is in everything, he is everywhere, he IS existence itself. Eventually, I realized that because science is the pursuit of studying the universe, and God is the universe, there is no reason why religion and science can’t both be right.

This is where I get to the core idea that makes my personal beliefs possible. I find that Christians often find this concept challenging because it so directly contradicts what they have been taught. Aside from that, however, it’s a fairly simple idea: the stories told in religious books are metaphors. Every component of the Bible, the Torah, the Koran and any other myth used to worship or explain our existence is metaphor meant to educate us about the nature of the universe, and moreover, to inspire us to explore it. This goes for God as well.

I don’t believe God is a bearded father figure in the sky, looking down on us and creating miracles. That version of God is a story, told with the intent of inspiring people to explore the world around them, and to ask questions of nature, and never be satisfied with just one answer. As such, no religious book is necessarily wrong or right. They are all attempting to describe the same thing.

I do believe, however, that it’s wrong to teach someone to ignore science. And it’s wrong to emotionally handicap someone by teaching them that God should be feared, life should be feared, and the afterlife is a giant test of their moral fiber. I believe it’s wrong to tell someone to shut their eyes and let the universe do the work for them. And I believe it’s wrong to tell someone that prayer provides results. All of these things make people weak and vulnerable, and blind them to the beauty of the universe. It’s healthy to embrace randomness and statistical probability. Nothing happens for a reason, unless you consider causal factors and other conditions surrounding the event to be a reason.

In my life, I use the ceremonies surrounding Jewish holidays to acknowledge that life is diverse, the universe is big and weird and full of randomness, and that there is something out there worth knowing. I pursue this something through my scientific pursuits, and celebrate it through Judaism.

Theists think too,


P.S. There's something interesting about this view. If you'll remember back to the lexicon post, we have two scales:

         theism <----> atheism
   gnosticism <----> agnosticism

The former deals with belief or lack of belief, the latter deals with knowledge or the assertion that one does not or cannot have knowledge.

A fun addendum to my description of my theistic beliefs is that I also happen to be agnostic. By which I mean that I have personal beliefs, but I don't purport to know anything for sure (which is why I can respect other peoples' religious beliefs: my views are my own, not necessarily the "correct" ones). In western culture, agnostic theists are particularly rare. But there are some of us scattered about. ^_^

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