To Doubt, Believe, and Know #1

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When referring to his faith, the modern man must be rigorous. If someone asks me, ‘Does God exist?’, I respond, ‘I do not know,’ because philosophically speaking, I remain an agnostic, which is the only position defendable with reason alone. However, I then add ‘I believe that he does.’ Belief is radically different than knowledge. I will not interchange the two. That which I know is not that which I believe. And what I believe will never become what I know.

Before the question of God’s existence stand three types of honest individuals: the believer who says ‘I do not know but I believe so’, the atheist who says ‘I do not know but I believe not’, and an indifferent person who says ‘I do not know and I do not care’. The problem comes from a person who claims to know, whether he affirms ‘I know God exists’ or ‘I know God does not exist.’ He steps outside the limits of reason, and veers off into fundamentalism—religious or atheist fundamentalism—taking the deadly path of fanaticism.  

In this century where people kill in God’s name, as in former times, it is important to not confuse believers and imposters: God’s people are those who seek Him, not those who speak in His stead, claiming that they have found Him. The believer’s confidence provides a way to inhabit the mystery, just like the atheist’s fear. Either way, the mystery is there.

The older I get, the more I realize that agnosticism is a generally rejected position. Men feel the need to know! Even though there are only believing agnostics, atheist agnostics, and indifferent agnostics. Millions of people persist in mixing together faith and reason, refusing to acknowledge the complexity of the mind, and simplifying its particularities in order to transform very personal sentiments into universal truth.

We need to recognize and cultivate our ignorance. That is the price of pacifist humanism. We are all brothers in our ignorance, not in our beliefs. It is only through our shared ignorance that we will tolerate the different beliefs that separate us. I must first respect the other person’s similarities in that he would like to know but doesn’t; and in doing so, I will then respect his differences.

Extract from Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s autobiographical novel, The Night of Fire

I would therefore like to begin this three-part series using the above-stated format by French author Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt in addressing you, the readers, all dear agnostics of every sort.

By agnostic, I do not imply that the truth is relative or unreachable—quite the contrary, and we will later have time to return to this subject. I believe, though, that it is honest to recognize that as humans, we rarely have all of the elements necessary to affirm that we hold the truth. For me, this humility, this doubt (as minuscule as it may be) should be the safeguard that helps us respect those who think differently.

May that doubt be a token of tolerance.

In considering the goal of The Great News Presse, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on three verbs—doubt, believe, and know—as well as how they are connected to the bigger questions humanity has always been asking, in every era and civilization:

Where do we come from? Does God exist? Is there a meaning to life?

I am not trying to rewrite what has already been written by either the scientific or religious communities. Even if that was my intention, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Therefore, to avoid any redundancy with what exists, I will try to summarize, and when necessary, send the reader to other articles or authors that have already dealt with the subjects brought up in this paper. I would like to encourage you, not only to join humanity in asking the above-mentioned questions, but would also like to help people to understand each other. Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” I would like to try, and encourage you to as well.

We are at the beginning of our journey, and in the following lines we find ourselves at an intersection. In front of us, we see two paths: the path of faith and the path of atheism. Two particularly different paths, in that they each propose very different points of view on our world. Before visiting each path, I would like for you to keep your passport on hand! Remember, your agnostic passport!

I also think it is important to underline that for believers and non-believers, as far as they can go in their understanding and their investigations of topics such as the creation of the universe or life after death, there remains a percentage of uncertainty. The believer is often aware of this, the non-believer perhaps less. That being said, in the next two parts of this series, I will try to further develop this point and present the distinction that exists between what is scientific and relies on physical proof (that we can know), and that which comes from belief. I do this in hopes that it makes us meditate and opens the conversation.

If you are ready, put your passport in your pocket and I’ll meet you next week at our first stop!

Click to read #2