Functional agnosticism


This is Part 3 of my personal reflection series 35 years a saint. You can read my introduction here.

For most of the first half of my life my spirituality went largely unexamined. Being raised in the Catholic Church I dutifully identified with it and went to Sunday Mass, but rarely considered the validity of her claims or the reality that God might have some expectations of me beyond making an almost mindless effort to be good.

So I was once among the “blissfully unaware” that I referenced last time, going through the motions, living on the surface, keeping spiritual reality at bay. But now when I look back at my own cluelessness and consider the millions around the world who are currently in the same boat (that’s a big boat), I just have to shake my head at the tragedy of it.

Some have outright rejected the very notion of a spiritual reality so at least they can claim some integrity in not exploring beneath the surface. (There’s one for you atheists.) But when one espouses faith in God, however he or she might describe him, to effectively live as if there is no spiritual reality or that it isn’t important makes no sense. It is existentially incoherent. It is functional agnosticism. One professes belief in a being immeasurably greater than oneself who probably has some say in one’s eternal destiny, yet inconsistently with this belief lives in disregard of him, demonstrating by their earthbound focus that they really don’t know if he exists or not.

Then you have those who claim a real and personal commitment to an integrated faith but a close examination of what they profess to be true leaves their honesty, sincerity, or intelligence in question. When Mitt Romney was running for president in 2012, though I voted for him as the better of the two candidates, I questioned all three in his regard because of his professed devotion to the Mormon faith. Any moderately thorough, honest and sincere investigation of the origin, history, and claims of Mormonism should lead to its rejection by any intelligent person.

Looking back 35 years now to the days of discovery in my spiritual life, I do believe I was awakened to the incoherence of my own existence. But what jarred me out of my functional agnosticism? As I wrote about last time, there was no event or experience that prompted me to become aware of the unexplored depths of reality. Neither was I personally confronted or challenged to jump ship, so to speak, and examine my beliefs more objectively.

The most reasonable explanation, one that I can’t prove but am convinced of experientially, is that God himself drew me out into the depths. The way I like to put it is that he stirred me up to seek him. In keeping with my imagery of an oblivious little boat floating mindlessly on an ocean of unfathomable depth and breadth, he agitated the waters beneath me enough to wake me up and cause me to begin to see the magnitude of the unknown and unacknowledged reality underneath my superficial existence.

What love and mercy God showed in drawing me out of my safe and simple little schooner and into the water. More of how he did that next time.