“I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son, our Lord.” So begins the Apostle’s Creed, and many other Christian expressions of faith.
I used to believe them, and now I don’t.
I was raised a Christian; I studied the Bible at church, in school and at home. I was baptized at the age of 13 after making a profession of faith. I helped lead worship services, prayer groups and Bible studies.
And in all of that activity, I never stopped to ask myself one simple question: Do I really believe this? Not believing would put me into that category that my parents and church had always taught me to be wary of: it would make me an agnostic, or worse, an atheist.
As with any religion, there’s a lot of minutae – details of rituals and pages of genealogies. But underlying those are the important parts, where God acts and interacts with man. Do I believe those parts?
Do I believe that a supernatural being created the world in seven days? Do I believe that he made the first humans out of clay in a garden? Do I believe that he chose one particular family to be favored over all others?
The more I ask these questions, the more I find myself answering “No, I don’t believe that.” Not being able to go back and ask my younger self, I start to wonder if I ever did.
Then there’s the Jesus question. While, just like Moses, Mohammed and Buddha, there was almost certainly a real person at the core of the stories, the Bible claims that he was much more than a man.
Do I believe that God caused himself to be incarnated as a human being and born of a virgin? Do I believe that he himself rose from the dead and ascended into heaven? Do I believe that his death and resurrection somehow atone for my mistakes?
Being honest with myself has brought me to the realization that, at least at the moment, I am an agnostic.
An agnostic is one who doesn’t have an answer to the question of whether there is a God, as opposed to a theist, someone who asserts that there is one, and an atheist, someone who asserts that there isn’t.
Being an agnostic doesn’t mean Christianity hasn’t been real and meaningful for me, or that I suddenly regret my time as part of the Christian church. I’ve prayed, and have been moved to tears while doing so. I’ve read Scripture, and it has brought me comfort and relief. I’ve sung hymns to God, and have been filled with rapture and awe.
But what I’ve seen and experienced in Christianity is mirrored in other experiences. But I’ve also been moved to tears by great novels, been raptured and awed by amazing films and received comfort and relief from powerful plays. I’ve had Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and atheist friends and acquaintances who derived deep meaning from their faiths. I’ve been stunned speechless by the beauty of science, nature, mathematics and music.
As I’ve mused over the notion of discovering myself to be agnostic, it occurs to me that the question: “Is there a God?” is a question very much like other questions.
It’s one to consider thoughtfully and seriously – just like a decision about where to live or who to marry, it isn’t a question that we should consider lightly or without scrutiny.
It’s one to wrestle with philosophically – to decide whether it even makes sense as a question, to define terms and to explore the consequences of possible answers.
Sometimes I’m still troubled by not having an answer to this question. And yet the world is full of questions we don’t have the answer to. Some, like the secrets of the genome, we’re making remarkable progress on. Other questions, like the mysteries of the subatomic, we may not have answers to in our lifetimes. Still others, like some theorems of mathematics, may be inherently unanswerable.
But the questions are always worth asking, even if just to confirm where you already stand. What do you believe? What do you know? And how do you know it?
Seth Anthony is a chemistry Ph.D. student. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters@feedback can be sent to email@example.com.