Having the Courage to Step Off the Fence (Even if I get my ankle stuck in barbed wire)

I read a wonderful post over at The Fire Sermon blog about the argument for or against God. He writes so articulately about it, that you should read it for yourself. Suffice it to say that I was inspired and agree wholeheartedly with his conclusions. He should be reincarnated more often! Here’s a sample:

This last week has been quite the experience for me. It reminded me strongly of Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death. For me the most gripping question has been whether or not there is a God, or at least anything resembling one.

I have read all the arguments for and against, and believe that neither the atheologian nor the natural theologian can be declared victorious. I cannot express strongly enough that I don’t believe there is any argument that should convince any intelligent and honest person either way.

However, this chess-like stalemate between the theist and the atheist philosopher begins to bring disgust after a while. For such a course brings nothing but a pale agnosticism, a brief shrug of the shoulders regarding the questions of greatest import.

Hamlet asks the question, “to be or not to be?” he says nothing of merely being-in-between. One who stands on the fence cannot enjoy the grass on either side. I finally, realized that this flaccid abstemious caution was nothing more than a lack of courage.

This courage to step off the fence of agnosticism (I know, some people don’t like this metaphor, but it suits my position perfectly) and into the existential “certainty” of believing God exists is something I’ve always been willing to do, and have done, but have not been able to explain with any clarity. He does so and goes on to describe his stance:

To remedy this weakly indecisive state, I have grasped onto the position that seems to accord best with my philosophical intuitions concerning our world. I now consider myself a theist, more carefully, a “broad” theist or a/theist. For me God is not a perfect person, an anthropomorphic father, but rather the ground of Being, Justice, Meaning, and The Good, etc.

In fact, my “theism” would rightly be considered conceptual atheism. I reject the positive formulations and metaphysical definitions of God. In their place, I take God to be cognitively represented symbolically, iconically, or ideogrammatically. Such representations can never be said strictly correspond to what the transcendent reality as it is in-itself. But this view is “theistic” nonetheless, because it stands oppossed to the idea that reality consists in nothing but particles and physical forces.

Now, I’m not sure what that last paragraph means since I am only a dilettante when it comes to philosophy, but I agree that representations of God “can never be said to strictly correspond to what the transcendent reality” is. No one knows what transcendent reality is, or even IF THERE IS a transcendent reality, since by definition it is beyond our understanding and physical limits. Without tackling the harder metaphysical problem, however he quotes two views of God and the universe offered by Leo Tolstoy and Bertrand Russell and then concludes:

Thus, either we exist in absurdity or life has a meaning that is more than a mere social construction. If we are not to remain pale and cowardly agnostics we must choose between the competing models. We must either be Russellian or Tolstoyian, in a sense.

Tolstoy argues that belief in Christianity shows one the meaning of one’s life. Now, I am not prepared to be a Christian, such a commitment doesn’t suit my temperament. However, there seems to be something right in the idea that in order for life’s meaning to be grounded in any sense, there must be a “God” in some sense.

I love this. I’m not prepared to live the Christian life as the church explains it or offers it either. I would offer some qualifiers however. We cannot prove God exists, but we can have the courage to say that God exists in some fashion. Unlike the blogger, I believe that God may not be transcendent at all. God may be immanent. But the God/de/ss that we, in our religions, have tried to grasp through desperate ritual and scripture worship can not possibly be known with any kind of mental certainty or cognition. The mental concept is merely the patina we mortals project onto the vast universal, gelatinous cosmos which I believe can only be experienced. We are part and parcel of the stuff of the universe and we can only know it by living, swimming, breathing in it.

I suggest you read his entire entry. It’s well worth the effort. (But don’t go unless you have an open mind) 🙂

16 thoughts on “Having the Courage to Step Off the Fence (Even if I get my ankle stuck in barbed wire)

  1. Why not simply declare yourself a Deist and be done with the fence sitting? I see listed “The Age of Reason” on you blog so you must be familiar with the concept. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were both Deists and our US Constitution reflects their influence by the omission of the word ‘god,’ and use of the term ‘creator’ in its place. No matter which ‘revealed’ religion one chooses all of the associated ‘holy books’ were written by man. Follow your own instincts and the unnamed god…in whatever form you want him/her/it to be. In my 20’s I aligned myself on the side of atheism and still remain firmly planted after all these years, but each of us has to make their own journey. Life has no meaning until you add it to your life.

  2. Interesting… but, he (or you, or anyone) can call me “pale and cowardly” all he wants.
    I see no reason to step down off my fence in this case.

    Chosing something that I am not sure about… just to make a choice and “belong” doesn’t seem any better to me than chosing to stay in a church when I don’t want to be there – simply because I’m afraid to go to hell… or any better than saying, ‘Yes – there is NO God”, if I don’t truly 100% believe that either.

    I don’t see being agnostic as being cowardly at all… just honest. If I truly believed one way or the other, but was “afraid” to say so – that would be different. I have no problem taking a side, and holding my ground when I know what I believe. However, I don’t KNOW if “some form of God” exists. I kinda doubt it… but, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was wrong on this one either…

    So, until God comes down and knocks me off the fence (and probably into Hell)… or the atheists on the other side look a little more appealing and lure me down – I’m sitting pretty and keeping my feet out of the barb wire.

    😉
    ~smj

  3. Infidel,
    You’re right. I think I am a Deist. There I said it. I’m not sure I’m done with it though. My views are ever evolving after all. Thanks for the nudge. 🙂

  4. samanthamj,
    I’m not sure it’s about “belonging” but a willingness to face whatever it is we are afraid to face. I’m afraid to face the fact that I believe in some kind of Higher Power because I believe it might require some kind of “action.” But that’s just something Christians are taught. In Christianity, you have to move all the time, doing this or that thing to “prove” you are a Christian. I’m no longer afraid of hell (heck, I’m more afraid of Christianity!) Like the guy at Fire Sermon, my temperament isn’t up to that kind of rigorous religiosity.

    I admire you for sitting on the fence. I might get back on it myself, just for shits and giggles. 🙂

  5. mystery –

    Yes… I know all about the pressure one can feel from Christianity… and that it is taught. I resent a lot of the pressure put on me as a child to “preform” basically in order to get my dad to go to church, etc.

    I do enjoy watching you make up your mind… Being a “Deist” sounds like a good start . Congrats. (I’ll save a spot on the fence for ya, just in case… 😉

    I also enjoy your humor. Your “shits and giggles” comment made me think really hard if I had written that in my blog – because that is a phrase I don’t normally hear except from my own mouth (or my brother’s). LOL

    ~smj

  6. Just choose a side, Just choose already, don’t sit on the fence!
    Why?

    Who cares where I sit. To choose a side in my opinion requires some proof that what you are choosing has some basis in fact doesn’t it? Otherwise to be a Deist, or fundamentalist atheist or a fundamentalist Baptist is just simply a blind jump into one position or the other none of which can be defended as absolute truth, or based in fact.

    Should we also require scientists to “Pick a Side” for God’s sake when they don’t have enough evidence to even make up a good theory? Where would that lead us?

    I will pick a side when I see enough evidence to convince me one way or another of its truthfulness. Otherwise I am perfectly happy on the fence as some call it, watching everyone try to convince everyone else of their correctness. It is a fun show.

    To me the coward is the one who chooses a side simply because he feels compelled, coerced, pressured or frightened into it, and what good is that. Then one side would be jsut as good as the other.

    The search for truth doesn’t have a “side” in my opinion.

  7. Nooga,
    Well said as usual. Maybe the uncertainty on the fence stymies some people and freezes them into inaction. I think I’ve been so brainwashed into believing I must be doing something that I feel a choice is necessary to get me moving. But why? I just want to empty my brain out and start over, but that’s not going to happen.

    I feel like climbing back up on top of the fence, skinned knees and all. 🙂

  8. I think the whole “fence” thing comes from Revelation and the related “hot” or “cold” theology. Be one or the other but god forbid you be lukewarm ( a fence sitter.)

    Honestly religion just always seems to be about taking sides. Same thing in politics and many families too. I think more of us could do better sitting up on that fence and take in the world from that vantage point. Sitting down, looking around and comtemplating is better then running around like a chicken with its head cut off “doing” all manner of things just for the sake of “doing.” (Not that I’m saying you are a headless chicken MOI.) Though I think I have been a time or two. LOL!

    I think sitting on the fence is brave actually. Especially when so many people are telling you to get down and on to one side or the other. It takes confidence to say, “No thankyou. I like it here for now.” It is not a point of weakness in my not so humble opinion. 🙂

    Be patient, take your time.

  9. Rebecca,

    With all the people willing to join me on the fence….I think we need a sturdier fence! LOL

    You all have been right. I think it does take more courage to just say, “I don’t know and maybe I never will.” I’m not one to be patient though, and do tend to do the chicken-meet-head routine myself, but I’m going to try to slow down and smell the theological roses.

    Thanks for the encouragement! 🙂

  10. Too bad we don’t have more fence sitters in politics and as elected officials. Maybe we could actually come to some compromise on things like abortion. Nobody really wants to kill babies do they? Nobody really wants to put mothers and doctors in jail and make criminals out of them do they? Oh there are extremists on both sides who may want those things, but I really think that most people are a little closer to the middle than the public demigods will allow, but can’t be heard because we are all forced to choose a side. A compromise could be reached, but the extremists will have to shut up for awhile and I just don’t see that happening. I think we all could agree on a point when life begins and should not be stopped, and yet still protect a women’s rights, without an all or nothing policy.

    Well, that is my soapbox from the fence today.
    I am a proud fence sitter.

  11. Noogatiger,
    That’s a good idea. Fence sitting in politics. I’d put some on a barbed wire fence until they got the message. You’re right, there is a vast majority of “middle of the road” people out there. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever reach consensus on the issue of abortion. 😦

  12. Sounds like we need a sturdier fence….. 😉

    and, mystery – no… east coast gal here…

    Maybe it’s fence sitter humor we share… 😉

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