Auburn Unitarian Universalist Society
There are many things that we can be precise about. We know how much we weigh in the morning when we step on a scale; we can tell you what we have eaten for a meal; we know when bills and taxes need to be paid—and how much we owe; we know that Christmas will be celebrated on December 25, though we do not know exactly when or where Jesus was born; and we can provide directions from one location to another—though there may be more than one route to follow.
On the other hand, does anyone really know the exact moment when the world was created? While we are pretty sure that the universe was created by what has been called “the big bang,” do we know why that explosion was set off at that precise moment? We know that life is pretty amazing. However, can anyone tell us why some seemingly healthy people die of sudden heart attacks, while others linger for years with degenerative diseases? Is this really “God’s Plan?”
Nearly 32 years ago, when I was a ministerial intern, my supervisor drilled the word “hubris” into my head. Hubris is another word for prideful ignorance. It is the sin of claiming to know too much about what we really do not understand, and should not claim to know. It comes to mind whenever I hear someone say “God tells us” or “this is God’s will.” Let us be honest: none of us really knows God’s will. When pushed to explain, we probably do not know whether there is such a Being as the God that so many preach about on Sunday mornings. The difference between me and whoever is in your pulpit is probably this: I am willing to acknowledge that there are things that we do not know, and probably never will fully understand. So, I have stopped using phrases such as “God says” or “God tells us.” Instead, I am more likely to say something akin to “based on my understanding, I believe that the most loving or compassionate response to a situation is….”
Religion begins with wonder. It begins when we ask what all of life is about, and what we are supposed to do with it. Some would end the process of questioning and learning with answers that are often justified with phrases such as “God says” or God tells us ….” If only this were true.
If science has taught us anything, it is that there is much that we do not know, and that we will never know. Some would argue that this is precisely the reason why we should not believe in any God. It is, after all, just a material process. In one of his earlier books, A Brief History of Time, the English cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, tells us that we can trace the origins of the universe back to the first moments following what has been called “the big bang.” However, to know what lit the fire that set off the equation, according to Hawking, would be tantamount to reading the mind of God. I know that Hawking has changed his opinion since then. Now, he argues that the big bang does not require an explanation. It simply happened. I still prefer the earlier Hawking, who was agnostic enough to admit that there are things we just don’t know.
Religious skeptics such as atheists or non-theists and agnostics have gotten a bum rap in our society. I believe that the reason for this is that most people want certainty. They want to believe, even if what they are told to believe is unbelievable. The result can be seen in decreased attendance at worship services and people merely going through the motions rather than actively participating in worship services.
I remain an agnostic because I want to believe, along with the earlier Hawking, that there is some purpose to all of this. However, I am honest enough to say that none of us can honestly read its mind or discern that underlying purpose. We can only make our best efforts at reasoning, thinking, and feeling our way through life’s moral conundrums, and hope that we are acting compassionately. At the least, we treat others as we wish to be treated.
We live in a world that has been saturated by charlatans and “God-claimers” and is largely missing “God acknowledgers.” God-claimers are the so-called religious authorities who use the word “God” to justify ideas as diverse and perverse as misogyny, torture, and, even killing in the name of their gods. Does any intelligent or compassionate person still believe that the Inquisition had God’s imprimatur or blessing? I doubt it. If you have a minister or priest who tries to do so, you know that you are dealing with a fraud or a charlatan, not a person of God. Religion is about hope and helping us to make it through this world. It should not be about tribalism and killing those who are different, unless you want to worship some Dracula-like, bloodthirsty imitation of the divine.
To find yourself back at the beginning, according to the poet, T.S. Eliot, can be a blessing. It is to return to wonder, rather than leaping or grasping for a claimed certainty. Some may even call it a “faith in uncertainty.” I acknowledge it as an agnostic’s uncertainty. It is also an agnostic’s honesty. Is it yours? If so, I invite you to spend a Sunday morning with our congregation. You will be welcomed, along with your questions.