I suppose one of the biggest difficulties encountered when speaking with an agnostic about the higher things, such as ethics and God, is understanding exactly with what one speaks.  It may even be in question if the self-proclaimed agnostic himself knows; all that is clear to him is that he does not know.  Of course, I am a Christian, but I imagine the radical atheist and proselytizing pagan (they are so rare these days) would face the same sorts of problems when advocating viewpoints.  It is one thing to attack and defend a specific philosophy or theology—it fixes itself in some unyielding foundation.  One must only search for the cracks in the wall, the weaknesses in the defenses.  Yet to battle a viewpoint that will shift and change, never taking any foundation for granted, compels one to chase it fruitlessly.  While most worldviews are accustomed to establishing themselves like soldiers in a fortress, agnosticism depends on maneuver and guerilla tactic.  They believe no fortress impregnable, thus they accept none for themselves.  Skepticism is therefore its greatest weapon and its final foundation, should we give it one.  It finds flaws in every stronghold; if only one digs deep enough below its foundations, any embattlement can be undermined.  It sees the nature of doubt inherent in all ideas, and thus surrenders to it.  Truly, the conviction that our perceptions, thoughts, and beliefs correspond with reality at all bears the semblance of faith itself.  This is especially true of those things so far from the common perception and understanding of all Man, such as God and ethics.  Ultimately, the agnostic will not deal in faith, but facts, until he may one day decide for himself there are no facts.  Perhaps this is his boldest creed.  Against such an opponent, there may be an endless defense, but there can be no victory, for one cannot even first define victory.

However, if I were to speak to an agnostic, I would not tell him he is wrong or that I am right.  That is the exact battle for which he is most prepared.  I would tell him he is exactly right, and only then might he be troubled.  Once told he is right, he realizes in a solemn moment that he does defend something.  The true problem is that he has not been right enough.  He has proven himself doubtful of God, of right and wrong, and perhaps even of the existence of his own right arm if he is talented.  However, one thing he has likely not been doubtful of is his own doubtfulness.  He has chosen a life unwilling to commit to any error, but in so doing, he may have committed an error, and perhaps the gravest one.  A man standing in the desert has infinite paths laid before him.  One might lead him to safety.  Yet assuredly the most deadly is to be still and do nothing for fear one’s path may lead him astray.  Yes, it is possible no direction will lead to salvation, but for that fear, he has not chosen the right path, only a more certain one.  The Christian sees a bright star in the sky, and he will follow it out of the desert to Bethlehem.  The atheist recalls a star is simply a ball of gas, signifying not God but the unbending law of nature, and he will choose any other direction in his defiance.  Nonetheless, at least he may choose a direction.  This brings me to the old principle that in order to save one’s life, one must first be willing to lose it.  In not choosing, the agnostic has chosen.  If God be real, if right and wrong be absolute, if my right arm does in fact exist (of which I am a most stringent defender), then he has chosen against such things, for in such beliefs there can be no middle ground.  The agnostic may stride merrily through life avoiding defeat and failure, but he can never find victory.  By never choosing a fortress to defend, he has at once never found anything worth defending, and anything he may call victory is fruitless.

I suppose there is a worse sort of agnostic than the skeptic, and that is the man of apathy.  At least the skeptic has thought.  His actions and beliefs have not moved, but at least his brain has.  On the other hand, the apathetic agnostic does not even grasp that he stands in a desert.  You may lead a horse to water, but in this case, you must first convince the horse he is thirsty.  Of such an end, I am most frightened for others, for reason can never penetrate an unreasoning mind, a mind that has found shallow comfort, which serious thought will inevitably break.  For such a person, reason cannot be employed, but only revelation.  For such a person, the need for a better path must be felt before it is thought.  Is it wrong to propel someone from an ignorant bliss?  As a Christian, I have all reason to believe it my duty, for their perceived bliss will lead them softly to death.  From other perspectives, I will let their advocates speak.

In conclusion, I cannot show the agnostic beyond his doubts which path is right, only that I know where his ends.  Despair only occurs where there is no hope; in other words, despair only occurs when the future is certain.  And to choose nothing seems to me the most certain future. Therefore, I urge the agnostic not to linger, instead to choose his path best he can, to follow it to its end, not without prudence, but more importantly with vigor.  As infinite as our paths may be, so are our opportunities to change them.  Possibly unending thirst and the heat of day will devastate us all amongst the burning dunes, but I think the driest bones and most barren skeleton will be found just where it began—or failed to begin.

 

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