THE PREVALENT religious attitude of most modern Britons – disregarding the residual and diminishing Christian minority and the adherents of more recently imported faiths – could be roughly categorised as agnostic. Admittedly, many who are asked if they believe in god would say they do and surveys occasionally published in the press do confirm that a majority of the population – I have seen figures ranging from 60% to 90% – assert to some sort of religious belief. But how many of these could elaborate on their own religious views, or ever do so, or ever think about religious questions seriously? In many circles a religious remark would be an embarrassment, if not an instantaneous conversation-stopper. Society’s polite response to issues regarded by religious-minded people as fundamentally important, might be described as a resounding ‘Don’t know!’.
Agnosticism, of course, is not a wholly unreasonable viewpoint, just the result of a false line of enquiry. The agnostic attempts to assess objectively the merits of the believer’s faith in the existence of god or gods by examining the evidence. He concludes that since a god cannot be apprehended by man’s physical senses no evidence with any bearing on the question is available. He says, ‘seeing is believing. I do not see. Therefore I do not believe’.
By what route then does the theist arrive at his belief? How ever wide-ranging and generalised the answer must be, given that there are millions of theists in the world and hundreds of religions, it is a fair question. One could attempt a reply by pointing out that there is one subject in which every thinking individual is an expert, and that subject is ‘what it really means to be me’.
I know – speaking as an expert that ‘what it really means to be me’ cannot adequately be expressed by the entire gamut of known facts ascertained on the basis of observation and measurement through the physical senses. I am certain that were I to spend a lifetime mastering this gamut I should still be left with the empty feeling that I was not one jot nearer the truth. And I strongly suspect that were I to pursue the rationalist approach to its logical conclusion, my understanding of man would be distorted: into an image of something materialistic, mechanical and eerily robotic. In short, something would have been left out of the picture. And that is ‘spirit’.
How ironic that the agnostic should look for a god as honestly as he can and all the resources of his reason and objectivity and find nothing, whereas the theist looks at man, into man, and finds a god – call it a spirit, a soul, a life-force, what you will. Ask an intellectually honest agnostic whether his life is of any worth or value and he will be obliged to answer that he does not know. No one will credit he means what he says, however, which is why agnosticism defies belief.