Thursday, February 27, 2020

Uncertainty



I had a great chat with a local Pastor the other day. His church is very different from the one I am familiar with - the hymns, the liturgy, and even the way of faith. Yet he is a terrific person, eager to share his faith with more in the community.

I was mulling over my conversation with him when I came across an old article I bookmarked years ago written by a former priest turned atheist and then agnostic. About his change to agnosticism, Mark Vernon says, "How else to deal with something that lies at the heart of the human condition: uncertainty. Thus, a corresponding 'lust for certainty' characterises many of the debates currently doing the rounds." 

We humans turn to opinion and belief because we want the sense that we have things in control. In our hearts, we know we don't but we are scared, so we look for answers in science, in medicine, in cosmology, and in spirituality.

The author's agnosticism was not the "I don't know and I don't care" agnostic approach to spiritual life. He was still a spiritual person. Faith for him is about letting it be ok not to have all the answers.

I feel the same. I would rather lean into this energy of uncertainty than grasp a belief or opinion that may not feel authentic. Faith for Saint Augustine of Hippo was about "deepening the capacity to enter this cloud of unknowing, rather than opting for the shallow certainties that religion can deliver." Albert Einstein said, "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science." 

Life is uncertain. The more I live my life with that in mind, the more relaxed, patient, and accepting I become. I don't call myself agnostic; my spiritual life includes different things. Yet the author has a point when he suggests that without a worldview that accepts uncertainty, "religion will become more extreme; science will become more triumphalist; and our politics increasingly based on fear."

The article is archived here.

If you read the article, have a look at some of the comments. This was written in 2006; there's nothing as horrible in the the comments as we'd see in 2020. I found it fascinating, though, to see how many used the comment section as a platform for their own opinions - the very thing he was addressing in the article. 

We really do "lust for certainty."

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