Have you ever heard of the famous wager of
the 17th century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal? “Either God
is, or he is not. But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide
this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite
distance [death] a coin is being spun that will come down heads [God] or tails
[no God]. How will you wager?” The agnostic says, “The right thing is
not to wager at all.” Pascal replies, “But you must wager. There is
no choice. You are already committed.”
As Pascal points out, we can’t not choose. Agnosticism is not really an
option, for we must act, not just think, in this life, and all action is either
for or against God. All actions either are oriented to and motivated by love,
or they are not. (I mean voluntary, deliberate, and significant actions
here—sneezing or putting on one’s socks in the morning might be safely
considered neutral!) If God is love, then there can be no real neutrality. Of
course, Pascal’s wager is only a rough start for those who have little else
than their self-interest to motivate themselves. One must go deeper.
It’s pretty simple, really. If you choose
to live as if love does not exist, then you will have to accept the
consequences: a loveless life and a loveless afterlife. Whether life ends in
this world or goes on, you ain’t gonna have love either way, for
unconsciousness surely isn’t love, and if there is indeed life after death,
well, you reap what you sow—why would you choose love in the afterlife if you
rejected it in this one?
So, agnosticism is just a bad idea, for it
is the most foolish of choices. Atheism, I think, might be the more noble
gesture, perhaps, if it meant something like a protest against seemingly
unnecessary suffering, in the spirit of
Ivan in The Brothers Karamozov. But,
then again, it’s a spiritually dangerous protest if it doesn’t eventually
resolve into the “good atheism” of rejecting all idol-worshipping religion and
belief (which is what much of contemporary “religion” amounts to),
and finally into a robust belief in the living God who ultimately transcends our
human concepts and practices (though one must not discount the possibility of
beliefs and practices that are divinely authorized and provided to us as
spiritual lifelines to an otherwise ineffable and unapproachable divinity).
So, both agnosticism and atheism are
ultimately disbelief in love, whatever their more ennobling aspects. But
agnosticism is a worse idea than atheism, as I say, for it would seem that
there is more mercy available for the hot-blooded atheist than the lukewarm
believer—Jesus talked about vomiting the latter, not the former, out of his
mouth. Though of course, “The Fool says there is no God.” Perhaps some morally
good atheists are actually rejecting a false notion of God that they do not
realize is false, and hopefully the love of truth that motivates this rejection
will eventually turn into a recognition of the true God before the end. The
same cannot be said for the agnostics, who believe and reject nothing. I seem
to remember Dante suggesting that neither heaven nor hell wanted them.
One only believes in what one has a nature akin
to. So, if one disbelieves in love enough to remain unmoved by it, as the agnostic
does, it means his soul is lacking in love. Deliberate, conscious agnosticism,
then, is really a moral, not primarily intellectual, decision—to live without
love. The will is in charge in all belief, for it is not totally bound by the
intellect that informs it. These mutually influence each other. Thus, real, deliberate
and conscious agnosticism is a grave sin, not to be excused by ignorance,
though invincible ignorance is a legitimate excuse. But this does not excuse a
lack of love, just a lack of true belief. The agnostic has no excuse.
To demand proof of love, of God, as the
agnostic does, is to reject love and to reject God. This is what Adam and Eve
essentially did in distrusting God’s love. They had no “reason” to
reject it. This is why the consequences of their actions were so grave—and all
of us are mysteriously bound up in their original distrust. We sinned with
them. They were the first agnostics.
The seemingly unnecessary suffering of
innocents is the best reason, if there actually were one, to reject God’s love,
whether in agnosticism or atheism. This is the best argument for disbelief or
neutrality, in my opinion.
But it ultimately fails. One must never stare
into the abyss that our sins have created, else risk damnation in despair, for
evil is not there for us to solve with our clever minds or condemn God for as
if he were somehow ultimately responsible. We must, instead, keep our eyes
fixed on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ and hold on to him for dear
life in the midst of the evils that would otherwise suffocate our souls and
eclipse all the beauty and love that this world still contains.
Agnosticism is the ultimate stupidity and
wickedness because it doesn’t so much reject God as ignore him. If I were God,
I’d be more angry at indifference than anything else.
Thaddeus J. Kozinski is assistant
professor of humanities and philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College and the
author of The
Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: And Why Philosophers Can’t Solve It.