(And so are you.)
Here’s what I mean: Agnosticism refers to what we can claim to “know” (gnosis being the Greek word for “knowledge”). An agnostic, then, is simply someone who doesn’t know something about a particular subject. The Latin equivalent of agnosticism is “ignorance” — if someone asks you whether you agree with the Iran deal that Obama recently struck, you could say, “Well to be honest, I’m pretty agnostic and ignorant on the matter, unfortunately.” In other words, there is relevant information that you don’t know.
When it comes to supernatural things it gets tricky.
While a person may claim to know that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius and also claim to know that angels exist, those are two very different types of claims (even though they both invoke the category of knowledge). The first claim can be demonstrated by experimentation and empirical evidence, while the second cannot. Does this make the claim unreasonable? Of course not. After all, the majority of the claims we make are of the second variety, i.e., they’re claims that cannot be proven in the strict scientific sense (examples include claims like “Terrorism is wrong,” or, “Claims are unreasonable if they cannot be proven logically or scientifically”).
Where do claims to supernatural knowledge fit in?
The standard Christian response is that we can “know” supernatural truths with even greater certainty than we can natural ones because the source of that knowledge is God and, more specifically, God’s ordained mouthpieces (the Bible, the Church, etc.). Thus faith, in this schema, is not some lower-level substitute for knowledge, but instead actually supersedes what can be naturally known. While general revelation can tell us with certainty that the law of gravity exists, special revelation can tell us with even greater certainty that the resurrection of Christ occurred.
It is here that I get a little skittish.
Events in my own life (together with a healthy postmodern suspicion toward hubristic claims of knowledge of spiritual things either by religious or atheistic fundamentalists) have made me rather hesitant about what I claim to “know for sure.” Do I believe certain things? Yes, I do. I believe in the tenets of the Creed, for example. But do I know that my understanding of those tenets is absolutely correct? No, I don’t. In that respect I am an agnostic. My faith, my believing, simply does not rise to the level where I am comfortable making such a claim.
Here’s the thing, though: There is a certain beauty (dare I say humility?) in embracing unknowing and uncertainty, together with the sense of dissatisfaction that accompanies them. When I encounter someone with different views than mine, I feel no pressure to convince them out of their positions and into my own. When I am confronted with claims about phenomena that I don’t understand or have no experience with, I feel no need to dismiss or discount them, but rather can see them as opportunities to learn something new and maybe even grow a little.
Much to the chagrin of my former colleagues in Presbyterianism, I did not just become a newly Catholic version of my old Protestant self. I am not the self-assured know-it-all that I used to be. I have no desire to be an apologist for the Christian faith. I don’t want to be an exemplar or walking billboard for holiness or spirituality.
I am barely trying to hang on.
At this point it’s all about faith for me, even if that faith doesn’t supply me with anything resembling actual certainty or knowledge. In fact, I have way more evidence for God not giving two shits what happens to me than for his being “a present help in times of trouble.” My understanding of him simply hasn’t survived the last couple years’ worth of trials.
But still, I believe, and I recite the Creed at Mass with fingers uncrossed. Whether God believes in me is another question altogether (and heaven knows I have given him every reason not to). Might I be wrong? Yep. But you might be, too. And rather than fighting about it, or seeking a level of certitude that will only make me into more of an asshole than I already am, I’d rather live in such a way that whether I was right or wrong about the things I believed, I loved God by loving my neighbor as best I could, and therefore won’t have any regrets when all is said and done.
Heroic and triumphant? Hardly. Realistic? You bet. And for me these days, “real” is enough.