The first way in which I’m an agnostic

Most people see an agnostic as somebody who doesn’t think there is enough evidence one way or another to settle the question “Is there a God.”

I want to be really clear here:

I’m stretching this definition, a little.  I don’t have any doubt whatsoever that God exists, that He is love, and that Jesus Christ was His son in a wholly unique way.

That said, there are some issues that I don’t think there is enough evidence on, either way.  There are some issues that I am agnostic about.  God’s existence isn’t one of them.

Homosexuality, however, is an issue I’m agnostic on. 

I’d go so far as to say I’m not sure that I’ll ever have enough information, in this life, to satisfactorily take a strong position on these issues.

Let me clarify what I am unsure on.  And then I will explain why I’m unsure of it.

I am unsure whether homosexual acts are acceptable with God.

I am unsure of how much God will hold accountable people who have never heard of him.  Or people who have only had negative interactions with Christians.

I say these things knowing that I’m going to tick off dear friends on both sides of these issues.  I invite them to post below.  But I have to say, all false modesty aside, I’m pretty sure I know most of the research, scripture verses, and arguments on both sides of these issues.

Here’s what I don’t know:

I don’t know what it’s like to be attracted to somebody of my gender. 

I know that I am attracted to women.  I know that this feels like the way I was born.  I know that it would be a major stumbling block if somebody told me that in order to be a good Christian, I had to not-be attracted to women.

We can play semantic games all day long.  We can say “It’s not the homosexual feelings, it’s the homosexual acts that are the sin.”  One of the problems with this claim, though, is that it’s an awfully big exception.  In virtually every other area we recognize that Jesus said it’s the condition of our heart that matters.  He quite specifically said that if we lust in our heart we’ve already comitted adultry.

I know that there are a number of passages of scripture that appear to condemn homosexuality.  I know that there are a variety of quite sophisticated arguments disputing these.  I know that on the surface, though, they appear to say that homosexuality is wrong.

I end up at this point shrugging my shoulders.  Back where I started, basically.

What is most important is I know that God is not a trickster.  He isn’t out to decieve us.  He is love.  He wants us to understand.

I can’t believe that so many people would be made one way, and then would have to live in denial.  Not just deny the acts.  But somehow figure out a way to deny the desire itself.

There are two possibilities.  I am not in any position to have any clue which is the truth.  I would have to be inside the heart and soul of someone who is gay to really know.

One possibility is that the wrongness of homosexuality is sensed by those who are gay.  Somewhere, deep inside, they know what they are doing is wrong. 

The other possibility is that it isn’t wrong, at all.

The alternative seems incomprehensible to me.  That people would be expected to figure out that they need to deny themselves, but not have any real way of figuring out.  God is loving and just and fair.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

10 thoughts on “The first way in which I’m an agnostic”

  1. I like that you posted this. I’m not sure exactly what I think about this issue, either. I probably end up more “conservative” that you in this particular case, but I do think there’s a tension that often gets ignored or diminished or mocked or something by heterosexual religious people, and I’m glad you were brave enough to say this this way.

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  2. Wow…I’m impressed with this post. Being honest with yourself is not easy, but being honest for the world to potentially read is even more difficult. I’m curious to hear some of the arguments that view God as pro-homosexuality, or at least He views it as a non-issue. Is God then also pro-gluttony or drug abuse, spousal abuse…etc. I’m not being sarcastic in any way either. I hope you read this with the understanding that I am a guy that is imperfect and fallen, and sometimes clueless about things.

    I guess it comes back to my world view, and also what my view of the scriptures is. Part of my world view is that truth is absolute regardless of the time in history, the culture, or the popular agenda/opinion. Furthermore I believe that the Word of God is not an evolving document like the constitution. His word, as it says in 1Pt 1:24-25, abides/remains/lasts forever. It doesn’t fail, it never fades, it is eternal and always truth.

    From what I read it seems pretty clear that God has a problem with homosexuality. Any time it is mentioned, it is not in a good context or in an approving tone. Even in the NT it is not viewed as acceptable, but as sinful. So, why would that have changed now. Is it because we are so much more advanced and our understanding of cultures and language and science etc., etc. is so great that we have now become an authority to determine that something that was viewed as sinful is no longer. So, is cheating on my wife no longer viewed by God as sin?

    Can we argue that people feel that it is in their nature, oh yeah! My nature was to go after every chick that was out there and shack up. Had any of them been interested in me, I might have been with many, but that’s another story!:)

    That was my nature. If I did not develop the understanding that this is not how God created me to be, but is an unfortunate side effect to my sinful nature, I would have continued in it even while I am married. I’m sure my wife would not approve, even if God did!

    I have to work on keeping my body/flesh/sinful nature in check so I do not carry out the things that I so want to do. Is this any more or even any less the struggle that my gay brothers and lesbian sisters go through. My struggle with sin is ever present, just as it is for them, just as it is for an alcoholic, or someone who can’t control their eating. I am in no way condemning any sinner, because we are all born condemned due to our sin. I am for pointing all sinners to the wonderful cross that bids us all to come and die…die to ourselves, our wants, our desires- no matter how noble or un-noble they are – and find life in the Christ, who was our ultimate example of denial.

    I guess that’s just it. If we want to call ourselves Christ followers, then we better get ready to deny ourselves and follow His example.

    I love you Jeff! I’m glad we’re friends, and I’m even more glad that we work together for eternal things.

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  3. It’s such a blessing to have people in my life who both like me and will call it like they see it.
    The stuff that is being brought up here is really important. The cool thing about this being my blog is that when I find topics really interesting I can turn them into posts rather than bury them down here, at the end of a string comments…
    So Al, and Jenn, and anybody else following along, I hope you’ll take a look at the next post, where I’ll share my reactions and thoughts.

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  4. Jeff, I sincerely respect your honesty, but there really is no way of being “agnostic” about how God feels about homosexuality without playing dumb. God uses Leviticus (Va’yikra) and Deuteronomy (Dva’rim) as a direct means of expressing that he is against homosexuality and that homosexuality is an act done on the pain of death. Whether being a homosexual is different from being merely attracted to the same sex without consummating this attraction, homosexuals, according to the direct word of God (or those whom he spoke to) is a horrible sin that should be punishable by death.

    It’s possible that you think differently than God does here. I’m sure that even if you wanted, you couldn’t think exactly as God does (even with entities not as elusive as God, thinking exactly the same is nearly impossible!) – and if God might abhor the idea of homosexuality, it doesn’t mean you do.

    If this was anyone else other than God, you wouldn’t think twice about saying that you disagree, but you find yourself in a conundrum here, because when you say that God is love, it means that he loves everyone, but he doesn’t. People who love me will not want me dead, no matter what I did. I could be a murderer, a rapist, and a war criminal, and my father, for instance, would never, ever, want me dead. That’s love, my friend, and love is much blinder than justice – it does not punish criminals or wrong-doers.

    It’s possible to believe in God and accept the fact that he doesn’t love people who do what he doesn’t like, but you cannot put the direct and unambiguous taboo on homosexuality face-to-face with a God that loves all human beings, no matter what their sexual orientation is, and say there’s no contradiction.

    Either you say that God hates (at least enough to order them stoned to death) homosexuals, or you play innocent and pretend that he doesn’t even though he puts it bluntly.

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  5. Thanks for your insight (Should I call you ‘freidenker’ or your real first name?)

    I don’t think the issue is playing dumb. I think in fact, the issue is playing smart.

    Some people pretend that they don’t know what they do know. They think that the only way that God speaks to them is scripture. I’d suggest that this belief is rather demeaning to God, the idea that outside experiences are out of God’s control.
    Scripture should be huge in determining how we figure out the world, I think. But it shouldn’t be the only thing.
    Scripture is true and nothing but truth. But many people take the position that they could interpret scripture apart from the rest of their experiences in the world. I think these people are niave. Apart from our experiences in the world, scripture simply doesn’t make sense.

    So the question for me becomes: What does God mean in the scriptures?
    This is particularly tricky with the Old Testament. As you know, there are a variety of prohibitions, expectations, and rules in the Jewish Scriptures which Christians don’t hold themselves to.
    It’s therefore an open question, how much I should apply the examples you cite to things today.

    You are quite right. It’d be foolish to believe I think like God. I’m reminded of Joshua’s arrogance before the angel. Effectively, Joshua said “Are you on our side?” And the angel answered, more or less “Puny little man, you’ve got it backwards. God isn’t on human’s sides. Humans ought to hope and pray that they are on God’s side.”
    And so I’ll do my best to think my puny little human versions of God’s amazing and lofty thoughts, recognizing that I might have some dim reflection but never the fullness of His understanding.

    And this leads to the question of putting God’s love face to face with things that appear to be contradictions.
    I won’t deny that the issue of homosexuality appears to be a contradiction of the claim that God is love. For that matter, the possibility of Hell also looks like a contradiction.
    But I don’t believe in contradictions. I think the error must be somewhere in our understandings.

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  6. If you don’t know what God means in the bible, then nothing scripture says is meaningful anyway, because you willfully admit that you can’t decipher even the most blatant decrees. If the bible was written at a time when people were very literal and, let’s face it, not that educated, “kill homosexuals” means one and one thing only: “Kill homosexuals”. You’re continuing to sidestep the issue by genuflecting before God and throwing your hands as if to say: “I don’t know what he means” – which is “playing dumb” in the respect that if you say you don’t understand something, then you’re “dumb” (that is, uncomprehending). I’m not saying, heaven forbid (you should use “Has Ve’halila” to impress your friends!), that you’re dumb, I’m only saying that insisting that you don’t understand something that you admit is blatantly put is “playing dumb”.

    I understand your argument, but you continue to ignore the problem instead of facing it. As far as I know, the two possibilities mentioned in my previous post is are the only ones that exist, but I’m open-minded as to other possibilities, and yet, I don’t think you’ve displayed any plausible alternatives.

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  7. Hmmmm.
    I will agree that there is a specific decree that I struggle with. In this particular area, it’s hard to discern his will. In short, that’s kind-of my whole point. This an area I am agnostic in.

    I think it’s overstating the case to say that the whole of scripture is called into question because I can’t decipher God’s most blatant decrees.
    As a general rule, I think it’s wise to be suspicious of anybody who claims to have it all figured out. I don’t think there is anybody, anywhere, on any side of the divide who can claim to offer a thoroughly coherent, consistent account for the nature of God and reality.
    There are pros and cons to Fundmanetalist world views and militant atheist world views; Jewish World views, emergent/post modern Christian world views, etc. etc.

    It seems to me that the question is, taken as a whole, which view is the most compelling and coherent.

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  8. You know what? I don’t think the whole of scripture is called into question, I’m sorry if that was implied, but in this case, I really fail to understand why you refuse to deal with what the decree blatantly says. It doesn’t get any clearer than this, and naturally, it calls in to question how you address other verses that are less blatant? I’m not saying you might misunderstand them, but only that your subjectivity plays a part (perhaps a bad part, from a Christian perspective) in tweaking the meanings of verses.

    In one respect, being a good Christian means destroying homosexuals, because it’d be following the bible to the letter. In that respect, I think you should be worried about your agnosticism, because it is most evidently flying in the face of what the bible says.

    I perfectly agree that being suspicious of of smartasses (I’m abbreviating your original, much more eloquent way of putting it 🙂 ) – but in some cases, you simply can’t waste time on being agnostic about things. You could be “agnostic about gravity”, but there really is no point in it, even though it’s, say, metaphysically valid. If the bible calls a spade a spade in some cases, why bother trying to sidestep what it clearly says? Why sidestep the issue? Okay, so the bible clearly means something I don’t agree with. So what? Your relationship with God has to be both-ways, and that means you can disagree with him. If God’s made in your image, he has to have the capacity of being different than you are because that’s how human beings are. At least in respect to his human part of His divine image.

    I think there’s much more cons than pros to Fundamentalism (not so much as militant atheism, and I really don’t see myself as a militant atheist, just an avid reality-obsessive). That’s why I’m much more in favor of your type of Christian. In fact, Christians like you give me a warm feeling regarding Christianity. I don’t care if you guys believe in things I don’t, not only would you be brave enough and kind enough to speak to me about it, but you’re also decent enough to respect my differences!

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  9. Hey everybody-
    On the post after this one (which basically deals with the same topic), Vance posted this link:

    http://www.futurechurch.co.za/item/what-the-bible-says-about-homosexuality

    Vance is a very smart guy and I found this link to be fairly convincing. (He didn’t write it, but he did draw my attention to it) And it’s also pretty brief and easy reading.

    Freidenker, I reflected on this exchange between you and I and came to realize that it’s a little bit funny.
    In a way, you’re offering me a rhetorical out. It’s probably confusing (maybe even frustrating?) why I don’t take them.

    The rhetorical out is around the question of whether or not I can simply disagree with God, or out of hand dismiss scripture.

    There’s lots of reasons why I want to be really careful with how I explain myself in situations like this.

    There are times and places that I end up not being on board with what scripture appears to be saying. But I’m always really careful. This is a very dangerous thing.

    Emergent/Post-modern/Left-wing/Progressive Christians (like me) often get accused of picking and choosing which parts of the bible we’ll follow. This is a pretty serious allegations. It’s sometimes deserved. (But the old-school/traditional/right-wing Christians do it about as much as we do, in my opinion.)

    One of the real dangers (from where I sit; this probably doesn’t seem like a bad thing to you.) is that if we’re not careful in understanding where, when, and why we’re not following along with what scripture seems to mean, then we really end up taking a buffet approach to our faith. (I’ll take two helpings of grace, but don’t give me any of that eternal damnation talk, it gives me gas.) It’s a pretty short step from picking and choosing which parts of scripture we affirm to just giving up on the truth of any of it.

    Thanks so much for your ongoing kindness and insight. They are not only interesting but also helpful, as I wrestle around with the importance of what I believe. It’s an awesome thing about the internet, that a skeptical (o.k., reality-obsessed) Jewish guy in Israel can be conversing with a bunch of American Christians.
    (By the way, do you normally talk in English, when you’re not signing? You seem quite fluent.)

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  10. not gonna lie, i didn’t read the whole post, or most of the comments. I did get to the part about natural feelings and being born a certain way and not knowing what it feels like to be attracted to someone of the same gender.

    But I have to say that I naturally want to have sex with every attractive woman I see. That’s just the way I was born. I’m a guy right, I have that excuse.

    Let’s face it, David committed adultery, and God still loved him. There were consequences, but David grew in Love with God.

    God loves gay people, just as much as he loves us who have hated our brother, or lusted after a woman.

    But God does set a standard, clearly, and to quote the eloquent Isaiah, “Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?… Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”

    Really I just love chapter 40 in Isaiah.

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