Our church made national headlines within our denomination, and in many religious publications, when we accepted an atheist into our membership. Our actions were pictured as defiant by some and as complacent by others. In truth, we were honoring a church tradition that goes back as far as Doubting Thomas and is found in many great religions of the world.
“All we know of the truth is that the absolute truth, such as it is, is beyond our reach.” So wrote
Nicholas of Cusa, a German mathematician and philosopher, but also a Catholic Cardinal. He called his method “De Docta Ignorantia”(Learned Ignorance).
Buddha is recorded to have said:
“…Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.'”
St. Paul recommended that we think upon everything that is true, beautiful and Good. To answer that call we most go beyond the confines of any creed.
There have been times in history when agnosticism and atheism have found honored places in the church under the title “negative” or “apophatic” theology. Such “negative” theology did not so much actively attack the symbol God, but taught that a pious and humble unknowing better honors the mystery of being than the pretended certainty of a creed.
“The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth,” wrote
Pierre Abelard, a French scholastic philosopher and theologian.
Critics often attack religion citing a principle of science called “Ockham’s Razor.” The principle states that one should tend toward simplicity in explanation. So if an agent, such as God, is not necessary for an explanation; the agent should be eliminated. What most people don’t know is that William of Ockham, who developed this core principle of science, was a Catholic priest.
We live in a culture where religion is usually equated with a very narrow spectrum of human thought, but there are religions living in our midst that welcome critical thinking and doubt.
Even Christianity has not always resisted honest doubt. There were times when the best critical and most pious thinking could live together in the same skull. There is no reason we cannot return to that kind of honest religion if we are willing to go through a perpetual reformation possible only when doubt and commitment are both deemed essential for a life of faith.