While I was reading the news this morning, I couldn’t help but think about the old Monty Python sketch about Church Bells (I couldn’t find a good video of it, however the script is readily available online). In it an atheist – well, “lapsed atheist” – complains to his wife about the “sectarian turmoil” of the church bells down the street clanging their call to worship. He gets rather upset and starts alliterating about how they only have to put up with racket from the Christians; not the Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or Shintos. As the sketch continues, the church bells get louder and louder and the wife looks out the window to find that the church has moved its foundations and is coming up the road toward their house, the church bells getting louder all the time. Fortunately for the agnostic man, his wife had made him a “number 14-St Joseph-the-somewhat-divine-on-the-hill ballistic missile” for his birthday. He simply has to pull the trigger and it homes in on the nearest place of worship and flies “right up the aisle” to put an end to the church.
The sketch ends with the husband remarking, “Well I’ve always said, ‘There’s nothing an agnostic can’t do if he really doesn’t know whether he believes in anything or not.’”
We could dig really deep into that sketch and probably come out with several worthwhile topics of conversation (e.g. a man so disaffected by life that he goes from being an atheist to a “lapsed atheist”, a man who simply must complain about something and finds his feelings assuaged by aiming his vitriol at the church and God, a wife who goes along with her husband so far that she enables his destruction of societal institutions, a church building picking itself up and pursuing an unbeliever, a desire amongst some to have one good shot at the church of God). I’ll touch on a couple of these topics as I go, but the main thing which I want to talk about is that final idea, “There’s nothing an agnostic can’t do if he really doesn’t know whether he believes in anything or not.” Apart from its apparent logical inconsistency – something comically brilliant in my opinion – it reveals a philosophy that is admitted to by Graham Chapman and Monty Python here, but is completely under the radar to most of its adherents. In fact, if we look carefully at it, it’s not illogical at all.
I don’t think that the majority of people in the world are introspective or aware enough of their beliefs to even have thought about the implications of their philosophy. It has nothing to do with some sort of lack of intellectualism in the world (in fact, there might be too much “intellectualism”), or even a more tempered ‘lack of education.’ Frankly, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to think about the most important questions in life. But it does take time, honesty and an open heart.
It may have been easier to think things out a century ago. After all, in our age of constant news updates, 24/7 texting, tweeting, blogging and Facebooking, 300 channels of television entertainment, incessantly swirling and changing styles of music, clothes and who’s hot, and a continual churn of fads, just keeping up can be a massive undertaking and it distracts us from taking stock in who we are, what we believe and what we are doing. That’s why such a massive number of people can hashtag support for the victims in a tragedy like Charlie Hebdo before moving on to the next en vogue topic feeling good about themselves and their contribution … to … well … something.
But, deep down, does a simple expression of support (like a hashtag) for something matter a whole lot when that same person leading up to a tragic event supported the very policies that directly led to it? It takes no courage, no investment and no mental reflection. To use the Charlie Hebdo slaughter as an example again, how can people who support the idea of unfettered immigration (without time or requirement for homogenization with the French culture) then denounce the actions of terrorists who do something as heinous as what happened in Paris. Or, to dig a little deeper, how can someone make a case for the moral equivalency of a political system like Sharia (which encompasses law, religion and societal regimentation – treating women like cattle, encouraging genital mutilation of little girls, imposing a clear caste system and tiered tax system which enslaves entire sections of the population [dhimmitude], and calling for the execution of anyone who refuses full and undiluted conversion) with the freedom and liberty of the Western political system (which has free speech, suffrage, property rights and freedom of religion) then complain when the product of that equivalency is the death and destruction of French lives? To say it another way, how much gall does it take to feign sadness and pain when a policy you support inevitably leads tragedy?
However I doubt many people think that deeply about anything like the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I think the vast majority of people simply look at their twitter timeline, see that something horrible has happened, feel a twinge of discomfort and sadness, notice that their friends and favorite Hollywood stars are mourning-by-hashtag, and then reflexively join them with a tweet of their own before ordering their tall-not-too-hot-double-whipped-single-espresso-shot-mocha-frappuchino at Starbucks.
That’s why I think that there are a lot more agnostics out there than the surveys show. We always think about the more militant agnostics out there: the ones who want to show – by suppressing anything even remotely bordering on faith – everyone that they’re open-minded through excessive skepticism. But the really frightening part is that you don’t have to overtly make a decision to “[not] know whether [you] believe in anything or not” in order to not believe in anything.
One of the greatest weapons which Satan employs in the destruction of faith is in distraction. It’s very easy to erode any sort of belief – any foundational truth to which a person subscribes – by simply distracting them from it.
Think about how rusty you get when you don’t practice something which requires muscle memory. I used to be a pretty darn good deadball striker in soccer (meaning I could take a mean corner kick or direct kick). But after several years of not playing soccer as much, anytime I go out on the pitch and attempt to do what I used to find easy, I forget all of the things which used to be natural. I rotate my hips out of alignment. I place my plant foot off-angle or too far in front of or behind the ball. I strike the wrong spot. I follow through at an odd angle. Or I change the sweep of my leg just slightly. Any of these result in a bad ballstrike and send the ball off-path. Any or all of these mistakes make me fail.
Now think about how much easier it is to forget the foundational truths when you’ve spent days, weeks, months or years in constant distraction from them. You may say that you believe something, but as soon as you are presented with something that either strikes at your emotions or seems right superficially, you cast those beliefs aside in favor of the path of least cognitive resistance. To be perfectly honest, when you don’t truly believe in anything and constantly remind yourself of what you believe, you’ll fall for any old lie.
You’ll believe that everyone’s “truths” are right for them.
You’ll believe that Islam is morally equivalent to Christianity even though Christ said to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, while Muhammad said to strike down the infidel where he stands.
You’ll believe that cultures are inherently equal regardless of the rampant destruction and poverty which one has compared with the other.
You’ll believe that murdering a living child in the womb is a choice of the mother and nothing more than the removal of foreign cells from her body.
You’ll believe that killing in self-defense is just as bad as murdering premeditatedly.
You’ll believe that an institution created by God (marriage) can be legislated and made holy by a government or a court.
You’ll believe that relationships which God made a requirement for life (a mother and a father) can be replaced by money from the state.
You’ll believe that the earth, which God Himself created and sustains, is so fragile that we puny humans – here today and gone tomorrow – are able to arrest the normal ebb and flow of its intricate balance.
You’ll believe that any increase to our scientific knowledge of the universe is in itself a proof that we never had nor ever needed a God.
You’ll believe that all sickness and poverty can be wiped out if only we put the right people in charge.
You’ll believe that stealing is justified when not everyone has the same amount.
You’ll believe that a person’s value is inherently tied to their race or demographic group.
You’ll believe that coveting another person’s property is justified because his/her ancestors may or may not have done something wrong to your ancestors.
You’ll believe that the sins of the father should be visited upon the son … unless you’re the son.
You’ll believe that sin is nothing more or less than the transgression of the laws made by the government of the land on which you happen to be standing.
You’ll believe that justice can be attained in this world without God’s help.
You’ll believe that life is over upon last breath – so you’ve got to get as much as you can before you snuff it.
G.K. Chesterton said, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything.” And unless you exercise your mind in the gym of God’s word, you will find your grip on the only true SOMETHING slipping away. Unless you remove the distractions of this life from time to time and focus on something beyond the cravings of the present you will fall prey to any old lie. Unless you follow the paths of logical consistency blazed by God’s word, emotion will guide you into a pit of untruth and leave you rotting within it as the next zephyr of whim moves it along. Because there’s nothing an agnostic can’t believe if he really doesn’t know whether he believes in anything or not.
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
Romans 1:28-32 (NASB)