Agnosticism and Cohabitation
As our culture has grown more informal in its relationship with God, it's also grown more informal in its relationship to others. As far as God goes, most of us are agnostics - either in the soft sense of a cultural Christianity that believes in a nameless God without a creed or covenant - or in the hard sense of a complacent resignation to the most important question: Is there a God? Agnosticism answers, "I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not." Or as Kip says in that wonderful line in Napoleon Dynamite, "Like anyone could even know that..."
Somewhere between the extreme informality of the hook up scene and the more formal legal status of marriage is that increasingly popular, nebulous in between called cohabitation. It's response to the question, "Are we married? Will we always be together?" is more or less agnostic - "Maybe. But then again, maybe not."
While I'm sure that some people live together before marriage with deep love and commitment and well thought out reasons, as a man I understand what many men are up to here (I can't comment, of course, on what motivations women might have). They want to have a woman in their life in the semi-permanent sense. They want to leave their options open just in case. They also may be open to marriage eventually. But right now, marriage would mean responsibility and commitment -two things that many men put off as long as possible.
Spiritually speaking, I see a connection between agnosticism and cohabitation. Agnosticism allows for the possibility of God, but also wants to leave its options open. It also puts off a solid, permanent commitment to God and all the responsibilities that commitment entails... because, after all, there might be a better option out there, and commitment is often scary and burdensome.
Marriage and Belief
A solid belief in the triune God expressed by a life of discipleship and good works in a community of faith is like marriage.
First, there's commitment. I believe this and not this (I am married to you, and not her).
Second, there's security. You know what to expect. Boundary lines exist that in turn create freedom. Commandments, Creeds, Confessions of faith... all of this reveals the commitment of my God to me and my commitment to him and his family, just as marriage reveals my commitment to my spouse and the limits of my commitment to others.
And third, there's fruitfulness. The result of a true faith in the triune God is always what exists between the three person of the Trinity - Love. A man and a woman pledge faithfulness for life, and that union of love normally creates children. New human beings are the literal enfleshment of that love and commitment. Even in cases where that union does not create new life, the union is still disposed to welcome life.
Atheism - Breaking Up with the Divine
Now, atheism is like a clean, honest break up with the divine. It says, "Look, I'm not looking for a relationship. Let's not pretend that this could ever work out." The fact that many atheists spend a lot of energy affirming their break up with a supposedly non-existent deity is interesting - perhaps telling - but that will have to wait for another post. Granted, I'm not a fan of atheism, but I appreciate it more than agnosticism in that it's enough of a gentleman to be honest and break up. It's also more intellectually intense and consistent in that it does not resign itself to ignorance on such an ultimate question.
Agnosticism - Let's Wait and See
Not so with agnosticism. I would argue that agnosticism is often a form a spiritual cohabitation. It isn't honest enough to break up with the idea of God (after all, there might be a God...). But it's also not man enough to seek God and commit to his reality (after all, what if there isn't a God? I don't want to commit my life to him if there's other options out there!).
Just as I'm sure there are some who live together without the formal commitment of marriage for good reasons (in their minds), I'm sure there are those who are committed to agnosticism for good reasons. Those who fit into this category would be the honest, relentless seeker - not resigned in her agnosticism, but rather restless in it. She really cares about the question of God and is not content to resign to an endless "maybe." Rather, she lives as a seeker underneath the hopefully temporary tension of "not sure." In other words, very much like the cohabitating couple that realizes the less than ideal state they're living in, and in turn works toward the ideal of marriage in the near future (or separating).
However, my guess is that most who claim the title "agnostic" do so for reasons of convenience, fear of commitment, laziness, or all of the above - perhaps the same reasons many cohabitate rather than marry. Truth is unsettling and inconvenient. To seek it out relentlessly, regardless of the cost would mean a deep commitment. And commitments, either to people, ideas, or even reality, is scary. An old song from the Shins puts it well:
The cruel uneventful state of apathy releases me...
The Shins were at least honest enough to admit that apathy acted as a motivating factor in the lack of motivation toward ultimate questions like God's existence and nature.
It's scary to break up. We can't stand to be alone. Very few take the step into the void of atheism. "Atheism is a long, hard, cruel business" says Sartre. I agree.
It's also unsettling to commit. We die in order to live. We lose our lives in order to find them. We accept boundaries to create freedom. But, whether in faith or in marriage, nothing is more rewarding.
*I obviously approached the question of cohabitation as a man. I understand the default thinking of some men when it comes to commitment. I'd love to hear a female argument for the utility of cohabitation. I'd also be curious to know if any of those reasons rest to some degree in the unreliability and lack of commitment found among many men.
*I also wrote this post from the perspective of a Christian. Atheism and Agnosticism aside, the only commitment to God I can conceive of is a commitment to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - not because I have not thought honestly about the other options (the opposite it true), but because I don't find the other religious options altogether convincing.
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church