What is Christian Agnosticism?

One wonders about the text-interpretive powers of the author of this article, Teresa Welsh, when she can’t get straight that Benedict was the “predecessor” rather than the “successor” of the current Pope, but we can leave that aside.

To start with a small point, the Pope’s off the cuff remarks, reported in the article, are not from an encyclical or other official document of high authority within the Church. Not every remark every Pope makes counts as Catholic doctrine.

More substantively, anyone who wants to know the historical development of the Roman Church’s attitudes toward evolution would do well to consult Catholicism and Evolution by Michael Chaberek, OP. It’s a very detailed study.

As of the present, there is no “official” Catholic position on evolution. No official Roman document requires belief in evolution by Roman Catholics. No official document states that evolution is “true”. And even those statements which come closest to affirming that evolution is “true” (“more than a hypothesis” for example) are to be read within the context of orthodox Catholic doctrine on the creation of Adam and Eve. (Which, while indifferent regarding the evolution of lower forms of life, rules out most forms of theistic evolution regarding the origin of man; and even the Genealogical Adam approach would still require significant modification of traditional Catholic doctrine.) Indeed, it’s still possible to be Roman Catholic while holding to a Catholic version of Young Earth Creationism (as do the Catholics gathered at the Kolbe Center.) The Church has not said that such a belief is counter to Catholic teaching.

As I see it, the important question, from a Christian or more generally religious point of view, is not whether you acknowledge that you cannot prove God to be “really real.” The important thing is whether or not you conduct your life as if God exists.

If you do the latter, then you are not really an “agnostic”, as that term is normally used, but just an intellectually modest religious believer. On the other hand, if, because of your uncertainty, you conduct your life as if God does not exist (though open to changing your conduct if you discover evidence that he does), then you are an agnostic in the normal sense of the word.

So, for example, if you still attend Christian church services, and still believe that the claims taught in those services are (for the most part, anyway) true (even if you are aware that you have no rigorous evidence for any of those claims) – then I think you should call yourself a Christian, not an agnostic. A Christian with doubts, a Christian with questions, a Christian with perplexities (in other words, a Christian like most Christians, if truth be told), but still a Christian. On the other hand, if you have ceased attending Christian services and other Christian activities (Bible studies, etc.), this suggests that you have already decided that the preponderance of evidence is such as to leave you in real uncertainty about the truth of, say, the Apostle’s Creed. If the latter is the case, then you should indeed call yourself an agnostic.

If we are speaking in terms of living religious reality, and not in terms of textbook definitions regarding forms of belief and disbelief in an abstraction called God, it’s not lack of proof that makes one an agnostic; it’s lack of belief. You have to decide whether your problem is lack of proof, or lack of belief. And depending on what you decide, you should change your “handle” next to your name to either “Nigerian Agnostic” or “Nigerian Catholic with Theological Doubts.”

(Your current handle, “Nigerian Catholic Agnostic”, is not much use, unless it means merely, “Raised Catholic, but now Agnostic” or something like that. Strictly speaking, a Catholic and an Agnostic are incompatible positions.)


I agree in principle, except that I would say that attending services is not a necessary part of this equation.

@Michael_Okoko, I obviously don’t know what choices are available to you, but there are denominations that do not try to deny the existence of doubt; some even focus on it.

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It doesn’t matter whether some denominations acknowledge doubt or not. All of them simply don’t know.


I do.

This wikipedia article summarizes my position.



“Christian agnosticism,” at least as described in the passage you quote, seems incoherent.

Christian agnostics, it says, are agnostic only regarding “the properties of God”. So that means – what? That they believe God exists, but aren’t sure about some of his properties? Well, let’s say that could make sense, for the moment. But two lines down, it says: “They believe that God or a higher power might exist”. Might exist? I thought they were in doubt only about God’s properties, not his existence. But it gets worse. Jesus “may have a special relationship with God”? “May”? Excuse me, but isn’t the hallmark of a Christian believing that Jesus does have a “special relationship with God”? And they believe that God “should be worshipped”? God only “might” exist, but he should be worshipped? Why? (Just in case? That’s real sincere piety, to worship a possibly non-existent being “just in case” – a sort of cosmic insurance policy, I guess.) And if it’s “difficult to be sure of anything beyond the basic tenets of the Christian faith”, then doesn’t that imply that one can be sure of “the basic tenets of the Christian faith”? And aren’t two of those “basic tenets” the existence of God, and the “special relationship of Jesus to God”? Yet we’ve just been told that the Christian agnostic isn’t sure of those basic tenets.

What an intellectual mess is on display in this paragraph! It’s theology for the mentally muddled. Give me Dawkins or Bertrand Russell any day, over this!

Based on the existence of several major conceptual confusions in the first paragraph, I don’t think I’ll bother reading the rest of the Wikipedia article. But it’s interesting that it mentions a “Christian theologian” named “Leslie Weatherhead” – whose name somehow completely escaped mention by any of my professors and completely failed to appear in references or bibliographies in any of the hundreds of books I read during my BA, MA, and PhD programs in religion. I’m trying to guess where a “theologian” like that would find employment. My guess would be some college run by the United Church of Christ, or by the Unitarians, if the latter even have colleges. Or maybe by the Episcopalians, who had already started their plunge toward religious vacuousness by about 1965. But it really doesn’t matter, since the belief described in the article, though it certainly may be “agnostic”, does not have anything to do with genuine historical Christianity.

By your definition I was an Agnostic Catholic since 1965 when I was in the 2nd grade with Sister St. Joan at Immaculate Conception Church Parochial School as I didn’t buy into that the lousy wafer was the body and blood of a 2000 year old corpse.

I found this article on the web on CA. Its old but seems well written. Because of time constraints I only read some parts. I will fully read through the article later on.


I agree with your assessment. I just skimmed through the Wikipedia article and it seemed good, so I linked it to here.

I didn’t know Leslie too, but he/she seems to be the formal founder of Christian agnosticism (CA). I am not familiar with scholarly material for CA, because I embraced the position mostly through personal reflection.

Christian agnosticism (at least my conception of it) seems to be the most honest position out there: We don’t know. We could know, but no one has fashioned any good criteria for evaluating the truthfulness of Christian claims.

The stance of “Regular” Christianity (RC), which demands absolute belief in God is without good justification. I am not arguing RC doesn’t acknowledge doubt to some extent, but it behaves like it isn’t there at all. That’s dishonest IMO.

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Not by my definition, since I think that “agnostic Catholic” is a contradiction in terms, but by the definition Michael Okoko seems to be using, perhaps you were.

According the Wikipedia entry (I don’t rely on Wikipedia for scholarly purposes, but I just wanted a rough overview), Leslie Weatherhead (a male) was a liberal Methodist who headed up a sort of non-denominational “Temple” in London. He had doubts about a number of traditional Christian doctrines, though apparently was not as far down the road of liberalism as the typical Episcopalian or UCC clergyman of today. He apparently was agnostic about the Holy Spirit, though not about God or the special nature of Jesus – but even on God and Jesus he waffled (over how personal God was, and how divine Jesus was). He appears to be more traditionally Christian than the Wikipedia article on Christian agnosticism would suggest, but less traditionally Christian, by a considerable amount, than figures such as Lewis, Chesterton, Sayers, etc.

I gather from the article that he was more a “churchy” than an “academic” theologian, which is probably why I never heard of him, since in religion departments one tends to study the heavy-duty academic theologians rather than the more pastoral ones. He was a pretty minor figure in even British theology, and British theology, in turn, is pretty minor in comparison with Continental theology, at least as far as the 20th century is concerned. We tended to study the big guns – the major Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed figures from the continent, with a bit of a side glance at Americans such as Tillich and the Niebuhrs. English academic theology in the 20th century was mostly intellectually derivative, rather than original, with pretty nearly nobody one could call “world class” (unless one counts Cardinal Newman, who I think was vastly overrated). Of course, there was a form of English popular theology that did not come from the clergy, and it was pretty creative and also refreshingly conservative – Lewis, Sayers, Chesterton, Williams, etc. But I digress.

Anyhow, Michael, while it can be intellectually honest to say that one doesn’t “know” this or that about God, religious belief is about faith as much as about knowledge. When a Christian says the Apostle’s Creed, he isn’t claiming to be able to prove the truth of the propositions in the Creed to a skeptic, or to a group of scientists, etc. He’s saying what he believes to be true. If one believes that Jesus is the Logos, or the Son of God, or the Son of Man, or the Savior, or the Messiah, or any of the other traditional descriptions, one is a Christian due to that belief, whether he can prove the truth of that belief (through science, or history, or archaeology) or not. So why call oneself a Catholic agnostic? Why not call oneself a Catholic, or an agnostic? Nothing is gained by the term, and much is lost, because the moment you use the word “agnostic”, a term loaded with historical baggage, anyone reading your words will conclude (quite reasonably) that you don’t have any firm conviction of the truth of Christianity, or even of the existence of God.

Have you ever heard the phrase “faith seeking understanding”? It’s quite normal for a Catholic or any Christian to have some doubts. Nobody needs to call himself a “Catholic agnostic” or “Calvinist agnostic” or “Lutheran agnostic” just because he has some intellectual doubts on some matters. Why not call yourself a “Catholic seeking understanding”? Has a nice ring to it, I think.

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So I wasn’t a Catholic then? oh my. But when I wrote the Bishop years ago to formally ask to be taken off the roles and mailing list of the Catholic Church because of the cover up of the Priest Child Abuse scandal, I was told by the Rt. Hon. Bishop of Trenton that because I was baptized (against my will) six weeks after my birth in 1958, I am a Catholic forever and can’t be taken off the mailing list for donations. So what is true, @Eddie am I a Catholic, an ex-Catholic, or a Catholic Atheist? I really want to know so that I can continue to falsely claim donations to the Catholic Church on my taxes.

You were a Catholic if you accepted, at least in the main outline, the doctrines of the Catholic Church. At whatever point you ceased to accept the teaching of the Church, you ceased to be a Catholic. If you chose to keep going to seasonal services for sentimental or family or cultural reasons, that was of course your own business, but it wouldn’t make you a Catholic. Catholicism is a religion, not a social club.

As for donations and taxes, I don’t believe that one has to be a religious believer to donate to a religious organization. An atheist might think that religious missionaries do good medical or social work in poor countries, and donate to their missions. I think you could donate to any legally registered religious group and get a tax receipt for a charitable donation. I doubt very much that when the IRS sees your tax receipt, they are going to call you in and verify that you know your catechism before they allow you your tax deduction. In any case, if you don’t want to donate to the Catholic Church or any other religious group, there are lots of donations of equal value you can give to other charitable organizations to earn the same tax deduction, so what is the problem?

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Steven Cobert defines an agnostic as “an atheist with no balls”.


This is what beguiled Islamic suicide bombers are told before they are sent on bombing sprees. These suicide bombers have no clue as to whether they will really get into paradise if they eliminate infidels, but with faith, they believe that will happen. Imagine how the world would be if they asked their sponsors: how do you know?

True, but believing something to be true doesn’t make it true, right?

Many Christians positively claim that God exists or Jesus is God in the absence of clear, unambiguous evidence. That’s dishonest IMO. I contrast my position with that by labelling myself a Christian agnostic. I recognize the possibility of God’s existence, but is my belief in that claim 100% as Jesus demands? No.

Ask me whether God exists and you get “maybe” for an answer. Ask a typical Christian and you get a “yes”.

I am not a Catholic seeking understanding, I am seeking evidence.


So because some people do bad things in the name of certain faiths, no one should have faith of any kind? It’s too dangerous to believe anything, so everyone should sit on the fence?

Who could disagree with that? But you seem to be advocating a mental and emotional stance toward religious doctrine which, if consistently adopted, would paralyze all religion. Members of religious organizations would be spending all their time debating about whether their religions were really true, and none of their time living out those religions. If you’re asking, “Why should we follow the Sermon on the Mount? How do we know it’s true? How do we know that the teachings of the Marquis De Sade or Nietzsche or Machiavelli don’t lead to a happier, fuller life?” you’re suspending the question of whether or not to live as a Christian indefinitely. What’s your motive for asking religious believers to suspend their lives in this way?

Religion requires a degree of practical certainty, even where theoretical certainty is not available. Religions aren’t debating clubs for philosophers. If you want complete freedom to be changing your ideas and morality on a daily basis, don’t join any religious group, be a Socrates running around the marketplace questioning everyone about everything. Religion can’t function without some steadiness of purpose, and steadiness of purpose can’t exist without some overall agreement among members of the religion regarding what is true or false, real or unreal, trustworthy or untrustworthy.

There’s nothing dishonest about it, unless they claim to have proof that even an atheist or agnostic has to find compelling. As long as they admit that what they believe to be true, they believe at least partly on faith, there isn’t a shred of dishonesty involved.

Some people believe that the Resurrection of Jesus can be “proved” by the methods of history, or by the methods of the court of law. I’m not such a person. I make no such claim. Some people believe that Christianity can be proved true by reasoning from premises even an atheist or materialist has to grant. I’m not such a person. Christianity rests on a degree of faith. Not completely irrational faith divorced from all description of reality, but still faith. And Christians make claims – faith claims – about what is true, real, good, just, beautiful, etc. There’s nothing dishonest in this.

Do some religious believers make bad arguments? Yes. Do some claim to have proof when they don’t? Yes. But religion per se doesn’t need to make bad arguments or claim proof. It makes its faith claims, and then lives in accord with them.

Catholicism makes faith claims. It expects its adherents to live in accord with those faith claims. No one is holding a gun to the head of a modern Catholic and making them stay within the Catholic Church. They can leave. But if they stay, they should uphold the faith of the Church, not be constantly undermining it by questioning it down to its very roots. If they’re not sure the roots are sound, let them leave the Church for five years and travel the world, studying all religions and philosophies, and after deciding what they believe, let them either return to the Church as committed, functional members, or sever their ties with the Church for good. But hanging around, affecting to be “Catholic agnostics,” does no one any earthly good, not even the “Catholic agnostic” himself or herself.

I’m with Patrick on this one, to a large extent. Of course, his sexual metaphor seems to leave out women, so to be more “inclusive”, in the modern spirit, I’ll say that a “Catholic agnostic” is either a Catholic without any religious spine, or an agnostic without any intellectual spine. I prefer people with well-defined spines. Give me Bertrand Russell, or give me C. S. Lewis. People who think they can split the difference, I’m inclined not to trust. I don’t deny them the right to their position, and I don’t say their personal motives are evil, but they sow seeds of confusion, and they can’t be effective contributors to either Catholic or secular humanist faith, but only perpetual fence-sitters.

As far as I can tell from your self-description, you’re not a Catholic at all, or even a Christian, but just a guy who used to be Christian and Catholic, who now isn’t sure that Jesus is anyone special, that God exists, that the Bible is true, etc. “Catholic agnostic” comes across as a pretentious term to disguise plain, old-fashioned religious skepticism. If you’re still a Catholic, then affirm the truths taught by the Catholic Church. You can find them in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Vatican website. But if you’re not still a Catholic, that’s fine – just call yourself an agnostic. I wouldn’t condemn you for that. But the term “Catholic agnostic” implies you’re still a Catholic, and as far as I can tell, you aren’t – and it’s misleading to authentic Catholics to represent yourself as such.

Have we covered this subject adequately, do you think? Are we likely to get further with further discussion? I suspect not.

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No one should have absolute faith, a key requirement in many theistic religions. It can be quite dangerous.

Its too dangerous to believe many things without evidence. There is nothing wrong with sitting on the fence if you are unsure about something.

Why should it paralyze religion? Different theistic religions claim to worship living beings, who should be able to clearly relay evidence for their existence and power to those who worship and do not worship them.

They don’t need to do this if the Gods they worship are alive. AFAIK, Old Testament Jews did not debate constantly on issues related to doctrine because Yahweh regularly intervened to set issues straight. If it happened then, why is it not happening now?

I am asking why we should believe the divine rewards apportioned for good moral behavior in the Sermon on the Mount (SoM) are real, in the absence of good evidence for them?

The Sermon on the Mount touched on many issues related to moral behavior. There is nothing wrong in being peaceful, or kind towards one’s enemies and there is good empirical evidence that beneficent acts prosper communities. However, there is zilch evidence for the claim that meek believers will “inherit the earth” or those “pure in heart” will “see God”?

I am not familiar with the writings of the philosophers you mentioned, but if they proposed moral behaviors that would benefit society, then we should adopt them. However, I don’t think you would find these philosophers positing unverified claims about heavenly rewards awaiting those who choose to follow their moral solutions.

I am not asking believers to suspend their ways of live (However, if the Aztecs, who made human sacrifices to their gods for rewards like a good harvest based on faith did this, the lives of their prisoners of war would have been safe), but to question the evidential basis for the doctrines they hold dear.

I don’t know for other religions, but Christianity demands complete certainty or don’t you fully believe Jesus will grant you everlasting live when you pass on from this world?

They shouldn’t be, but they are.

Are you saying there is something wrong with questioning everything?

In addition, you strawmanned me. I have never argued that we need to change our morals or ideas constantly. I am arguing that we need to demand good evidence for the plethora of claims unique to Christianity or other religions.

This paints religions as man-made constructs, even though adherents would argue for a divine origin of their respective religions. Members aren’t meant to agree on issues, they should be told what to do by the deities they worship. Yahweh gave the Jews the ten commandments, Jesus gave Christians certain rules as well, so did Allah via Muhammed to Muslims. When it comes to doctrinal stances, the Gods remain silent, while their worshippers bicker endlessly on who is right or wrong.

This is a reiteration of what I said.

I disagree. Jesus demands absolute faith in him. There is no room to doubt his power or promises (remember Peter started sinking in the sea when his faith in Christ dwindled). Not surprisingly, most Christians believe they will go to heaven when they die based on only faith, not empirical evidence. The same applies to devout Muslims. Some Christians are even ready to die for these beliefs. Don’t you think its right to ask if these things are really true before we take a bullet for them (metaphorically and/or literally)?

A lot of Christians devote lots of time to spreading the Gospel which has zero support for it’s claims. I am not saying there is any malicious intent in doing this, but it is dishonest since they push its claims as if they were verifiably true.

I appreciate your position here. There is surprisingly poor, ambiguous evidence for the resurrection of Christ and logical reasoning alone is mostly inadequate to establish the truthfulness of claims. That’s why I have never been impressed with arguments for the existence of God. I want more, like the type Yahweh gave to Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

Belief in heaven or hell, purgatory, the Trinity, and many other Christian doctrines are based on irrational faith. They sound like homeopathy claims TBH.

Questioning Catholics don’t need to investigate every other religion to find truth, because they can ask all these religions the same question at once: how do you know?

You seem to think I have lost all faith, but that isn’t so. I just no longer have that absolute confidence in the teachings of the Church. This is partly due to my appreciation of the scientific approach to verifying claims, as well as my reflections on what it takes to brainwash gullible Muslims into acts of terrorism.

I am a “practicing” Catholic, soon to start Catechism classes. I put practicing in scare quotes because I haven’t started to receive Holy Communion because I have not been baptized and confirmed. I am quite active in my parish (although less so quite recently due to other activities). Heck, in 2019 I was the dude who crucified Jesus in my parish Passion of the Christ Drama.

You are right that I am not completely sure about my Catholic or Christian beliefs in general, but I am very much open to be fully reassured of it. God only needs to provide evidence that even John Harshman wouldn’t deny for me to regain my full confidence in him.

IMO, it reflects my unsure stance on the truthfulness of the claims of the religion i adhere to.

I affirm the “truths” taught by the Catholic Church, not because I know they are true, but because they sound more logical to me. For example, the Catholic Church rejects sola scriptura and the arguments I have seen advanced for such rejection make good sense to me, but am I sure this is really the right stance for the Catholic Church? I don’t know. Some of my Catholic friends believe Mary actually remained a virgin throughout her life, but I always tell them I don’t know if this is actually true, even though we all affirm it. These are examples of my brand of Catholic agnosticism.

Personally, I don’t wish to continue this conversation. I am not a fan of theological discourse, but if more needs to be said, why not.


It would have been nice to have this information at the beginning of our conversation, rather than long into it! Where I come from, if someone says he is “Catholic” that means (except in rare cases where the person converted to Catholicism) that the person was baptized as an infant, had first communion at about age 7, and received catechetical instruction long before the age you are now, either in Catholic parochial schools, or, if they went to public, non-Catholic schools, in separate classes held on Saturdays.

But everything you have said in this post and others makes clear that you don’t think that Catholic teachings, or Christian teachings in general, are “logical”; you write about Christian belief, and religious belief in general, with the same tone that Michael Shermer, the great skeptic, writes about it.

But you’re not ever likely to get such confirmation. If you wait for such confirmation before committing yourself to Catholicism, you will never commit to it. It has never been an expectation, in either Catholicism or Protestantism, that God will confirm the truth of Christianity by performing flashy miracles in our era. I am more and more getting the impression that you had very little exposure to Christianity until quite recently.

Of course it’s right to ask if the things are really true. But the way you are measuring whether or not a thing is true is the way of secular humanism. For you, Christianity is true if and only if it can meet the standards of reason, evidence, etc. that a secular humanist accepts. You don’t even consider the possibility that the very standards you are using to establish truth – modern secular standards – are themselves deficient, because they are not illumined by grace or faith.

I would strongly recommend that you read some of the writings of C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton on these subjects. Chesterton may be more directly relevant to your current situation in some ways, because he is Catholic, but both teach a “basic Christianity” and both are appropriately critical of modern attacks on religious belief.

The Catholic Church vehemently disagrees with this view. If you insist on maintaining it, you will not be comfortable within the Catholic faith, and I would recommend that you try some other religion that requires less in the way of such doctrines, perhaps Reform Judaism or Unitarianism, or one of the more liberal Protestant denominations that has thrown out large parts of historical Christian belief. On the other hand, maybe your catechism classes will alter your opinions. I’d be interested in hearing back from you, say, six months or a year from now, to find out what effect the catechism course had on you.

May your religious quest prove fruitful, and productive of truth.


Sometimes I wish my parents made me go through this at a tender age, but the worries of life prevented it. Only my older brother had the opportunity to get baptized as an infant.

Catechism classes are mostly attended by kids, so its sort of embarrassing to learn alongside them. I think there is a to way to circumvent this, but I would shrug it up and learn with them.

Then you got the wrong impression. I think there are pretty good logical arguments for many Christian beliefs like the existence of God, for example, but they are not enough to establish their truthfulness.

Its been long I listened to or read any content from Michael Shermer, and in the times I did, I never got the impression I sounded like him. Maybe asking for evidence makes all skeptics sound alike (you sound a bit like “acidic” Edgar when it comes to evolution).

That’s God’s problem not mine. If he realized the importance of “flashy miracles” in convincing the Jews that he was powerful and real, then there is no reason he should not take the same approach to convincing the baby-eating lot of atheists and agnostics :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

Why shouldn’t it?

There is nothing modern or secular about demanding for evidence. There were certainly Jews faithful to Yawheh when Baal worship was rampant in ancient Israel, but he knew that was inadequate to get the rest of Israel back to true worship and so he ordered Elisha to organize a public duel with the prophets of Baal. The outcome of that battle led to the expungement of Baal worship in Israel and a return to the worship of Yahweh. That’s what I need and there is nothing “deficient” about it. Or are you arguing that God used a “deficient” approach to restore true worship in Israel?

Not true. My descent into Christian Agnosticism was quite recent. Before then, I was your typical “born again” Christian. I was born into Catholic family and remained one for some time. At the behest of my mum we left the Catholic Church for a long time journeying through Protestant denominations. I even dabbled a bit with Jehovah’s Witnesses. The entire family is back to the Roman Catholic Church now. All through that time, I totally believed in the teachings of the Church (except the Trinity, which I find quite unsettling, though I affirm it). I truly believed heaven was my fate through faith and I used to ask God to grant me some gift of the spirit, be it speaking in tongues or prophecy.

Maybe “irrational” isn’t the right word. “Blind faith” is a better replacement.

Oh, I am quite comfortable.

That’s very unlikely. The Catechism of the Church is littered with many unverified claims too.

You don’t seem to get it. All what these Christian apologists and philosophers are mere arguments. That is not sufficient to me. I need more.