Atheist or agnostic I am not. Why? Among other reasons, because neither perspective, it seems to me, makes the best sense of reality; I have therefore strapped myself to the church's mast that I might refuse such siren songs.
Do atheists and agnostics still have good insights to offer? Of course, insights which - should they be true - Christianity can ably absorb.
"The very nature of a true philosophy relatively to other systems is to be polemical, eclectic, unitive: Christianity was polemical; it could not but be eclectic; but was it also unitive? Had it the power, while keeping its own identity, of absorbing its antagonists, as Aaron's rod, according to St. Jerome's illustration, devoured the rods of the sorcerers of Egypt" (Chp. 8)?Why yes, Mr. Newman. Christianity did so absorb the insights of other philosophies and faiths - and still does.
And while I tried to make a case below that any truth in atheism is in fact absorbed by the Christian faith, I'd thought I'd do the same (again) for agnosticism. Wrote Patrick Henry,
"Things do not proceed [in orthodox Christianity] in an uncluttered, straightforward way. On the contrary, argument is constantly getting tripped up in the tangled underbrush of paradox, and it might almost be a general rubric for oikonomeia [God's dealing with creation] that any assertion which forces the mind out beyond what it would normally accept is probably true" (Church History, vol. 45, No.1 p. 23).Example?
"He who cannot be contained is confined within the Virgin's womb; he who is beyond all quantity becomes three cubits high; he whose position cannot be designated stands and sits and reclines; he who is beyond all place is laid in a manger; he who is before all time reaches the age of twelve; he who is without form is seen in the form of a man; he who is incorporeal takes a body and says to his disciples: 'Take, eat, this is my body'" (Patrologia Graeca 99.332B)That brilliant quote from St. Theodore (translated by Henry). Can anyone really understand the mystery that the Advent season prepares us to celebrate? Not if you're a Christian - you can only confess and adore a mystery beyond knowledge. Therefore perhaps only a Christian can be a genuine agnostic (lit. without knowledge); while at the same time, possessing the greatest knowledge of all.
Aaron's rod - it's still hungry. Happy Advent everybody.