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Methodological Agnosticism

June 10, 2009

There are a number of reasons I don’t think methodological agnosticism works. Here’s one.

wwjdIt is hard to show students how projection theories of religion work if you’re using methodological agnosticism. In one of my classes I teach Charles M. Sheldon’s In His Steps, wherein a community gathers together and decides that for one year they’ll ask themselves “What Would Jesus Do” and then act on whatever the answer is. Usually they pray to the Holy Spirit to find answers to their question, rather than turn to the Bible.

How does it turn out? It turns out that what Jesus would do (via the Holy Spirit) looks exactly like what people with white, bourgeois, 19th century conservative American Protestant values would do.

This is easy to understand if you’re employing methodological atheism: they’re projecting their values onto an imaginary figure.

This is hard to understand if you’re employing methodological agnosticism. If you ask the students “What’s going on in the story,” they’ll tend to say “these people are doing what the Holy Spirit told them that Jesus would do,” which is possibly true if you’re a methodological agnostic. If you’re a methodological atheist, you can retort: “but if we assume that the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist, how can we explain what is going on in the story?”

But that latter option is foreclosed if you start out with methodological agnosticism.

However, I’ll note that I’m really open-minded about this—for a number of reasons I tend to utilize methdological agnosticism in my classes, despite the fact that I hate it. I’m curious what others think …


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