Thursday, September 21, 2006

I don't know

Remember those standardized tests, like the ACT or SAT, or the State tests we took? The No. 2 Pencil? Those four or five ovals that had to be “filled in completely.”? Regardless of the test instructions, or what level of knowledge you had—one thing was certain: If you were running out of time, start filling in boxes. We knew that a blank was a certain incorrect response, but 6 “C’s” in a row could get us one or two more points.

We were taught from a very early age that “Blank answers = wrong answers” so never have a blank answer. “I don’t know” was always unacceptable.

Yeah, we knew that the Capital of Montana was most certainly not “Kentucky” but that is the only thing we could think of. So, we find ourselves putting answers that we knew were almost certainly incorrect. But anything is better than a blank slate.

We grow into it. Imagine having a horrible pain, and after the Doctor sees you and does the diagnostic tests, to hear, “We don’t know.” That is not comforting. We want answers. We want to hear some specific disease with (hopefully) some specific cure.

Time and again, my clients insist on knowing what will happen. Being in a system comprised of people, I often must claim: “I don’t know.” “But what are the odds?” is the follow-up question. Anything, ANYTHING is better than a blank unknown.

We do not want to hear “I don’t know” from our mechanic, our plumber, our accountant, our baby-sitter or our counselor. People do not want an “I don’t know.” That is an unacceptable answer. We have questions, we demand solutions. I once went on a vacation with such a person. It was exhausting.

“What are we doing tomorrow?”
“Not sure. Haven’t thought about it.”
“Well, what time are we having breakfast/”
“Mmm…when we get up.”

“What time will that be?”
“I don’t know, I was planning on sleeping in to the point even my dreams are trying to wake me up.”
“So who is making breakfast?”

Arggg. I find the same propensity in theism. Although it employs the “God is mysterious” enough as it is, even the idea of God is some sort of fill-in-the-blank.

Sure, I do not know how abiogenesis occurred. When asked the question, I must frankly state, “I don’t know.” That does not make it any worse than the theist that trumpets, “A-ha! I have an answer—God did it!” Big deal. You didn’t leave it blank. Neither did the fellow who claimed Kentucky is the capital of Montana. Does not make it any more correct.

And when I start to inspect this God, used to so conveniently fill in this blank, I start to uncover more blanks. Some the theist insists on filling (when they don’t really know the answer) others even they must leave blank.

Recently we were discussing a Greek word. It was a word Paul completely made up—a first use. What does it mean? The best answer (since Koine Greek is a dead language, and we are uncertain as to the use of this word, what the writer intended and what the reader perceived) is “I don’t know.” It may be followed by, “It could possibly mean ___” but it should be prefaced with “I don’t know.”

But a Christian doesn’t want to say that. This is “God’s Inspired Word.” The only written communication from God to humans. “I don’t know” is not helpful in one’s relationship with God. Therefore, better to dogmatically hold a position, rather than utter the words, “I don’t know.”

Is it that bad we do not know the author of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John? Is “I don’t know” in this regard so dangerous, that we must hold on, with both hands, our teeth and one foot, to the traditional authorship claims? Yet when it comes to Hebrews, “I don’t know” becomes perfectly acceptable.

Or worse, when it comes to relating with each other, many people do not know when to shut up and say, “I don’t know.” Oh, they may start off with that, but it is too often followed with “Perhaps God….” And then the knife comes out. It looks like this in the Sunday School class:

“Why is God putting me through this hard time?
”I don’t know. Perhaps…” [here it comes] “…you have unresolved sin in your life?”
“…perhaps God is teaching you patience?”
“…perhaps the Devil is tempting you?”
“…perhaps you need to trust God more?”

Just once it would have been a relief to hear, “You know. I haven’t got a flipping clue as to why God would allow that. I know I sure wouldn’t if I was God.”

But no theist dares say that.

One of the greatest releases of deconverting was the ability to say, “I don’t know.” I don’t know who wrote what books in the Bible. I don’t know how time could start. (I have read on it—still don’t know.) I do not know why some people get cancer at age 28, and some children get better genes than others. I do not know why one of my children is good at soccer, another at drama, and another at being a unique personality.

I have become comfortable with turning in my paper, and numerous blanks left blank. I can say, “I do not know the answer. I am happy with what I do know; I do not need to have every blank filled in, just to claim I have the blanks filled in.”

I am happy to learn. I like to fill in what was previously a blank. But I find more and more, I am just as happy to say, “I know more what could be in that blank—but that does not mean I am ready to fill it in yet.”


  1. Dagoods,

    Rah Rah (I hope you see this Zoe). Yet another great post. I to have come to enjoy saying "I don't know." It's amazing how that can free one to find out. When we're so busy saying we know, when we don't, our eyes are shut and our ears plugged...'knowing' can be the surest way to ignorance.

    Dagoods, you mean you didn't get a kid who "insists on knowing what will happen?" I have to boys, one is wired that way. I am a space cadet and run by the seat of my pants...we drive each other crazy. Then my youngest, who is a astronaut as myself, married an insists on knowing person. It's really a torturous sort of way.

  2. Oh? Is that how you spell Rah? *blush* Err, yeah, well, on that other post I meant Raw! as in, real, awesome & wow, yeah, that's what I meant. ;) Zoe puts her pom poms down now. :D

    Oh and great post!

  3. Zoe,
    Mine is the Indian spelling, yours the American, both work. Just wanted you to know there's another member of the Dagoods Fan Club out here. :)