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Fiction and the Agnostic

Robin Le Poidevin


Consider the agnostic who thinks that reason and evidence are neutral on the question of God’s existence, and as a result neither believes that God exists nor believes that God does not exist. Can such an agnostic live a genuinely religious life – even one in which God is the central animating idea? They might do so by accepting Pascal’s Wager: the expected rewards will always be greater if one bets on God’s existence than if one does not. Or they might accept William James’s argument that religious beliefs are properly activated by our passional nature. But both of these routes involve abandoning the initial agnosticism, and so are open to charges of irrationality. In this paper I explore a third route to the religious life, suggested by Pascal’s discussion, one which uses fiction and make-believe as the central prop. It might seem that this too entails abandoning agnosticism in favour of the view that religion just is fiction. I suggest, however, that there is a phenomenon which I term “serious make-believe” in which one can remain agnostic about whether the object of make-believe is real or a useful fiction. Applied to religion, the result is a religious life that is both genuinely engaged (and not merely experimental) and yet, by remaining agnostic, cannot be accused of irrationality.

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