A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.
I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to hold a belief system that so few people seem to understand or to respect. Which is why I will usually keep my beliefs to myself and let people assume what they will. Part of being a mockingbird is the ability to appear to be what people assume you are. It’s easier and less awkward for everyone that way.
However, here are some things I wish people knew:
I am not an atheist who lacks the guts to admit it.
I know it can be confusing, because the agnostic and the atheist are drawing from the same supposition: that there is not enough evidence to prove the existence of God. But where we differ is that an atheist would say, “There is no proof, therefore we ought to assume he does not exist, for the same reason we assume that unicorns don’t exist. And therefore, there’s no point in searching for unicorns.”
But I, as an agnostic, say, “There is no proof, therefore we should not assume one way or the other. And therefore, while it may turn out that they aren’t real after all, there can nevertheless be legitimate reasons to search for unicorns.”
Agnosticism is not atheism-lite. It is a legitimately different way of approaching religious belief.
I am not an almost-Christian, just needing to be led back to the flock.
Yes, I was a Christian in high school. I have also been a Wiccan, a Taoist, and went through a long period of classifying myself as simply a Pagan. Scott Cunningham and Aleister Crowley sit next to C. S. Lewis and the Gnostic Gospels on my bookshelf, because they are all part of the journey I’ve taken to get where I am. Sometimes it feels like people hear the phrase, “I used to be a Christian…” and everything else that comes out of the person’s mouth ceases to have any meaning. They were a Christian once, the well-intentioned converter imagines, which means they will inevitably come to their senses and become one again. I just have to find the one thing that will convince them.
No. That’s not how it works. My Christian experiences are not the only ones that matter.
I am not a blank slate.
An admission of agnosticism is not a passive-aggressive plea to be converted to your religion. Just because I reserve judgment about the existence of God does not mean I do not know my own mind. Agnosticism not an invitation to trot out the sales pitch. I do not lack moral guidance in my life and I am not looking for someone or something to provide it for me. I am guided by my own personal ethics, personal truths that I have discovered and refined and rethought and redefined over many years.
Just because I am not actively hostile towards your beliefs does not mean I am open to abandoning mine. I will listen to you, but understand that there is very little you can say to me that I haven’t already heard from somewhere or someone else. I have read most of your Bible at one time or another, and I remain unconvinced that I should take its words any more seriously than I would any other holy book. I will respect the subjective experiences you have had, because they are true for you and they hold meaning for you. They have shaped you into the person you are. But you will not convince me that they represent some objective universal truth.
If you mention the word inerrant or literal or claim allegiance to some “plain sense” meaning…I’m probably going to tune out any other claims to truth you make. I just don’t have the patience for it. Sorry.
An admission of doubt does not mean I am confused, or don’t really know what I mean.
One of the things few people seem to understand is that there are two different types of agnosticism.
“Agnosticism has sometimes been divided into two categories in academic and philosophical treatment:
Strong agnosticism (also called “hard”, “closed”, “strict”, or “permanent agnosticism”)
The view that the question of the existence or nonexistence of a deity or deities, and the nature of ultimate reality is unknowable by reason of our natural inability to verify any experience with anything but another subjective experience.
A strong agnostic would say, “I cannot know whether a deity exists or not, and neither can you.”
Weak agnosticism (also called “soft”, “open”, “empirical”, or “temporal agnosticism”)
The view that the existence or nonexistence of any deities is currently unknown but is not necessarily unknowable; therefore, one will withhold judgment until evidence, if any, becomes available.
A weak agnostic would say, “I don’t know whether any deities exist or not, but maybe one day, if there is evidence, we can find something out.””
I actually waver between the two.
On one hand, I can’t think of a single instance or scenario by which God in all his glory could reveal himself to mankind and not have a significant portion of the population refuse to see it, or believe it’s something else. I don’t think God, as a concept or as a transcendent being, would even exist in the same way the world of material things exists…or at the very least, he cannot be fully perceived or understood with the limited set of tools we flesh-bound creatures possess. In that sense, I am a hard agnostic: I cannot know if God exists, and neither can you.
On the other hand, one of the things that irks me most about religion in general is that sense that the person attempting to convert you knows your own thoughts and beliefs better than you do:
“Oh, you may think you’re happy, but there’s actually a God-shaped hole somewhere inside you that you refuse to acknowledge”
“Oh, everyone knows deep down that God is real, they’re just too stubborn to admit it.”
“God is busy leading you to him whether you believe in him or not.”
Some atheists do this, too, and it is equally annoying coming from them:
“Oh, everyone knows deep down that God is a fairy tale; religious people are just too invested in controlling everyone else to acknowledge it.”
“Obviously God is a man-made construct; anyone with an ounce of common sense or logic can see that!”
I don’t like to do that to people; no matter what they believe, it feels incredibly condescending and disrespectful for me to assume I know them better than they know themselves. How do I know for sure that God hasn’t revealed himself to them? All I have is their narrative to go on, and why should I get to replace or alter that narrative through the lens of my own? I am not them; I cannot fully know what they’ve seen and felt and experienced.
“Stop saying, “Yeah, I know how you feel.” How can anyone know how another feels?”
Will I stand there and tell someone that their own story is wrong? Am I really so arrogant as to believe I know the world better than anyone else?
No. So in that sense, I am a soft agnostic. I won’t rule out the possibility of evidence that I don’t have access to. Subjective evidence, even though it would never hold up in court, as it were, is still, in my mind, evidence.
Que es veritas?
I believe there are two different types or “levels” of truth. The first is material, objective truth, the kind that can be verified or dis-proven with our senses. The earth goes around the sun. Our bodies produce chemicals that affect our perception of the world. When you drop a ball gravity will pull it down.
The second “type” of truth is the subjective kind: things that have no way of being proven by material means, yet they can have a profound effect our lives. A favorite song or food or story. Feeling “nudged” by God to call someone you haven’t talked to in a long time. Getting a “bad feeling” about a situation. Etc.
I would hazard to guess that objective truth feels more important to most people, because supposedly, it isn’t up to our at times extremely flawed interpretation. It’s universal. Something either is, or it is not; and it’s the same for everybody. No matter what a dozen witnesses may remember, a murder suspect was either at the scene of the crime or they weren’t.
But what is real? What is objective? Because no matter how real something feels to us…all we ever have is our eyes and ears and bodies and whatever clever tools we’ve invented to supplement our senses. And we know each and every one of these can be fooled. Are fooled, on a day to day basis. Optical illusions. Hallucinations. Subliminal messages.
How the hell can anyone claim to know that something as vast and important as God exists, when technically they can’t objectively prove they aren’t a brain in a jar?
Que es veritas, indeed. And I don’t know. I can’t know. Not really, not for sure.
That’s what it means to be agnostic. You find yourself staring into the vastness of that question and in a moment of complete and utter honesty, you admit to yourself that you just don’t possess the tools to settle it.
And so, then…what do you do with that?
You could decide to trust your senses anyway, accept empirical truth as truth, and move on with your life. You could decide to trust the little voice inside, whether that be God or your guardian angel or the spirit that lives in your bathroom sink, and move on with your life. You could decide if nothing is real, then nothing has any meaning and what’s the point of it all?
I decided I was asking the wrong question.
I decided that there’s no point in asking WHAT is truth…but rather, what does one DO with said truth?
I don’t care what you believe.
I do care what kind of person that belief makes you into.
I have seen Christianity make a person cruel, and I have seen Satanism turn a person kind. I’ve seen Wicca help middle aged people find peace, and I’ve seen it turn teenagers petty. There are bloodthirsty atheists and selfless religious people in the world…and there are also selfless atheists and people who will gladly kill in the name of their God. I will not judge you by the God you believe in, or don’t believe in. I will judge you on what sort of person that belief or non-belief compels you to be.
Which is why I actually admire the Puddleglums of the world:
“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”
Don’t cling to a truth because it’s True. You can’t know that for sure. Cling to it because clinging to it makes you worthy of it.
Acknowledge that your unicorns may be nothing but fantasy. Search for them anyway.
That’s the central tenet of this agnostic’s ethics.
“Paper is dead without words
Ink idle without a poem
All the world dead without stories
Without love and disarming beauty
Careless realism costs souls
Ever seen the Lord smile?
All the care for the world made beautiful a sad man?
Why do we still carry a device of torture around our necks?
Oh, how rotten your pre-apocalypse is
All you bible-black fools living over nightmare ground
I see all those empty cradles and wonder
If man will ever change.”