Thank God for Agnosticism

There are three types of people in this world: theists, atheists, and agnostics.

I’m lying, that’s not true. But that’s what I’ve thought for a very long time. You know the story: atheists are certain there are no gods, theists are certain there is at least one god, and agnostics are this weird uncertain group who don’t really know what to believe. While there have been times in my life when I’ve felt a pull toward agnosticism for the simple fact that I felt wrong  forcing my belief as fact onto other people, I’ve really never looked too far into the distinguishing factors and decided to stay safely within the realm of full-blown Christian, knowing that it holds certain connotations of hate and hypocrisy which don’t fit me exactly, but are less damning than the alternatives.

Well, I finally did it. After making slightly uneducated claims in regard to differences between agnostics and atheists, I dug a little deeper. My claim was roughly that Christians say they know that god is real and atheists claim they know that god is not real. This is only partly true, and deep down I knew that since I myself can only claim to believe, as per the nature of my religion. That A word, agnostic, that’s the tricky little boog that makes this black and white dichotomy a little more complex.

One meaning of agnosticism, in the clearest sense I can determine, concerns the difference between knowledge and belief. As it follows, there can be agnostic theists (I think there is a god, but I don’t know) and agnostic atheists (I think there isn’t a god, but a I don’t know). This of course would go against gnostic theists (I KNOW there is a god) and gnostic atheists (I KNOW there is not). Simple enough, eh? This idea of being an agnostic theist suites me pretty well in theory; I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, and I believe  God has certain suggestions to help his followers make the world beautiful (not to say Christians actually follow them). I know for a lot of people it’s hard to imagine having a belief without claiming that you know for a fact, but my dears this is the essence of religion.

So then why is it I am absolutely terrified of claiming to be an agnostic theist? Because agnostic is a dirty word. It’s been pitted against theism for such a long time, albeit not as dramatically as atheism, regardless of what the word actually means. We all know that human beings can be incredibly quick to judge, so throwing that iffy word in front of “Christian” or “theist” might not fly so well. Just as now I fear using the C word to describe myself in certain social situations (Christian–I don’t mind admitting my cuntiness), I’m afraid of what reaction I’ll receive for identifying as an agnostic Christian.

Ideally, I’d be able to explain my views and experiences and have a conversation about my religion so whatever terminology I use matters very little, but Lord knows nobody cares about one Christian’s personal reasons for believing. And to be honest, it doesn’t usually matter what I call myself unless  I hang out with the bitter convicted non-believers who love to toss around back-handed “God isn’t real” slurs at any mention of prayer. And if those are the jerks I’m attempting to appease by taking on the A word, who am I benefiting, anyway? Me, or the a-holes who can’t accept that people believe in God?

I suppose it comes down to a matter of semantics (what doesn’t, though?). Both “agnostic” and “christian” are made up terms, the meanings to which are so broad, old, and translated that they simply take on different meanings to different people. Semiology is such a messy business. Perhaps if nothing else, this inner struggle begs me to listen to other people rather than taking their personally adopted labels at face value. Listening to people, now there’s an idea.

“Language is the liquid that we’re all dissolved in. Great for solving problems, after it creates a problem.”

Love you, bye!

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. andy
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 15:14:46

    theres an overweight man with an overweight woman on a sofa just watching tv
    hes yelling his opinion at the television she looks up from her food and agrees
    they got two bumper stickers on there pick up truck
    they keep the pick up parked outside
    one sticker says “what would jesus do?”
    the other bumper sticker says “power of pride”
    i was thumbing through the stations on my own television
    when i came across a guy on the religous station
    singing “somebodys coming” sounding whiter than me somehow
    wow
    it took me back in time thru dwindling joy
    to when i was such a guilt ridden catholic boy
    im evangelical agnostic now

    i dont know what we’re doing here
    you don’t “KNOW” what were doing here
    now christians dont walk out on me just yet
    you know whose name im yelling as im clutching my chest
    the one my dad told me to and his told him to
    and i probably pray as much or more than you do
    believe? shit, every word i sing
    but believing and knowing, those are two different things
    and if your trying to change the way a strangers life will have to go
    i believe this is where i wanna stick to what i know
    which is nothing you know, nothing for sure so
    just chill til the next episode
    now back to the lecture at hand
    seems like my neighbor wants to kill what he cant understand
    i say we cant just kill what we dont understand
    but i turn on my tv and see that oh yes we can
    we can and we have since then dawn of man
    for countless gods whose only real seeming plan
    was to see to it that clinging to life was our fate
    and you gotta admit that lifes pretty great
    but
    can we deny that its killing us?
    ill be here all week-todd snider

    Reply

  2. rockomnibus
    Oct 09, 2011 @ 21:51:59

    Andrea, your points about the gist of religion and about semantics are well taken.

    That term “to know” is a tricky one. The various ways we apply it give it different meanings. Theoretically, there are no facts. There aren’t any things that anyone can know for absolute certainty. Not even cogito ergo sum. Too many unknown variables to bring it all together into a cohesive unit. We don’t know what “I” means specifically, nor do we know what “think” means. In fact, the whole idea of “I” presupposes the conclusion of “therefore I am,” so it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — a tautology. It’s basically the law of identity saying A=A, however A is still unidentified, which leaves the whole proposition theoretical instead of having a real-world application.

    Let’s temporarily put aside the idea of God’s existence, and first focus on an abstract like the idea of love. While none of us really knows just exactly what love is all about, at the same time I am utterly convinced that love is real, just as much as I am convinced that the universe is real. My conviction of love is who I am. If I were to try to deny that, I might as well just deny that I exist. In addition, not only am I convinced that love is real, but that it is of supreme importance, and that people being the object of that love are therefore of supreme importance.

    No one call tell me that I merely “believe” that my children mean everything to me. I’m completely convinced at my inner core that such is the case. There’s no if about it.

    So meaning itself isn’t something knowable on a provable scale to any of us. Meaning can only be what we make of our existence, of our experience. And yet… what could we ever “know” any better than our own experience? In that sense, we know what we know, but we just aren’t sure what “that” is or how to articulate it.

    From there, we can apply the concept to other things, such as the existence of a higher power. That religion fits so perfectly into the idea of love can’t merely be circumstantial. I think there’s more to it. And just because you feel something deep down, but that you can’t prove, doesn’t mean that you don’t feel it.

    Lots of things to consider and explore further about our ideas of God, but this kind of frames the argument.

    Reply

  3. Trackback: Terminology « Atheist Heresy
  4. tnmusicman
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 03:15:57

    I haven’t any big words to use but I just want to say if you are ever in Nashville we must get together and talk. I’m rather intrigued by your beliefs and would really love to hear about them. I’m all to often surrounded by yes men and yes women but very few “agnostic Christians”. I’m sure our conversation would be enlightening to me and there would be few moments of silence (and then it would only be a reverant prayer of thanks) and much laughter. I will follow your blogs for sure!!!

    Reply

    • Andrea
      Mar 03, 2012 @ 12:45:42

      Thank you so much! If I ever put my traveling shoes on, Nashville will be one of my destinations. I have too many friends who love living there!

      Reply

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