Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Am I Really Agnostic?

Have you ever had someone tell you that you aren’t who you think you are? Or even more, you aren’t who you claim to be?

It’s a weird feeling. Let me tell you. It can hurt, be relieving, be frustrating, be a shock, be right, or be wrong. It can be many things, but whatever it may be, it is something to definitely make you think.

I suppose when it comes down to the first question, someone telling you that you aren’t who you think you are, or so to say that you aren’t the way you think you are, that could all go back to something I referenced in a previous blog about how sometimes maybe we don’t really know how we come off to people and the world since we are always viewing our self from the inside out, versus how the they get to see us, from the outside in.

But when it comes to someone telling you that you aren’t who you claim to be, that one can really catch you off guard, especially if you’ve just always taken it for granted that when you claimed an identity for yourself, you expected people to believe it.

This weekend I found myself shocked when a friend of mine told me she didn’t truly believe that I was agnostic. Wow. I was thinking, “that’s weird.” I mean, I say I’m agnostic, so shouldn’t you believe me when I say I am? Well she didn’t (apparently).

Being as I am, I immediately questioned it. Out of shock really; “why would you think I’m not agnostic?”

She explained herself as this…

She said she didn’t see how someone could spend so much time talking about religion and God and not believe it. Or she said something to that extent.

I think I probably came off as defensive, but I disagreed with her and said I don’t think one has to be a believer in God to be intrigued by the topic and thoughts revolving around religion. I also mentioned that if she was referring to my references in my blogs to religion and God, that that was because I think one important part of being a smart writer is to understand your reading audience. I’m fully aware that probably 80-85% of my blog reading audience is made up of many God-fearing, faith-devoted individuals, who are dedicated to their religious beliefs. A smart writer writes in a manner that will appeal to his/her audience. Not only that, but a smart BLOGGER knows to write in a manner that will promote discussion, AKA comments.

Let’s face it, many of us know there are people out there that will read 10 or 20 blogs a day, but won’t leave a comment for the life of them, BUT we know how religious discussions can get the best of them, and then, they are most tempted to hit that “post a comment” button….HA!

No, I don’t blog about religion solely for my reading audience’s pleasure. I am being completely genuine when I say religion intrigues me. I honestly can tell you that if that wasn’t the case, I might lean more toward atheism rather than agnostism. Honestly, I think atheists are just individuals who aren’t willing to give religion much in-depth thought. I truly believe that any deep thinker can’t be satisfied with atheism due to the idea that how can they truly prove God’s non-existence for a fact? That’s where agnostism comes into play. As an agnostic I struggle with the belief that He does exist, in other words I can’t convince myself of it, but at the same time, I can’t deny it because I don’t have the facts to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, so to say, that He does NOT exist either.

Yes, the topic of religion can get me into great discussion! I can honestly say some of my most memorable talks with some of my dear friends revolved around the topic of religion. Some people I can remember getting into big discussion about religion include:
Laura S. (our friendship began because of this. Seriously! We spent HOURS upon HOURS talking about religion, and she is now easily one of my 5 closest friends)
Ellison
Holly
JWalk
Chris
Brandi Jo
Nicole A.

And while I know there have been more, those are just some that quickly come to mind. But I’ll admit, I’ve always got more to learn, as we all do, so I don’t plan to stop my religious discussions simply due to the fact that I claim agnosticism. Heck, if anything, ever since my publicizing of my beliefs, it has invited for more discussion (which I think COULD be another part of the reasoning why that someone doesn’t truly think I am agnostic. I think she might think I just say it to be different in a sense, or to just instigate discussion, but once again, I deny those thoughts also).

To this day I still have been keeping a mental list of people I’ve, in a sense, “always” wanted to have a discussion with them about religion. These people are usually either people whose religious status intrigues me, or someone I’ve heard is fun to talk to about religion, or just someone that I totally respect (and in some cases, many of those reasons all in one). And though I won’t ever get my religious discussion here on earth with my friend Charles, I still have time for some of the others…
Jackie Beth
Julie
ACU35 (you and I both know your true identity, so that is all that matters…HA!)
Randy Harris

So maybe I’m agnostic. Maybe I’m not. Maybe none of us are ever completely sure what we are, but I can say this much, it doesn’t matter to me what I claim to be, or what others think me to be, I’ll always be intrigued by thought-provoking topics of discussion and brilliant takes on the matters, so don’t expect my religious blog entries to end here!

16 comments:

julesforstenholm said...

Did you ever have a class with Randy Harris? Wow! He's amazing! I took his ethics course and it was one of the most difficult/challenging/effective classes I took at ACU! He's brilliant and can think fast and acts on what he believes, which is not common for those of us who believe in such a liberal idea as Christianity! He's a fascinating person to listen to and discuss ideas with... I appreciate what he says and does and the fact that he's not scared to act on what his beliefs tell him to do! Good guy!

P.S. I'll talk with you about this stuff any time you want! Just let me know! Since I've left ACU my views have changed, but I think my belief is even stronger!

Austin said...

"Honestly, I think atheists are just individuals who aren’t willing to give religion much in-depth thought. I truly believe that any deep thinker can’t be satisfied with atheism due to the idea that how can they truly prove God’s non-existence for a fact?"

Atheism doesn't depend upon proving the non-existence of any gods for a fact. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods. The idea that atheists have to "prove" that "God" doesn't exist is a common misunderstanding which is addressed here (along with other common misunderstandings).

I'm on atheist and I write extensively on religion, philosophy, and politics. I don't think that you can say that I haven’t given religion "much in-depth thought."

FeedingYourMind said...

Julie: Yes, I took Philosophy with Randy Harris my junior year I believe it was. You are totally correct, that man is BRILLIANT, which in part is why I would love to discuss religion with him. As for the class with him, I don't think I got as much out of it as I would had it been at any time OTHER than an 8 o'clock...HA! But, yes, he truly does a great job leading interesting discussions.

Austin: I am late for work as it is, but I WILL comment back to your response. I greatly appreciate your thoughts and I'd like to address some of them if I may. But, out of curiosity, have you ever seen "The Exorcism of Emily Rose?" I'd like to make a reference to that movie in my response, if you've seen it.

Austin said...

"But, out of curiosity, have you ever seen "The Exorcism of Emily Rose?" I'd like to make a reference to that movie in my response, if you've seen it."

No, I've never seen it, though I can't imagine how it would relate to the definition of atheism

Jennifer said...

After looking up the definition of agnostic on dictionary.com, I've decided that you really are agnostic. Actually, I don't know that you really are, but since you say you are, and what you say lines up with the definition, I'll believe you...kind of. ;-)

Or maybe it's just wishful thinking that you aren't really...then again, given all of the reasons for it you've stated in the past, I can understand why you would be. If all it is is being unsure, I'd say most people probably are.

GITCHA said...

Good thoughts Kim. It seems that you really HAVE thought through your beliefs, which are most important. I am still sorting through the information of my beliefs, but I believe this will be a lifelong process since they change to some degree through life experiences.

Anyway, religion discussions really are the best and we should talk about it sometime. I should share with you my story of the Jew, Atheist, and Christian. Thanks for keeping it real and putting it all out there.

FeedingYourMind said...

See...did I not mention how blogs relating to religion can trigger multiple comments!? (point for me! HA!) Just kiddin'...

Anyways, first, my deepest apologies that this comment is coming so long after your original comment Mr. Austin, but I apology even again in my continued delay in that I'm not going to fully comment to your comment at this point in that once again my day has gotten away from me and I don't have to adequate time to dedicate to my response right now, and though I know tomorrow will be non-stop as well, I look at it in this manner...

As an agnostic to an atheist, what's another day gonna matter, it ain't like we're anticipating the return of Christ or anything here...HA! ;)

I do want you to know though that my continued delay to my response is also due in part to the fact that I'm still reviewing your works on about.com, which I will say are more and more interesting as I read on. I do hope to make some direct responses to some of those writings also in my response to you.

Finally, since I've gotta get to bed, I want to pose a couple questions to you, as you might have more of a chance to respond right now than I have (the weekends are normally best for me).

1. As an atheist, do you ever find yourself doubting your "absence of a belief in a god"? For instance, have you ever had days where you were like, "gosh, maybe God (or 'a god') could exist."

2. And, what makes you an atheist versus an agnostic? Is it the lack of thoughts just as mentioned earlier? (ie. "gosh, maybe God could exist.")

Once again, please don't find my lack of immediate response as a sign of disrespect or as a fear of discussion, as I am completely intrigued by a good discussion over the topic of atheism and agnosticism (even with some Christianity thrown in makes for a good time!) HA!

Mark E. Lopez said...

to Jennifer - I don't know if people read and respond to other peoples' comments, but here goes.

Agnosticism isn't just about being unsure. It's mostly about not accepting anything as real truth because there is a lack of tangible, relatable proof. It 'allows' for the possibility of any of them, accepting that there's much to the universe we can't really understand at all. To deny the 'possibility' without proof that 'no' god exists would be a bit close minded - as would faith in any of them without proof that they are the 'one true' religion.

As an Agnostic, I'll admit the Bible 'could' be true, but so could the Greek Pantheon, Indian beliefs in reincarnation, Bhuddist Nirvana, Native American animal spirits, Satanists who worship demons, and all the rest. Whatever is true is beyond my perception - and I won't know for sure until I die - where I'll either find out or cease to exist entirely (where such knowledge no longer has any importance).

So, for the time one is on earth, an Agnostic acts very much like an Atheist - not taking part in the religious rituals of any particular faith.

FeedingYourMind said...

Crap...it is SOOO past my bedtime, but I couldn't help it, Mark. When you IMed me and told me you commented I had to come read it, and then I HAD to respond real quickly, though I want to touch on other parts of it at a later time...

But this part, "an Agnostic acts very much like an Atheist - not taking part in the religious rituals of any particular faith," can't say I fully agree.

I think in a sense that makes it come off like atheist and agnostics simply are lazy and don't want to have to deal with all that church stuff and having to go by all the rules and "rituals" as you put it. I don't think that is the case at all (as I don't think you did either), but I did take it as to mean that you meant that agnostics don't attend church services.

And while I would say they don't "religiously" (HA!) I think a true agnostic, as one who is constantly looking into this "uncertainity" they would attend church services from time to time out of curiosity and looking for some "certainity" in one sense or another. While I claim agnosticism, I still enjoy a good church sermon to make me think and question the possibility of a God (or even the lack there of).

Just some thoughts! ;)

Austin said...

"Once again, please don't find my lack of immediate response as a sign of disrespect or as a fear of discussion..."

No worries.

"As an atheist, do you ever find yourself doubting your "absence of a belief in a god"?"

Not in the sense that you seem to mean (actively thinking that perhaps some sort of god does exist). However, I do take seriously new and interesting arguments for the existence of gods and I attempt to give them the "benefit of the doubt." Someone might plausibly regard that as "doubting" atheism.

I seek to proportion my belief to the evidence. Thus, I won't seriously think that some sort of god does exist unless I see decent evidence for some specific god.

"And, what makes you an atheist versus an agnostic?"

I'm both. Agnosticism and atheism are not different answers to the same question, they are different answers to entirely different questions. Agnosticism is about knowledge; a/theism is about belief.

I don't claim to be certain about whether any gods exist or not. I'm certain about some gods, naturally, but in general I just don't see any reason to bother.

You may have already come across this, but just in case here are two documents which explain the relationship between atheism and agnosticism.

"But this part, "an Agnostic acts very much like an Atheist - not taking part in the religious rituals of any particular faith," can't say I fully agree."

You are correct in this, for two reasons. First, an agnostic may also be a theist. Agnostic theism isn't all that uncommon (though acknowledge agnostic theism may be). A number of theologians have argued that God is so completely "other" and so radically different in nature from humanity that even being able to "know" that God exists is impossible for humans - all we can do is infer it and have faith. Perhaps the most famous proponent of this position was the medieval Jewish theologian Maimonedes.

Second, atheists aren't necessarily irreligious. There are atheistic religions. Raelians are atheistic. Many Buddhists are atheistic. There is a form of Hinduism that is atheistic. Members of Ethical Culture are often atheists. Religious Humanists are atheists. Being an atheist isn't the same as being irreligious. In the West, people tend to assume that "theism" and "religion" are the same (or even orse, that "theism" is the same as "monotheism" or "Christianity"), but that's been because of the relative lack of religious diversity until recently.

FeedingYourMind said...

Aw, yes! Nice points, nice points. I'm off to work, but thanks for giving me some more things to ponder throughout the day.

Also--Come on theists, I KNOW y'all are out there reading (because I KNOW many of y'all...HA!)...shoot us some responses to these comments from your opinion. ;)

Mark E. Lopez said...

To Kim - I agree that an Agnostic would still attend churches in their search for some kind of truth - but they wouldn't be doing it because they believe in the thing itself.

I guess a better representation of what I mean is in something like Communion. An Agnostic might attend, and participate, but it won't be with the belief that it is the 'body and blood of Christ' as some Christian denominations claim.

FeedingYourMind said...

Austin: So what you're saying is if I was really into the whole concept of "how did we all get here," and the more I pondered it, I just came to this realization that there just must be some sort of a "higher being" out there, not necessarily "God", but just a higher being of some sort, I could be a theist, because I believe (being the key word) in a higher power, but I could still be agnostic in the sense that I don't have the knowledge of whether a higher being, exists for sure or not, I'm just under this belief that there has to be something out there that made "created" all this stuff, so to say.

Not saying I am this way, just making a scenario.

It was interesting because just today I had a religious discussion during dinner time with some of my peers at school and one of the lady's came off to me that her belief was just that there is some sort of a higher power. So I was like, hmmm....maybe she is agnostic, and a theist because of her belief in higher power, but agnostic in that she doesn't know whether it is a god, a God, etc. Her lack of knowledge, represented a possible sign of agnosticism. Maybe?

Austin said...

"So what you're saying is if I was really into the whole concept of "how did we all get here," and the more I pondered it, I just came to this realization that there just must be some sort of a "higher being" out there, not necessarily "God", but just a higher being of some sort, I could be a theist, because I believe (being the key word) in a higher power, but I could still be agnostic in the sense that I don't have the knowledge of whether a higher being, exists for sure or not, I'm just under this belief that there has to be something out there that made "created" all this stuff, so to say."

There's God and there is god. Big-g God is the name applied to the deity of Western classical monotheism. Little-g god could be anything - it could be a tree in your yard, if you worship it.

So, given that as context, then what you are saying above is essentially correct with one small caveat: if you believe in some "higher power" AND would call it a "god" for you (or would say that it at least would be called a god by many people), then yes, you would be an agnostic theist because you aren't claiming to *know* that it exists.

"Her lack of knowledge, represented a possible sign of agnosticism. Maybe?"

Yes. You may remember that I mentioned earlier that while agnostic theism may be more common than is realized, *acknowledged* agnostic theism is not. This is because of misunderstandings about the nature of agnosticism (not realizing that one can be an agnostic theist and imagining that one must be *either* an agnostic *or* a theist) and thinking that there is something negative about agnosticism.

There is a popular perception of agnostics as fence-sitters, unwilling to commit, etc. Naturally many people therefore don't want to consider themselves agnostics. Calling someone an atheist when they don't realize it is worse, but calling someone an agnostic when they don't realize it can be taken badly, too. It sounds like you're accusing them of not knowing what to believe, or something.

Now, if what you wrote above happens to describe you, then you would have a chance of bringing the issue up without causing offense because you can phrase it more generally as a description of yourself, not the other person. This prevents people from becoming defensive. You can say something like "Ah, a general sort of agnostic theism - that's where I am, too." If they ask what you mean by "agnostic theism," you can describe *yourself* (I can't claim to know for sure, so I'm agnostic, but I do believe, even quite strongly sometimes, so I'm a theist - thus, an agnostic theist). If the other person recognizes themselves in this description, they can accept the label without ever feeling unnecessarily threatened due to misunderstanding the terminology.

There is a strain of agnosticism in what most religious believers believe - you just have to look at the emphasis placed on faith. If people *knew*, faith would be superfluous. Faith is emphasized because knowledge is not possible. Thus, agnosticism plays at least some small role. Because agnosticism implies to many a lack of commitment, and because religious faith requires personal commitment, it's rare that you'll find anyone consciously accepting the label as accurate. Unfortunate, but understandable.

Mark: What you say is certainly true. Self-professed agnostics who label themselves agnostics won't participate in things like Communion. They'll probably take part in smaller-level religious rituals like saying grace before meals, but those also have significance outside of religion (like family unity).

ewall said...

Hey Kim, good to hear from you! I hadn't stumbled across your blog yet so it was good to catch up on reading about what is going on with you! Hope you are enjoying graduate school--a masters in social work is an awesome thing, what do you think you want to do with it?

it was really interesting to read your comments talking about wanting to have discussions about religion. I'm up in portland, oregon for a year, and it is a very different culture than down south. I had a conversation with one of my neighbors one of the first days i was here. I was telling her what I was doing here and she said, "oh that's cool, I'm not really into religion."

I'm not either.

I'm into Jesus. Following Him, loving Him, His grace. I don't want more religion, we get it so wrong wanting more religion. We've messed it up, because it is all about Him.

Pretty simple thoughts, may seem ignorant or naive, but He is the reason I live.

Hope you have a great day Kim, hope to hear from you again sometime soon!

em wallace

FeedingYourMind said...

Austin: my new blog is my response to your comments. Once again, I truly appreciate your thoughts and I hope you have found these discussion times to be merely times of discussion and not attacks on atheism or such. It might simply be as you have stated, "a misunderstanding." I'm not sure, but I can assure you I've enjoyed the opportunity to look at atheism in a different light than I ever have before, as well as agnostism and theism. So once again..thank you!


Em: So glad you stopped in for a visit! It's always cool to hear from another friend reading your blog, so thanks for taking your time to leave me comment!

As for what I plan to do with my social work degree it is this...I hope to eventually go into private practice at some point. I'm interested in the clinical realm of things and hope to one day be a LCSW and start a practice of my own. We'll just see!

I'm excited that you've found yourself a new place to call home for a year or so, and I can only imagine the numerous people you will touch through your endeavors there! You have a gift and sharing your love for Jesus can be contagious! Don't let that go!

Take care, friend!