Agnosticism: The Practical Definition

Cross-Posted to The Angry Redhead.

This is what comes of me stumbling across atheist channels on YouTube.

Let’s throw out all the bullshit definitions of what exactly certain words mean and let’s talk practical definitions.  Those being the definition that we put to use everyday.

First of all, yes some words can have two different meanings and still have the same spelling.  That’s why there are language barriers.  One word can have several meanings and none of us are walking dictionaries.  That said, let’s proceed on what, exactly, agnosticism is to those of us who call ourselves that (me included.)

I’d like to start with why I’m doing this.  Usually, in the religious debate, we have 3 separate distinctions of people: 1) those who have faith and follow a religion, 2) those who have faith, but have no religion, and 3) those who have no faith (and, ergo, no religion.)  Us agnostics are number 2.  Most of us have faith, but we don’t think that ANY religion on Earth is correct.  But we can’t simply lose our faith just because we don’t trust the systems.

However, those on the polar opposites of us (the religious and the atheist) seem to think that we just need to pick a side and get it over with.  They don’t understand how you can debunk a system while retaining the core belief of said systems.

PillowcaseHead on YouTube put this really well.

“This is the problem with using labels and categorizations.  Many of us just don’t fit into a little box for others to judge, and we refuse to play by the silly, stupid, self-serving rules you have for us.”

We do not fit into any of the usual categories, so we needed something that would get our point across.

It’s true that the word “agnostic” itself means “to be without knowledge.”  In which respect, everybody on this planet is agnostic in various areas.  None of us have all the knowledge of the world.  And in terms of religion, nobody really has any knowledge of what truly exists and what doesn’t.

But here’s the problem.  We are not “religious” as we follow no religion known or unknown.  Religion is defined as “a cause, principle or system of beliefs held with ardor and faith.”  (I’ll nix going for the archaic definition of “scrupulous conformity.”)

Faith, among definitions, is “the firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”  This is what separates the atheists.  They don’t have this, or at least don’t think they do.  And the religious combine this with a system of beliefs.  That’s why it’s a religion.

But what about those of us that fall in the middle?  We have faith, and while we don’t know if there’s a god or not, the fact of the matter is you don’t have to prove it to us for us to believe in one.  We believe in any God of our choosing, and they can have any characteristic.  The fact for us is that we all believe in one (or more) but we don’t have a religion.

Most of the time, those on the opposite sides of us want us to classify ourselves as one of two ways: either agnostic theist or agnostic atheist.  Mostly because they are gnostic themselves (gnostic meaning “I do know.” So they think they can prove one way or the other that these things exists or don’t (when by their very definition can’t be proved that they do or don’t.))  Meaning, literally, “I don’t know if God exists” or “I don’t know if God doesn’t exist.”  My question is, what’s the difference? Do we have to affirm a “don’t know” on either the exist or doesn’t?  Or can we just not know? That’s the point of having just one word for it.

So what do you call us, in a practical, one-word sense?

We are the agnostics.  We don’t know if there really is a god, though we (mostly) believe there is one.  What we DO know, is that religion is not right.  There is not one out there that got it dead-on.  They are all flawed, mostly in a way that we feel is not right and not conductive to living a good life.

Remember, I’m talking a practical definition here, not semantics over literal definitions.

One of the reasons why we fall into this so-called “middle ground” is because of the very nature of faith itself.  Faith is as much an emotion as love or happiness.  We feel our faith, we have this thing in our hearts that tells us it exists even though there is no physical proof of it.  It works just like love.  You can’t explain what it feels like to someone who has never experienced it.  Only a trust in yourself, an instinct that this feeling is indeed what constitutes love, is proof that it exists at all.  The other person may not feel the same way, or may not believe you when you say it, because proving that it indeed exists is impossible.

Atheists have told me that they know love exists because it can be proven, for the brain gives off certain chemicals when in love.  These chemicals include dopamine and serotonin.  These are the same chemicals the brain gives off to denote happiness.  But it is only us that can denote the different feelings.  We know love and happiness, while intertwined, are not the same thing.  We can know happiness without knowing love, and we can be in love without being particularly happy at the time.

Faith can be denoted the same way, in that regard.  Most people are rather happy with their faith.  These people feel happiness when engaging in activities that support their faith (certain masses/sermons/etc, religious gatherings, or Christian Rock concerts come to mind.)  So the brain is releasing those chemicals as well.  But only we, the individual, can tell the difference between simple happiness and the feeling of faith.  You can have one without the other, or they can be intertwined.

Most of us have the same issues with religion across the board.  By letting someone tell you exactly how to live and what to do, you take away our freedom of choice.  Free will is what separates us as higher-functioning beings.  When those strict rules lead you to commit atrocities against your fellow man, then you start to lose the focus of the faith.  You’re in a race to win favors and in the process hurt the world and the people in it.  Most of us can’t believe that one life is somehow inferior to another, and the fact that many religions make those definitions based on arbitrary things annoys us.

However, atheists seem equally as stupid, but in a different way.  Yes, they value science and knowledge and thinking.  But they forget that there are some things on this earth that are better off not being explained.  You can learn all you want about how the planets move and why the sun sets and rises, but to focus on that takes away all the beauty and majesty of watching it.  To look at the way the world has ordered itself and to say it’s all random chaos ignores the beauty and intricacies of the world’s natural order.  You take away all the mysticism of the world, and by taking that away, you take away your own happiness at seeing these things in action.

Atheists had a field day when Stephen Hawking put out his new book and said that, effectively, no God was needed to create the world.  That we all really came from nothing at all.  That may very well be true, but it is not definitive proof that a God doesn’t exist either.  I wish I could remember who it was that said it, but in amongst all the atheism-religious rage that ensued over this, one woman (I think it was a woman) asked the greatest question of all:

If everything came from nothing, where did the nothing come from?

To the agnostic, there is no definite proof that god exists or doesn’t, but our own hearts tell us that one does.  The reasons for this are as wide and varied as the people that feel it.  Each of us have our own story of knowing that God exists, our own personal proof.  It’s not transferable, and to those who haven’t experienced it, you can explain it away all you like.

My story comes from a personal trauma.  Many of you reading this probably know that at age 15 I was attacked and raped by a stranger while on my way to school.  Some of you reading this didn’t know that until they read that sentence.  But it’s true, some strange man grabbed me while I was walking to the train station in the morning and raped me.

I was 15.  I didn’t exactly have a firm footing in the world to begin with and this…it’s hard to explain what it did to me.  While I never became what most people consider a “victim” (I’ve never really felt like one) it doesn’t mean that it didn’t affect me rather hard.  I never blamed myself; I knew it wasn’t my fault and that I had done nothing wrong.  Not even anything that could be constructed as wrong, considering it was the beginning of December and I live someplace very cold and snowy.  I had on pants and a long coat and scarf, mittens, hat…whole nine yards.  Was I angry?  Sure, and I’m still angry at him for doing that to me and taking away something I can never get back.

I was angry at God then too.  My family had never been particularly religious.  My mom had been raised Catholic and didn’t want to do that to me or my sister and my father never cared much.  I only started going to church when I was small because of my two best friends, brothers, whose mom forced them to go.  I liked the church because there were a lot of fun kids to play with and the adults were all nice and friendly.  I grew more and more attached to God as I grew older.

But when I was raped, I definitely beat myself up over the why’s of it all.  Why did it have to happen to me?  You can spout off all the statistics you want about the crime rates where I live or the chances or women being raped and whatnot.  It doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t make anyone feel better about having been a random victim.  It doesn’t make the hospital visit any less invasive.  It doesn’t make the pills you have to take any easier to swallow.  You want to know why it happened to you and there’s only one thing that can truly tell you that: the person upstairs.

I started to doubt the existence of God then.  If God truly loved and cared about us, how could this happen?  It was the Sunday after my attack (which had happened on a Tuesday) that gave me my own personal sign that God was still watching.

My church had been going through a rough period, and we didn’t have our own pastor on hand.  We were, in fact, looking to hire a new one, so we had several guest preachers.  One of whom I was very fond of, because the things he said made sense and he never lost my attention by being to dull or long winded.  His name was Rev. Dr Gilbert.

I sat down at church with my friends who had stayed the weekend over and with my family, who by that time had become very involved with our church.  (I will say the reason I stayed there after realizing I hated religion was for 2 reasons: 1) the people.  They were awesome.  2) The Presbyterian religion is by far the most democratic one there is.)  I was well-prepared to be bored out of my skull and I was already depressed and just wanted to go home and forget life.  The sermon was supposed to be about something inane and I was only looking forward to it for Rev. Gilbert’s personality.

When he started the sermon, he started by telling us that he wasn’t going to read the sermon he wrote for that day and was going to do something more pertinent instead, something completely impromptu.  He then stepped away from the podium and began telling us the story about how, as a boy, he was sexually assaulted and raped by a member of his family.  Someone he trusted and was close to.  He told us all about what that did to him, and to his faith in God and how his faith was eventually restored.

I don’t remember much except the story and how it made me feel.  My mom told me that once he had heard the news about my attack that morning, he shut himself into the office and rewrote the sermon so that he could pretty much speak to me personally about what happened.  He thought that if he opened up, maybe I could too and I could let my faith back and let the healing begin.

I was not exactly close with this man.  I knew him from the times he came to speak to our church, and I only spoke with him a few times when he was there.  And yet he opened up everything about the most hurtful, personal thing that had ever happened in his life, just so that I might not go through the hell he went through.  It makes me cry every time I think about it (and yes, I’m crying as I’m typing this.)

To me, that was not just the most kind and loving act a near stranger has ever done for me.   To me, it was God giving a little wave and saying that he was still there, and that he was still watching and listening and wanted to help.

It was only after that, that I began to realize that we had been granted free will and the ability to know right from wrong and to choose our own actions.  And since we have that, God lets us make our own choices and suffer the consequences of our actions, and that means that sometimes innocent people get hurt.  But we all can learn from these experiences and grow and change from them.  So long as we see what we do and how it affects others, we can change and focus our actions on good things and making the world better.  God can’t live our lives for us, he can only point us to the paths.

I don’t think that religion sees the paths correctly.  I think they try to warp them to their own agendas and loose the true message and purpose in there.  I can no longer trust any “religious texts” of ANY religion because of the fact that man wrote it.  It went through a human’s hands and they added their own messages in there somewhere.  It is not as true as they make it out to be.

Most of us that call ourselves agnostic have a disillusioned view of religion in general.  Whether it’s because of its inherent hypocrisy or because of something more personal.  But most of us have a personal story that has kept our faith in our higher powers (whatever they may be) intact.

I’m sorry you disagree with us, but like we can’t change what you believe in, you’d be hard-pressed to change our minds on the subject as well.


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