Still alive. After the last post, perhaps neglecting this blog wasn’t a good idea…but I don’t imagine I have all that many readers to worry My mental state is much better.
I have been thinking about what it means to be agnostic. It’s not, in my experience, a good thing to be. At its mildest it comes across as a cop-out for taking a stance on something: “I don’t know”. At its most obnoxious it seems to insult the collective intelligence of humanity: “That’s not something we can know”…with the implication that perhaps one ought to be concentrating on more practical matters. Alas, I find myself at the harder end of the agnostic spectrum.
- Absolute agnosticism (also called hard agnosticism, closed agnosticism, strict agnosticism, strong agnosticism) is the belief that it is not possible to know whether a god/gods exists or not.
- Empirical agnosticism (also called soft agnosticism, open agnosticism, weak agnosticism, temporal agnosticism) is the belief that at present there is not enough information to know whether any god/gods exists or not, but that we might find out someday.
- Apathetic agnosticism is the belief that it does not matter whether any god/gods exists or not.
Taken from Wikipedia, with the requisite grain of salt. They’ve left out one variety of soft, IMO: the “I don’t know know whether there is a God or not”. I also don’t think the last really deserves its own catagory, as it’s almost a refusal to tackle the question at all. Using these definitions, I’m not quite an absolute, because I think saying that it is not possible to ever know if God/gods exist sort of breaks the definition of what it means to be agnostic. How can I know that we’ll never know if we don’t know now?
My position is basically this: Given the tools and information that we (collective humanity) have at our disposal right now, it is impossible to empirically prove the existence or non-existence of God. We cannot know for sure. To say otherwise, IMO, is to be intellectually dishonest with oneself.
I do not discount subjective proof. Subjective proof has to do with how a person understands and interacts with the world, and I don’t think this is an area in which one can be mistaken. If you tell me that you saw monkey smoking a cigarette, then that’s what you saw. In this case, however, I may be able to objectively prove that the monkey was only chewing on the cigarette, or that it was not really a monkey, but a puppet…but I can’t tell you that you didn’t see a smoking monkey, because how your brain interpreted what you saw is beyond my sphere of knowledge. If you tell me that God whispers in your ear, I don’t have a good reason to disbelieve you. I may offer a different explanation, but without a physical monkey to examine, as it were, neither of us can assert that our explanation is the true one. You cannot definitively prove to me that it was God’s voice, but neither can I definitively prove to you that it wasn’t.
I simply refuse to assert that subjective proof can comprise objective proof.
No one can know. I don’t care how sure you are. You don’t know.
This was the most difficult place to come to, for me personally. The notion that in the end, I may never know for sure whether God exists or not. That belief is all I’ll ever have. Could I live with that? It rearranges one’s priorities. It makes one take stock of one’s beliefs and ask “Is this enough? What if there is no ultimate destination? Can I still walk this road, knowing within myself that it may have no end? Can I love a God I may never see? What if the journey is all there is?”
It makes you stop “walking” and really take a good look at where you are now. Because if the road has no end, then the only worthwhile place to be is now. And if you do start walking again, it can only be in the full, frightening knowledge that there is no sure, safe, set in stone destination that you’ll someday reach. The walking itself has to be worth it.
I choose to sit on the theistic side of the agnostic fence, because I personally find it more fulfilling and more in line with how I’ve experienced the world. A lot of people end up on the atheistic side, for the same reasons. Are they wrong? I can’t know, and it doesn’t make sense to actually, physically condemn actual living people in ways that have tangible, painful consequences for them based on assertions I cannot prove.
It’s why I abhor the notion of the Bible being “absolute truth”, and then using that assertion to verbally and sometimes physically badger, shame, manipulate, guilt-trip, persecute, cut, stab, and kill human beings who do thing you think are wrong. You don’t know that. You can’t know that, because it’s not something that can be objectively proved or disproved. What gives you the right to use what you do not know to harm actual living people? The book itself protests its being used in such a way! “God will judge. Angels will judge. The Son of Man will judge. It is not your job to judge, and it is surely not your fucking job to do harm in the name of said judgment. Stop it.”
And no, saying “Well, it’s not *me* who condemns that, it’s God/Scripture” does not actually wash your hands of the blood your words draw.
“The Bible says” is bullying LGBT people to death. “The Bible says” is killing women forced to endure pregnancies their bodies cannot handle. “The Bible says” is ruining the lives of people who cannot in good conscience assert the existence of God. “The Bible says” is ruining the lives of people of minority faiths. “The Bible says” is killing children in Africa. “The Bible says” is silencing victims of rape and domestic violence. “The Bible says” is raising generations of girls to believe that God created them for the sole purpose of serving men. And so on.
Is it any wonder that many people don’t give a flying fuck what the Bible says?
It’s why agnosticism is a comfortable place for me to be. Yeah, I don’t get the fuzzy assurance of knowing unknowable things to be true…but I also don’t get to hurt people in the name of what I “know”. I don’t get to use God to wound people because I “know” that God thinks what they’re doing is wrong. I don’t have to condemn people and behaviors just because a book does; I am free to condemn based on empirical evidence of actual harm. Best of all, I suppose, I am free to believe in a God whose love is bigger than anything I can “know”.