“I’m not agnostic,” he said, “because I think that all the religions are wrong. But I think that there probably is a god.”
“No, no!” I argued back, “You are agnostic. You said yourself that there is ‘probably’ a god. You don’t know what that god is like or what that god has to do with the actions of the world right now. You only know that you don’t believe that any of the established religions have the answer.”
He came back with a statement that atheism is about not believing in religion, and I responded that atheism is about not believing in god. Religions are just structures on which we hang our beliefs, worldview and behavior. Not all religions require belief.
My dad, a conservative Jew who keeps kosher by way of vegan diet, celebrates Shabbat (Sabbath) with synagogue attendance and Torah study, and only resigned from his position as president of the board of a synagogue a mere month ago, sat there engaged in a debate with me about the meaning of atheism and agnosticism, and which one is a more fitting term for his distaste for the mind control structures of human religion. Now you will learn what kind of twisted child I am, because this is the kind of debate I love to get into with family and my closest friends.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter what my father chooses to call himself. His self-identification is his business. But, oh! What a delicious paradox! Here we are discussing the very merit of the structure that he has chosen to live in. He rejects many notions of the religion, but holds on to other aspects.
Most practicing Jews would say that the most important thing is the practice. Belief is something that flows from experience. But I think that for some, perhaps including my father, the most important part of Judaism is the asking of questions and the sharing of those questions with a community of people who ask questions and puzzle out answers the best they can. Practice flows from questions asked as the puzzling through of answers is worked on. Belief comes from experience only sometimes.
For me, the practice of asking questions is what brought me to a distinctly Pagan path. It is the puzzling out of answers that has brought me onto this earth-based trail of Druidry and place-based eclectic religious expression. The questions are the start of everything. The mystery is the place where awe lives.