Agnosticism: The perfect answer that can’t deliver

Based on the enduring lack of conclusive, objectively verifiable, purely empirical evidence, agnostics claim to simply not know whether or not there’s a God. As a rational response to the question of God, it’s an unassailable stance. All emotions, intuition, and inspiration aside—all subjective persuasions aside—the unadorned fact remains that we don’t know whether or not there’s a God. Struggle though so many do to muddle the two categories of knowledge, belief remains separate from fact.

So, since agnosticism is easily the most logical position to take relative to the question of God, why are there so few agnostics in the world? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think of themselves as rational and logical. Yet some 95% of people believe there’s a God.

What gives?

The reason agnosticism fails to attract people is because its core truth is in direct contradiction to the actual experience of life. Agnosticism and reality go together like wax fruit and a hearty appetite.

Agnosticism is all about doubt, about being uncertain as to what ultimately rules or determines life. But the things that actually do rule and determine life couldn’t be more certain or clear. Like death, for instance. Talk about a firm, clear reality. Death is as definite as it gets. As is being sick. As is being pregnant. As is being born in the first place.

Family. Stress. Joy. Taxes. Hunger. Getting evicted. Falling in love. Losing your job. Getting cut off on the freeway. Tripping on the sidewalk. A dog attacking your ankles. All of our lives are utterly dominated by conclusive, objectively verifiable, purely empirical facts and truths.

Life consists of a lot of very clear, very definite stuff. And that stuff brings up very clear, very definite questions.

And such questions demand very clear, very definite answers.

“I don’t know” is about as unclear and indefinite an answer as can be. You can’t do anything with it. It’s like bringing a ping-pong paddle to play golf with. No good.

The core of agnosticism is ambiguity. But life is anything but ambiguous. And that is why so very few people find agnosticism satisfying.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson

    i heard something like this before, in the form of a chestnut: “don’t be an agnostic, be something”. interesting analysis.

  • Scott

    I’m an agnostic theist. I believe in God and follow Jesus Christ, but I could be wrong…

    • Ace

      Pretty much. I’ve got a *good idea* (as Kevin Smith once put it in his ridiculous film “Dogma”) about what life, the universe & everything is about (42! I’m just kidding…) but all any of us have to go on is just a *feeling* and nothing substantive.

      But that’s all any of us have, really. Which (going back to a recent Shore essay) is why I hesitate to use pushy evangelism tactics with other people, because I am not privy to some special information that others don’t have.

      The same set of data, a load of different possible conclusions. I’ve chosen mine, but I can’t rightly say that another’s is not also a valid conclusion.

      I think ultimately a bit of humility and a knowledge of one’s limitations as a human being is a good thing in dealing with such matters.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I suppose this was just a typo, but did you really mean to imply that life’s ambiguous, agnosticism is all about ambiguity, and so the two are a bad match? (Or were you just being purposefully ambiguous?)

    “…the unadorned fact remains that we don’t know whether or not there’s a God.”

    Depends what you mean by “God” and how much certainty is required of knowledge. (For even what you refer to as facts are (in fact) none other than unfailing beliefs: perhaps you didn’t really get a good look and the “dog” attacking your ankles was actually an unusual fox, coyote, wolf, lioness, extraterrestrial—and where for that matter does the calf end and the angle begin?)

    • Anonymous

      I’m sorry: are you trying to alert me to an actual typo I’ve made? Cuz … do if you are, please.

      • Anonymous

        oh, right. got it! good! thank you!

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anson-Ivan/1013635165 Anson Ivan

          Hi John , I feel agnostic is a way of thought and a way of life. An agnostic thinks from this perspective he is a part of an universe which he himself hasn’t yet discovered. If we are a part of a whole thing which is not yet discovered how could we come to a conclusive truth ?As the last answer of scientific thinking is “I dont know”. An agnostic does is to go for an everyday search un ravelling his thoughts that brings more clarity . Also if an agnostic reads more on human evolution and origin of man ,genetics etc the question of God or no God the argument or the debate becomes completely baseless.
          As human beings we observe that unfortunately there is nothing yet discovered to substitute religion. It seems in some way the human brain is wired with Religion , cults etc. If there is some research done on this part of the human being then there would be a different progress for mankind.

  • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

    Are you writing 4K publishable words plus this kind of mind bending wit? How do you do it, John Shore? You deserve all the love you get!!! and then some…

    • Anonymous

      Hi, Beth. Yeah, I am doing the 4K plus. It’s …. what it is. But thanks!

      • gooseberrybush

        Really. That is impressive. I could easily write a blog post that’s 2,000 words long. I try to limit myself because no one wants to read that much, well, except freaks like me who actually like to read. But 4,000 words on a subject that’s not of my choice. And then to write a blog post that’s actually good. Impressive! I don’t think I could do it.

  • Shadsie

    Instead of getting into defending my agnostic friends right away, since it’s late, I’ll address one issue that’s actually been on my mind for a while now.

    The certainty that Death as a reality. I’ve actually been thinking for a while that none of us *really* believes in death, at least not our own deaths, when it comes down to it. I mean, on one level, we do *know* that we are going to die, but I don’t think any of us really faces what some of the implications might be.

    Some of us believe in an afterlife of some sort – becoming a ghost, or for us Christians, getting that eternal life that Jesus talked about. We believe in that, so death for us is just like “moving to new house” as it were. It kind of makes death “not really death.”

    But atheists shouldn’t be quick to point their fingers and laugh at our “avoiding reality of nonexistance.” I don’t think you guys believe in it, either – because, simply put, you exist and it is impossible for someone who exists to accurately imagine what nonexistance is. Instead, when those that don’t believe in souls speak of death, they treat it like “going to sleep.” They like to imagine it as something they do on a regular basis rather than really think of the implication of “nonexistance” because…. you know, you can’t. Nonexistance is an unknowable to those that exist. The closest approximation is “darkness,” “sleep,” “going under.” In the end, however, even “deep sleep” is *not* the same as “nothing.”

    Sorry for weridness – just injecting a little ambiguity into life.

    • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

      Does it cause you any discomfort whatsoever with the implication that you were not in Berlin in 1604? Or do you value the notion of after much more significantly than you do before? In other words do you care in some meaningful way – in some way that affects how you think about your life – that you did not live in Mesopotamia a millennium ago? Is it understandable that many folk view ‘living’ a millennium from now in the same uncaring way?

      It’s not a matter of imagining nonexistence; one cannot imagine any such state. It’s a matter of being indifferent to non being.

      • Shadsie

        Then why do so many people who believe we just shut down and are no more describe dying as being like falling asleep? Why the euphamism?

        I’m fine with having not existed in 1604. I had not yet tasted existance. Now that I’ve tasted it and currently am living in it, I can’t quite *imagine* anything other than being. If I try, I have to use euphamisms like “darkness” or “dreamless sleep” or even “Well, I didn’t exist in 1604.”

        Personally, I am not indifferent to it, and would like people to stop treating me like I am evil or stupid for my caring about it. If this is the one life we have, we all ought to make it good for one another even if we dissagree on what’s going to happen afterward.

        • Don Rappe

          This is an interesting line of thought. It reminds me vaguely of Descartes’s “I doubt, therefore I am.” Sort of an “I am, therefore I doubt.” It is tempting to try to draw conclusions. “I can’t quite *imagine* anything other than being.” I focus on the words imagine and I. Aren’t “You” more or less defined by what you “imagine”? How does the “imagining one” imagine “not imagining”? Good questions, I think.

        • Matthew Tweedell

          You won’t stop being. A certain thing you identify with will stop living, and if you is only what you became through your first birth, then yes, you’ll stop being. Yet that is never what the body is and no longer what the spirit is if already we are dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus–having been baptized into his death, receiving the Holy Spirit, the Giver of life (and our Lord is the Life, and we — members of His body — citizens of His eternal kingdom).

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Of course the highest heaven is before and after the before and the after, but here and now, we affect what is to come, rather than what came before. So it is in this direction we set our sights.

    • Mike Burns

      I don’t trouble myself with non-existence at all. I didn’t exist for 13.7 billion years [or more?] before I was born and it didn’t bother me one iota. I don’t expect non-existence to be any more troublesome than that.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        What do you mean you didn’t exist?

        • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

          Uhhh…am I really being that obtuse or ambiguous MT? The discussion was

          related to perceptions of death and dying and not existing. Simply put; I,

          Mike Burns, exist as a personality derived from the electrochemical gel

          between my ears and my experiences. My consciousness, as manifested in my

          brain, didn’t exist for billions of years before I was born and will not

          exist for billions of years after my death. I expect my consciousness not

          existing after death will be just as important as my first go-round with

          non-existence…meaning not at all important.

          The process of dying, on the other hand, is not something I look forward to.

          As Woody Allen said, “I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be

          there when it happens.”

          • Shadsie

            We don’t like to think about it, or we use euphamism, like “going to sleep.” Which was kind of my point – I just don’t think it’s possible for someone that exists to *accurately* imagine non-existance – it’s like how black cannot become white, at least not without going gray.

            I have the belief (or at least hope) that there’s a Heaven. A lot of people call me weak for that, but, honestly, if I’m wrong and “nothing” is all I’m going to become in the end, I sure hope I’m one of those people who sees lights and angels and stuff when my time comes. Even if it’s just my brain tricking me, I’ll need that. I won’t go easy otherwise.

          • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

            I don’t disagree with any of what you said, really.

            I found different people approach it from several ways and it is confused by

            the theistic tradition of an afterlife. The theistic tradition inculcates

            us that it is a continuum from one life (this life) to the next life (the

            afterlife). Even those that abandon the premise of theistic belief still,

            unconsciously, hold on to the concept of transition (in my hypothesis).

            That leaves them struggling with transition to what? in their head.

            You are right; the mere conceptualizing of non-existence is an oxymoron. I

            satisfactorily answer the question (for me) by thinking…“Well, if there

            is a transition to non-existence, I have been there and done that”, so I

            am cool with it.

          • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

            Oh…I forgot to mention that research shows oxygen deprivation to the

            visual cortex has been show to create waves of electrical impulses that are

            perceived as tunnels or spirals.

          • Shadsie

            I once had a friend who described a near-death experience to me. It was more of an out of body experience – her undergoing a great deal of sudden pain, then dying for a few moments, seeing people franticly trying to revive her body. Pretty much convinced her that death is nothing to worry about. I don’t know what to make of it myself, though, since I’ve never experienced anything like that. I’ve heard that OBE stuff has undergone some study, too, with ways to induce the feeling.

            Our brains can do weird things to us. I’ve heard things about how our own memories might not be as accurate as we think they are, that we do things like remember things as being better or worse than they really are, depending upon emotional state – and fill in gaps in our memories out of whole-cloth. I just got a jolt of this the other day when my guy and I were talking to someone about how our vehicle had gotten stuck in the snow in the driveway at my job last year. My guy mentioned something about the “truck” and I said “Wait, wasn’t it my car?” (My car that I no longer have). He said “No, don’t you remmeber? The big snows were in March, after we no longer had the car.” I realized he was right.

            But I could have sworn it was my car that was stuck up in the snow in my mind!

            Perceptions are precarious. Maybe that’s why I don’t worry about being too “logical” or “illogical” in my own life because anything could be mis-remembered or mis-perceived somehow.

          • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

            Shadsie wrote “I don’t know what to make of [Out Of Body Experiences],

            though

            Here I will make a broad generalization about most people…believers

            and non-believers alike. OBEs and NDEs are important phenomena and they are

            often cited as proof of an afterlife. I am flummoxed that people can say “I

            don’t know what to make [of them]” and not do something about

            resolving their uncertainty and ignorance on the matter. (I am not

            picking on you Shadsie)

            If these phenomena could be attributed to God or an afterlife, I would want

            to know all I could about them. We all here are at least have an Internet

            connection. It would be pretty easy to find information on what we really

            know about these phenomena…with the caveat that it is tricky to separate

            the scholarly wheat from the anecdotal/subjective chaff. There are actually

            real, rigorous studies on both OOBs and NDEs, and there is nothing to

            suggest that that there is anything but biophysical causes.

            There has been a long (and ongoing study) to empirically document the OBEs

            that places pictures in emergency rooms facing the ceiling and only visible

            from a ‘floating’ vantage point. Not one OBE subject has been able to

            properly describe any of those images…despite their being able to (at

            times) describe their surroundings and activity while they were, ostensibly,

            dead. Of course we are not really talking about being dead, but being near

            dead. On its face; one might find that affirming of some other plane of

            existence. Further research, though, shows that it is

            physiological child’s play to induce the phenomena of floating or separation

            from one’s self through hypnosis, electrical stimulation, magnetic

            stimulation, meditation and, importantly, oxygen deprivation.

            Similarly, brain scientists have shown oxygen deprivation (high

            concentrations of CO2) to result in the perception of lights and tunnels and

            spirals as the visual cortex deprived of oxygen.

            Visions during such events correspond to culturally prevailing

            interpretations (Christians are skewed toward Christian deities, Hindus

            toward Hindu, etc…when deities are even part of the subject’s experience)

            Even accurate descriptions of events and people while the person

            is unconscious are subject to what we have learned about visual cognition.

            There are fascinating case studies of blind-sight where (in one case) both

            lobes of the subject’s visual cortex was incapacitated by two unfortunately

            located strokes. This rendered the the subject completely blind by any

            conventional measure but left all the visual hardware (eyes, optic nerve,

            etc) fully functional. Fascinatingly; the blind subject could navigate a

            cluttered hallway without assistance and without bumping into any

            obstacles.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blindsight

            http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1842627,00.html

            The point of this response is that it seems very very few, when made aware

            of things like NDEs and OBEs, will bother to find the scholarship about what

            we really know on the matter…particularly if they have a pleasant,

            affirming interpretation of such events. (and many that do look it up

            cannot distinguish empirical research from subjective here say).

          • Shadsie

            Your post is a good illustrator of why I really don’t even bother, why I don’t really know what to make of such experiences. I used to read about this stuff, mostly the anedoctal stuff, unfortunately, but if you meet someone who’s had one, they usually are convinced that they’ve had a spiritual experience and I, for one, wouldn’t want to crap all over that for them. There are also (rarer) experiences that some people have that are… unpleasant.

            As both you and I have said – there is the fact that the brain is a tricky organ that does very weird things to us sometimes. In the end, there’s not going to be “proof of afterlife” until someone’s been dead for a few days, perhaps dead and rotting – and comes back, provided they are coherent and don’t come back moaning for “Braaaaiiiins.” And, you know what? Even if that happens, people won’t believe it and/or will try to come up with some kind of purely materialistic explaination for it.

            I seem to remember Mr. Shore posting something on here about regarding the unusual circumstances of his conversion – regarding people who were convinced he’d just had his brain glitch up and was experiencing a hallucination. If I recall correctly, he basically said “so what?” to that – as in, even if something was going on with his brain at the time, “God is still behind it.” or something. I’m too lazy to find it, it’s somewhere in the archive. — Honestly, if something like what happened to him happened to me, I probably would worry and see my psychatrist about it… but that’s because I have a pre-existing condition that he didn’t and doesn’t. My conversion experience was different, not nearly so out of ordinary life. I believe for him, though, if that makes any sense (based upon “if something genuinely changes your life, it must be a genuine experience, at least to you”).

            The way I see life… I live within the “maybe miracle, maybe mundane” mentality. I survived a falling accident last year and – I really shoudn’t have. A lot of people don’t survive the kind of thing I went through, yet so many things, just purely stupid-lucky things converged all at once. Although I saw no angels or anyting froofy like that, I consider the fact that I survived miraculous and a sign that my life means something -that I’m continuing to exist for some sort of purpose. I don’t think I’m anything special or that I lived becuase I’m particularly “good” or “deserving.” I just think that plot of existance needs my continued prescence for a while. My non-believer online friend just thinks I got lucky. Which of us is right? Are both of us right?

            I hope I make sense. I just don’t look to try to “proove God” or to proove spiritual things to people. Some people see the world one way, some people see it another. People who are entrenched either way aren’t going to see the other side, no matter what proof of argument is even, even if it’s on their terms.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            I’m sure the courts would take issue with the notion that you–or any natural person under the law–are a “personality”. Are you not an entity of consequence (both culpable and contractual), possessor of properties and titles (in every sense of the words)? Yet what personality exactly is yours proper? What right have you to claim your own consciousness?

            I mean, go ahead—I’m just warning of the grave error of your way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paulardoin Paul Ardoin

    Hm. I agree with you that agnosticism is unsatisfying, and that a lot of people are hungry for answers. But I don’t think belief systems/religions/spirituality is an automatic ticket to disambiguity, answers, or satisfaction. For instance, there are many religions or philosophies that don’t concern themselves with what happens in the afterlife. (At least as I understand it, Buddhism and Judaism don’t really obsess over that.)

    And even rational atheists know that there are some things in this world that have no scientific explanation (yet). Gravity–or any mass attracting other masses–there’s no explanation for why that happens. Motion sickness can’t be scientifically explained, either. (Yes, I’m reading Mary Roach’s Packing For Mars.) That’s unsatisfying.

    And serious Christians — those who actually read the Bible and understand that there are some things that don’t make sense — know that they don’t know lots of things about God/Jesus/etc, and will likely never know. Why do bad things happen to good people? I don’t know — but I choose to believe anyway. Which is horribly unsatisfying. (Even though I read your previous post of this topic.)

    I disagree with you that “life is anything but ambiguous.” My experience is that it’s a big, messy ball of contradictions, frustrations, rocks and hard places, and catch-22s. Religion can supply easy answers if you choose to ignore the contradictions, but there are many times where I find that “I don’t know, and I don’t think I’ll EVER know” is the only answer I have.

    • Mindy

      Exactly, Paul. I don’t know how to define my beliefs. I’ve been struggling with it for awhile now. I *do* believe in something greater than us, greater than what we understand. I have a sense of what it is – for me, but I also understand that it defies definition for now.

      I know there is something – I just can’t define, with any certainty, what that something is. But that’s OK – for me, knowing something is there dissolves enough of the ambiguity for me.

      I simply don’t have a label, so have therefore defaulted to “spiritual agnostic.” But my uncertainty is not what John describes, so perhaps that is a misnomer.

  • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

    It really is, at least to me, a wonder that more people aren’t agnostic. Seriously religion, even in it’s attempt to simply explain things, to point towards the divine and to lay groundwork for the proper behavior of man, is itself completely complex, and often contradictory. The contradictory often, ironically, appears within some of the texts of the faith and most certainly within the interpretations of those texts. Then we get into the cultural differences of when these texts were written, long before our great grandparents were born, and todays society. It can get even more confusing as we try to determine which is a simply cultural thing and which is relevant in modern settings.

    Shoot, just writing that got me all convoluted.

    There is a lot we don’t know, don’t understand or agree on, may never know or understand, or agree on. Those who follow a faith try to navigate through all that stuff. Maybe agnostics opt to stay out of the fray.

    Who knows? I know I don’t, as I just totally confused myself.

  • Textjunkie

    mmf. I know a lot of agnostics. They find their certainty in other things than the existence of God or the lack thereof.

  • Andrew Hackman

    I think I am a Christian Agnostic of sorts. Don’t have the first clue about the afterlife. I could choose to believe this or that, but my belief in that regard will not change what is – not one iota. I have plenty of hopes, but I think that still places me in an Agnostic camp.

    When I speak of Christian beliefs, anything supernatural I will be somewhat agnostic about. So too with various technical portions of Dogma. How does reconciliation work? Is Jesus part of a Trinity, or was he as Paul said “a man chosen by God to be both Lord and Christ? I don’t know….. Agnostic.

    However, when it comes to loving neighbor, doing good to those who wrong you, prayin for those who persecute you …. these are things I believe.

  • Ray C.

    I feel perfectly comfortable with ambiguity. And, I’m one of those few agnostics. What if I don’t feel a need to believe in a God? What if I’ve felt that way all my life? What if the objective, verifiable facts of living are enough for me? Are you saying my life is bereft of meaning?

    • Ace

      “Are you saying my life is bereft of meaning? ”

      I don’t think he was saying that at all, just that *most* human beings want definitive answers and are not comfortable with simply not knowing things.

      Most humans have an inherent need to feel in control of their lives, or that there is some guiding factor instead of everything just being random or some kind of accident, which your average psyche finds a terrifying proposition.

      If you get on just fine without that, I don’t think that makes your life “meaningless” at all, just makes you, well, a little less neurotic than most.

      • jes

        “I don’t think he was saying that at all, just that *most* human beings want definitive answers and are not comfortable with simply not knowing things.

        Most humans have an inherent need to feel in control of their lives, or that there is some guiding factor instead of everything just being random or some kind of accident, which your average psyche finds a terrifying proposition.”

        And that is exactly why I have such a difficult time with so many people. So very often, the answer simply is “I don’t know why, but I do know it was nobody’s fault” and people just can NOT accept that. In their minds everything has to be for some greater reason, and/or caused by someone. Except that in reality (at least, my reality) it doesn’t. Some things just ARE with no blame and no explanation I can discern. And I can’t grasp why so many other people can’t grasp that simple fact.

        • Ace

          Because for many people, it’s a very uncomfortable fact, that’s why. Because if you admit that sometimes bad things *just happen* and there is no *reason* or *meaning* for it, then you have to admit that you are NOT in control of your own life and your own fate.

          Why do you think that so often victims of human violence are blamed for their own victimization? It’s because if you can say to yourself, “Well they did X and Y and Z and that’s why this bad thing happened to them, so as long as I don’t do X, Y & Z I am in control and safe!” though it’s complete rubbish.

          Mugging, rape, murder, hurricanes, car wrecks, tsunamis, earthquakes, cancer, heart attacks, death – these things can happen to any of us no matter what precautions we take, no matter how healthy a lifestyle we have, no matter who or what we pray to, no matter what magic spells or charms we possess, but NOBODY wants to go through life admitting that to themselves.

          People are control-freaks by nature, we are the only species that literally re-builds our entire environment to suit our own needs. The only creatures that come even semi-close are maybe beavers and perhaps nest/mound-building social insects but even those do not completely alter their surroundings nor do they eliminate all competition and predators from their midst as humans have done trying to escape from every little pain and misfortune.

          Nobody wants to feel powerless or vulnerable. We have to tell ourselves all sorts of little lies to get through the day, whether it’s simply that our neighborhood is safe, and that as long as we don’t dress slutty nobody will bother us, or if we don’t go out after dark we won’t ever get mugged, or simply that God is out there and will protect us from harm.

          And many do indeed abandon their faith in a higher order when they come to harm, because suddenly their magic charm no longer works and they cast it aside. I’ve witnessed this first-hand with a friend of mine who was in church every single Sunday until she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and suddenly declared that there must be no God at all or He would never have allowed such a thing to happen to her.

          Do I believe there is a higher order? Yes. But I’m certainly not naive enough to think I must necessarily be correct, or that this somehow prevents me from coming to harm.

          I think real faith is realizing that God is with you whether you come to much harm or no harm at all, whether you live or you die, and that’s also a hard pill to swallow for many.

          • jes

            “Because for many people, it’s a very uncomfortable fact, that’s why. Because if you admit that sometimes bad things *just happen* and there is no *reason* or *meaning* for it, then you have to admit that you are NOT in control of your own life and your own fate.

            Why do you think that so often victims of human violence are blamed for their own victimization? It’s because if you can say to yourself, “Well they did X and Y and Z and that’s why this bad thing happened to them, so as long as I don’t do X, Y & Z I am in control and safe!” though it’s complete rubbish. ”

            Of course it’s uncomfortable. But I’m quite well aware of how many things can affect me that I can’t control. It doesn’t suit me emotionally or rationally to blame the victim and put up false ‘security’ walls of denial. I control what I can, and deal with the rest as best I’m able if it happens. If I convince myself that bad things will never happen to me, it will just be that much more devastating when they do. And yet I manage to not fall into fatalistic depression and sit about waiting for the inevitable doom, or hide myself away in a cave.

            But there is a huge rift in my emotional understanding on this topic–I’m not arguing with you about the existence of this tendency in people, or about my flawed understanding. I know most people don’t look at things the way I do, and they can’t understand how I can be satisfied with “it just happens” as an answer, but I equally cannot grasp the need so many people have to place credit or blame on things that are beyond control. I had a recent similar conversation with FireFox on livejournal, where I was venting frustration at having recently become the focus of this need for a client to place blame because of her dog’s death. Lucky me, I guess, she apparently thought that I could control death and despite my explicit statements that her pet was terminally ill, I ended up with her yelling “You killed my dog” in the lobby of the clinic and storming out.

            I know I’m in the minority here, but I just can’t understand that need. It means I’m rather abnormal, I suppose, but I don’t get angry in the face of the inevitable, I don’t look for someone to blame, I don’t go through the denial stages of coping. Death/weather/earthquakes/whatever happens. Happens all the time. Doesn’t have to be someone’s fault. Be sad, but move on.

          • Ace

            I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I *wasn’t* accusing y0u of, well, whatever it is you seem to think I’m accusing you of? (you seem a bit defensive)

            If you are capable of accepting that yea, shit happens, then you’re far ahead of the pack in emotional maturity. Sorry if it sounded like I was criticizing you. I’m not. It’s an admirable trait, not something I would criticize. I wish more people could realize the same, it would make this planet a much calmer place if people weren’t constantly looking for a scapegoat.

            I’m sorry you got yelled at over somebody’s dog that happen to die, but that’s pretty typical – somebody is in emotional pain and they pin blame on whatever target is convenient and lash out.

            Kick-the-dog syndrome, to put it ironically.

            You’re absolutely right that it makes no sense AT ALL. Logically, practically or even functionally. But nonetheless, it seems to be a big part of most humans’ emotional makeup, whether it’s a result of culture, immaturity, stupidity or just bad DNA. If you’ve escaped that kind of muddled thinking, count yourself lucky.

            P.S. you’re not a member of stupidpetowners at livejournal are you? I might know you over there if you are, LOL

          • jes

            No, hadn’t heard of stupidpetowners. Might have to check it out.

            Not defensive of not being overly emotional, but do often feel like there’s something that is fundamentally missing from my grasp of people in situations like that… I just utterly fail to understand where they’re coming from. I mean, I know people get like that, obviously, but no matter how many times I see it, I still just don’t get it. And part of me thinks there’s something wrong with me for not being able to understand something so common, and part of me is kinda glad I don’t understand it, because then I might do the same things… does that make sense?

          • Ace

            I don’t entirely understand it either, mostly because I don’t experience it myself. I generally chalk it up to either stupidity, ignorance or insanity but I suppose that’s rather a bit judgmental of me. I can’t quite figure it out any other way though.

          • jes

            Is it really insanity though, if it’s so very common? perhaps we’re the insane ones for not being the same? I think the very commonality of it is why I am so bewildered (and a bit defensive, I guess, sorry for taking that out on you) by my total lack of understanding of it…it makes me feel sometimes out of place to be so entirely different than what seems the norm. Guess that’s one of the “i don’t knows” that I’m really not comfortable with? :D

          • Ace

            Just because something is common doesn’t make it rational. I don’t think you are insane for not being that way.

          • Diana A.

            Would that all of us were so emotionally resiliant.

          • Shadsie

            An interesting response to a diagnosis of bipolar.

            When I was diagnosed bipoar, I thought “So THAT’S what’s been wrong with me all my life! THANK GOD someone figured it out!”

            Okay, so it really wasn’t so joyful, it really consisted more of a “finally admitting to myself I have this” after having tried to dodge the diagnosis/not quite believing it earlier because I didn’t want to “be like my brother” who has it and is a gigantic butthole. Still, when it was found out that this was likely my problem and I started getting treatment that *worked* you could say I became more inclined to be thankful to God than abandonment.

            Now, I’m not thankful that I *have* it – but I tend to think there’s some sort of reason behind it. If not “something that beauty will be brought out from” than maybe an “equivalent exchange” for creativity thing, since it is thought that a lot of historical artists have had it.

            Either way, I’ve never treated my being “disordered” nor knowing about it as the end of the world or a “there is no God!!!” moment. Shows there are different perceptions on things, I guess.

          • Ace

            Her mother, older brother and a few extended relatives had all already been diagnosed bipolar. I can only assume she thought if she prayed enough and crossed her fingers, it wouldn’t happen to her.

            I was sympathetic to her plight, but secretly a tad annoyed. She declared herself an Atheist and a secular humanist, but listening to her talk over the ensuing weeks about God, all I got was a lot of anger. I think at one point she said God is a puppy-kicker for creating something and giving it a brain disorder, and the sheer illogic of being that mad at an entity you claim doesn’t exist in the same breath got on my nerves. Of course it doesn’t take much to annoy me, really…

            But anyway…

          • Shadsie

            She sounds like what a favorite website of mine (TV Tropes – a place that explores and has fun with writing devices) calls a “Nay Theist” or a “Hollywood Athiest.” (ie. someone who decides to hate or abandon any concept of God out of spite for having something bad happen to them – it’s something of an overused device in television and movies. Mel Gibson’s character in “Signs” is a good example).

            Eh. Diabetes runs through the women in my family and I’m not praying against it. I figure if it happens to me later in life – it happens. The genetics are there.

            Maybe if you talk with her again, you can try to impress upon her that being bipolar isn’t the end of the world. I’ve got the “mixed” type which is actually somewhat rare and considered “more dangerous” as far as impulse goes than the regular kind if the literature I’ve read is not mistaken I take my medication and it helps me to balance out and focus. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t “cure all” or “deaden creativity” (at least it hasn’t for me). Find supportive people/people who love you and understand (as much as normal people can). Sometimes, I “ride the lightning” – I find a manic state very good for writing/art energy. I find depressive feelings useful sometimes for my writing – writing up sad things that I think are pretty beautiful later that I knew I couldn’t have written if I hadn’t been depressed.

            Bipolar doesn’t mean God (or goodness) has abandoned you, it just means that you’re a little different. A lot of history’s most amazing people were crazy. Find a way to use it.

          • Ace

            “Bipolar doesn’t mean God (or goodness) has abandoned you, it just means that you’re a little different”

            I wish more people would see it that way. Sadly there is still a lot of stigma and shame attached to mental disorders in our society. And disability in general, really.

            I guess that’s where the “Shore Family Motto” comes in. Fuck ‘em.

          • Shadsie

            Exactly. I remember an article/topic about suicide earlier – Gay Teens and Suicide. I replied to it because, while I’m not gay, I do have an illness that predisposes me to suicide a little more than the “normal” population and there are times when I’ve been suicidal/have come very close. Hell, I once had a semi-attempt before my actual diagnosis (just acted on an urge to hurt myself, panicked and wanted to live). My family (not my parents, who were living far away at the time, but my siblings I was living with/around) were so angry with me and my crazy they refused to pick me up from the hospital and I had to get a cab home. Needless to say, I’m SO GLAD I live with my fiance’ now. He’s taken care of family members through physical ailments (and a mentally retarded younger brother when he was a kid), so maybe it’s made him better equipped to be more easygoing about disability in general than most people. And he and I share a morbid sense of humor, which is great.

            Yeah, as I said on the suicide thread, one of my core reasons why I am still alive is that I decided at one point that the world is full of bastards and that suicide is “letting them win” and I don’t want that. If people are going to drive me down, I want to be a prick in their side as long as possible, just out of spite.

            And don’t underestimate the things I’m willing to do out of pure spite. Some intersting stories I’ve written have come about from wanting to “spite the world” or “spite a common attitude I’ve seen.” Or, a “Don’t tell me what I’m allowed to think or how I’m allowed to be!”

          • Ace

            Heh, there are definitely days where the only reason I get out of bed and walk out the door is pure, unadulterated spite. I think it’s a very good motivator when there’s not much else around, actually.

            “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” Did you watch LOST? There was one character who, back in the “real world” was wheel-chair bound due to a spinal injury for whom that was a repeating theme. I related quite a bit (not that I’m in a wheelchair but I’ve had a lot of people over my life trying to tell me what I am or am not capable of, but I think that’s pretty common for anyone born female)

          • Ace

            Heh, there are definitely days where the only reason I get out of bed and walk out the door is pure, unadulterated spite. I think it’s a very good motivator when there’s not much else around, actually.

            “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” Did you watch LOST? There was one character who, back in the “real world” was wheel-chair bound due to a spinal injury for whom that was a repeating theme. I related quite a bit (not that I’m in a wheelchair but I’ve had a lot of people over my life trying to tell me what I am or am not capable of, but I think that’s pretty common for anyone born female)

          • Diana A.

            “I was sympathetic to her plight, but secretly a tad annoyed. She declared herself an Atheist and a secular humanist, but listening to her talk over the ensuing weeks about God, all I got was a lot of anger. I think at one point she said God is a puppy-kicker for creating something and giving it a brain disorder, and the sheer illogic of being that mad at an entity you claim doesn’t exist in the same breath got on my nerves.”

            Yes, it sounds to me as if your friend is more of a disappointed theist than an atheist–though I could be wrong. Not all atheists are disappointed theists, but there are a lot of them out there.

          • Ace

            Yea, I kind of think disappointment may have been a large part of it, not just in God but in life in general, and her rejection of God was more just her trying to make sense of things and console herself.

            I don’t really know for sure, of course, I mean how can you *really* know what’s going on in someone else’s head? The whole episode was somewhat baffling, and a lot of my annoyance was not only the bald contradiction in her statements but my own inability to give her any real advice. Not much you can do but say “sorry this happened” and dispense hugs when appropriate.

            She was a lovely, caring person, but I’ve lost track of her since graduating, I just hope whatever she’s doing right now she’s found some sort of peace in her spiritual life, whatever beliefs she’s settled on.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Many people who have been raised to believe get very angry when something happens in life to bring these beliefs directly into challenge… and are found wanting. If you think of the experience as a kind of betrayal of trust, then it’s pretty easy to understand the anger. But I would simply caution people not to mix up the order of events when faith is lost: first comes the loss of faith because of some major disappointment as a central event and then (usually kicking and screaming in frustration followed very often by great sadness) the stance of atheism. If viewed as a kind of grieving process, then this kind of traumatic atheism can be seen to run through the same stages – including anger and resentment – until acceptance is finally reached. Understanding that process may allow others to better cope with a loved one’s loss of faith without weakening the common bonds of love and respect for the person.

          • Ace

            I still did and do respect her as a person, just the particular thought process behind what she was saying seemed logically flawed to me. Please don’t misunderstand me, at no point did I mean to say I thought less of her as a person.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            My comment was more general, Ace. I didn’t mean to imply you thought less of her as a person but understood her reasoning wasn’t all that clear and pretty baffling to you. It was that sense of bafflement I was addressing, in that anger can show up that way. Again, in the general sense, appreciating the reasons for that anger can sometimes allow us to be more compassionate people, which I’m sure you are.

          • Ace

            I mostly kept my annoyance to myself, for that very reason. It’s not really my place to tell another person what they should or shouldn’t believe, even if what they say doesn’t make a lick of sense to me (because frankly I’d be yelling at everybody on the planet 24/7 if I voiced my aggrivation with everything I perceived to be nonsense).

        • Mike Burns

          I think it is pretty well recognized that we, as a species, want answers to pretty much everything…whether we can actually know or not. We came up with answers to how the universe was structured well before we could actually know. I have heard it well described as ‘We prefer a conspiracy theory to no theory at all.

          • jes

            Heh. Yeah… to hear it from some of the folk around here, there’s no end to conspiracy theories. First question and oft-repeated when any pet gets sick is “do you think my neighbor poisoned them?” Seriously, I could pay off my house if I had a dollar for every time I’m asked that. In 5 years, I’ve seen probably a few dozen toxicity cases, and every single one of them was from ingesting something of the owner’s (medications, cleaning supplies, ornamental plants, antifreeze) or eating wild-growing mushrooms. I have yet to see a single case of intentional poisoning. And yet that question is constant. Frankly, I find the concept of needing to constantly blame the people around me for everything MUCH more paranoia-inducing than just accepting that there are things I can’t control and moving on with my life.

          • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

            Holy c**p!! Where do you live?!?! I would suggest forming a progressive dinner so your neighbors can get to know one-another…or just move.

          • jes

            Progressive? hehe. I live smack dab in the middle of conservative republican land, in a town of less than 3000 people. Mostly a nice place, really, but… seriously, 1 stop light in the entire town. 30 miles to the nearest movie theater, and that’s 2 screens in a town of 5,200 people. Quiet it is, progressive it ain’t! Really interesting mix of rich retirees that want to get out of the city and out of work loggers and meth-heads around here.

          • Ace

            Wow, sounds like the town I grew up in (in North Georgia)

          • Shadsie

            I wonder what it says about my family, then…

            Back when my family was together and we lived in Arizona, my sister gave us a dog that was abandoned whose owners couldn’t be found. Ugliest damn thing, but so cute for it, a black Chinese-Crested. We only had her for a week. She mysteriously got sick. Our first thought was possible Parvo or similar disease since she had the throwing up and diarhrea symptoms and we tried to force Gatorade down her since we knew a vet in this case would just do the same thing and charge us exhorbitant amounts. My sister’s family saved one of their own dogs with that.

            She didn’t make it. Trying to figure it all out, we realized that she might have gotten into some antifreeze that had leaked in our driveway, or perhaps found a dead mouse that my mom had laid poison out for (before the dog arrived).

            Does that mean that I was raised in a self-blaming family? (I’m a rather self-blaming person, so…. maybe)? It’s just that whenever we’ve had pets get sick, we’ve figured on natural disease or getting into something that we’d somehow overlooked around our own house. When cats disspeared without a trace – well, we lived in an area with a high coyote population.

          • jes

            But you didn’t immediately jump to “the neighbors poisoned it”. Your first thought was a very common disease, with no blame placement at all, other than perhaps for the prior owners who most likely failed to vaccinate her. Which is utterly reasonable. I’m talking about people who bring in a dog and are dead set that intentional poisoning is the answer. I’ve had one client that was SO determined that the answer was that someone poisoned the dog that despite all testing, dog’s history, progression of disease, and ultimately the way the dog passed pointed entirely to a malignant tumor, and yet she has contacted me 4 or 5 times since the dog died wanting to know if I ever figured out what poison killed it. This woman is DEAD SET that someone is to blame, and no amount of reason will ever change her mind.

            The rest is a total tangent from the discussion of agnosticism into veterinary medical info, so if you’re not interested, skip it :D

            Eating a dead mouse would be highly unlikely to cause those signs; by the time the mouse dies, it’s metabolized all the poison, so the dog doesn’t actually get any. The most common rodenticides don’t cause vomiting anyway; they cause the blood to stop clotting, leading to internal bleeding. (It’s really horrible. Makes me sick that they sell the stuff. I can, and have, written very lengthy rants about the stuff.) Likewise, antifreeze can certainly cause death and may cause vomiting, but diarrhea is unlikely–cause of death is acute kidney failure.

            For treatment, what a veterinarian would recommend for parvo treatment is generally quite a bit more intense than oral fluids, which are not terribly useful in a vomiting patient. IV catheterization and aggressive fluid administration, along with injectable antibiotics to cover for secondary bacterial sepsis is the current best option (well, prevention with vaccination is really the best, but with that time frame, she was most likely exposed before you got her– parvo virus has a 7-10 day incubation period). The virus itself rarely kills them outright–they die from dehydration or bacterial invasion across the damaged intestinal wall.

            We see about 80-85% survival with aggressive treatment, compared to less than 50% with only oral fluids. Dunno what to tell you about exorbitant fees; that’s relative, I suppose. Our clinic runs about $600 for treatment in hospital. And I think that’s a pretty good deal really, considering that parvo cases get a lot of time and work while in the hospital; it’s not like we just stick them in a kennel and check on them once a day. Compare that to human medicine, where it costs you $500 to walk through the emergency room door.

            So if you ever have another pup doing the same, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to get it to a veterinarian as soon as humanly possible. It really, truly, can be the difference between life and death for pups with parvo.

          • Shadsie

            I live in Pennsylvania now with my fiance’ and a cat. We live in a small apartment, so a dog is out of the question, but thanks anyway.

            I currently work at a horse farm – I’m just a stablehand, I don’t know all the verternary stuff, just a few basic things, like basic signs of colic.

            When I was a kid, I wanted to be a veternarian, but then chose the “I want to be an artist” route. Studied graphic design. Now I remain with only a layman’s knowledge of things veteranary, can talk “alienese” to you in graphic design/art terms – and shovel poo part time.

            Had no idea rodent poison did that. Sounds as bad as glue traps (sticking a critter’s feet to something to let it slowly dehydrate/starve to death always struck me as unspeakably cruel, no matter how nasty someone thinks mice are).

          • Ace

            Ugh, glue traps. Those things should be banned, I agree they are horribly cruel.

          • Shadsie

            I prefer “cat” as rodent control. They can be cruel to their catch for a little while, but it’s still better than some things, and at least the kitty gets a snack out of it.

            Snap traps can be pretty gruesome, too… but at least “crushed head, twitching for a minute or two” is quicker than slow starvation thrown out in a trash can.

          • Ace

            I can’t use glue traps at all. I was traumatized as a child when I saw one in my grandmother’s garage where a mouse had gotten stuck to it and subsequently given birth. Ugh, it was so horrid to watch a little pink mouse baby stuck to that thing, I had nightmares. I think I might have been 6 0r 7. My grandfather heard me shreik and took the whole thing off somewhere, I have no clue what he did with the mice and I’m not sure I want to know.

            Snap traps don’t bug me as much. They kill the mice but like you said, at least it is usually quick.

            I’m not sure my cat would know what to do with a mouse if she saw one. :P

          • Ace

            (also, word of caution: if you are letting kitty eat wild rodents, make sure to have them checked for worms/parasites fairly frequently)

          • Shadsie

            Ours doesn’t catch any more since we moved. The move – one of those horrible, awful, very bad things that has happened to us in life, but in the end, good came from it in the end… the being forced out at Christmastime was horrid, but the place we wound up with is cheaper rent and has no mold or wildlife in it.

  • CD

    The proof for a dog biting my ankle seems to be in a whole different category than the alleged validity of Hebrew scripture leading up to the sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of humanity. Or any other religion’s dogma. I like the quote that Carl Sagan popularized, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” If you consider the burden of proof to be on the side of the person making extraordinary claim then I think it is reasonable to withhold judgement until that proof has been delivered. I am agnostic about whether the biblical story meets this claim at this point in my life.

  • jes

    “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think of themselves as highly rational and logical.

    And yet … nary an agnostic to be found!”

    Look harder. I’m here. There are others, I’m sure; I hardly think I’m totally unique in this aspect. “I don’t know” is actually a very frequent answer in my life. Knowing first what you do not know lets you decide where to look further. And yeah, it’s frustrating, but pretending to know what I don’t isn’t any better.

  • Shadsie

    Back.

    Personally, I don’t mind a little ambiguity in life. I’m an imagingative sort, many things are ambiguious to me. I realize that the way I perceive something may not be the way another perceives something. Maybe my “red” is your “blue”. One must “be sure” of some things to navigate through life, but I like to be at least slightly open about things where I feel there is wiggle room – to try to see with others’ eyes.

    I consider myself a Christian, but I suppose to many people, I’d be better labeled an “agnostic-Christian” just because I know I cannot stand before you and show you “proof of God” at your demand if you don’t have enough “proof” already. A Fundamentalist thinks in absolutes. I realize that God’s existance is much more *hidden* than *my* existance to most people. The “evidence” I see in my life are things that a non-believer is apt to just call “luck” or “chance.” Or, for the extreme anti-theists – “you’re stupid.” The way I see it, demanding “proof of God” will get a person nowhere because – if we can’t even figure out all the ins and outs of the physical universe yet, how arrogant it is to think we can figure out the one who created it? I also seem to remember Jesus saying some line about how some people “wouldn’t believe even if they saw people raised from the dead.” – It all lies in an atittude, in how one sees the world, and sometimes even in how one chooses to see the world.

    I can tell people why I believe, but it all pretty much boils down to “I imagine, and I hope” in the end. Now, it’s not the same imagination that had me believing in Santa Claus as a child (a lot of snarky atheists seem to confuse the two). A lot of people are very analtyical and demand hard, physical explainations for everything. I’m just not that way – I cannot explain *why* I like certain things, for instance, or why I feel like a blank canvas/piece of paper or animal skull that I’ve cleaned “wants” a certain theme painted upon it. I am comfortable with being “illogical” about a lot of things and tend to actually *resent* the push to force *everyone* into the “logical box.” Too cold and robotic for my tastes. Once had someone on Huffpost tell me that he saw my being proud of being illgocial in the same light as being “proud of being fat” or “proud of being stupid.” My opinion is that he’s a twerp who can keep those opinions if he needs to feel superior to someone to feel happy. He’s text on the internet and no skin off my butt.

    That said, I think that *most* people who self-identify as “agnostic” are people who are, in belief/heart atheist, but have decided not to be the overly self-righteous, rigid kind. I have a longtime online friend who is like this. She’s essentially atheist, a proud skeptic, but makes it a point to actually *respect* the religious people in her life. I remember her telling me that one of her main reasons for not taking the “atheist” label is that she didn’t to lump herself in with people who are asses about it. Also, while she doesn’t believe in a deity, she’ll hold out the possiblity we might find out one exists someday. I suppose, for her, it might be like my refusal to dismiss the possiblity that all of existance might be dream – I’m pretty sure it’s not, but “Shrug, I could be wrong.” “Agnostic” is just the easiest label for a lot of people. I tend to see people who self-identify as such as “Nice/gentle atheists” or “atheists who aren’t so sure they’ve become douches about it.”

    • Diana A.

      I love this! I especially like this: “I am comfortable with being ‘illogical’ about a lot of things and tend to actually *resent* the push to force *everyone* into the ‘logical box.’” I’m so much the same way.

    • Diana A.

      I love this! I especially like this: “I am comfortable with being ‘illogical’ about a lot of things and tend to actually *resent* the push to force *everyone* into the ‘logical box.’” I’m so much the same way.

  • Tautologicalman

    I understand that the world at large considers agnostics to be a kinder, gentler atheist, but that’s because they don’t understand the meaning of the work. Agnostics believe that the existence of god cannot be proven or disproven. I know many theists that are agnostic.

    Non-religions is the fastest growing sub group among the various belief systems. This comes with education and critical thinking…

    • Anonymous

      Well, I think you want to be careful before implying that any one system of understanding is the natural result of education and/or an enhanced capacity for critical thinking. But … yes. As you say.

  • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

    It’s very easy to go into a restaurant, sit down and, when asked what you’d like to order, say “I don’t know.” What an honest answer! And such a cheap date, too. But no matter how honest an answer that may be at the time, I think the point John is making is that maintaining that position as if it were an answer won’t get food in front of you, which undermines exactly the reason for going out to eat (to live) in the first place. In this sense, “I don’t know” isn’t any kind of answer that serves any purpose or meets any aim. It’s not an answer at all in this sense; it an excuse, a suspension, an absence, of having to provide an answer.

    I look at agnosticism as an honest starting position – and never a satisfactory conclusion – of any inquiry if we have a goal to understand further. As we learn through inquiry, the center position of agnosticism undergoes a shift towards a better informed position. But just because not ALL of our questions are fully and satisfactorily answered does not mean that every answer must be considered equally agnostic no matter how philosophically righteous this understanding may be for people who hold it; the fact of the matter is that knowledge gained through inquiry is a process towards a better understanding, a better informed answer even if that understanding is not yet complete. In this sense, not all “I don’t know”s are equal.

    As a matter of pragmatism, we need to order our choice of foods even if we’re not quite sure if it’s the ONLY and BEST choice, the right one at the right time. But at least we will be able to inform our decision a little better next time if it turns out that we’ve made a poor one this time… which can only be determined by taking the plunge and making a choice. That’s how you feed your appetite for knowledge.

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      Aww, that is nice. Something the Gnu-Atheist and the New Christian can agree upon.
      Wer hat uns verraten? Die Sozialdemokraten… LMAO ;)

      • Don Whitt

        In Amerika ist es eher wie “Wer hat uns verraten? Die marxistische Christen.”

    • jes

      If this was in response to me, I think you may have misunderstood what I meant, or I’m understanding what you mean. If not, feel free to disregard this response.

      I don’t use “I don’t know” as the end point. I say I don’t know frequently, when appropriate (though, I have gone to restaurants and asked the cook to give me whatever he felt like making.), and then move on to what I do know and act accordingly. I am on a daily basis faced with questions such as “why did my dog/cat/horse/bird have to die? he was so young!?” What am I supposed to do there? Slather on something trite about their beloved pet being in a better place? That only really works if the person saying it sincerely believes it. At least “I don’t know, I wish I did and that I could change it” rings honestly.

      And oh how I wish I had a better answer than “I don’t know” when I get asked over and over again “what caused her cancer?” The thing is, tilde, that I don’t just say “I don’t know” and then stop. We move on to what we can do about it now. What we do know and how to apply that. I don’t know what caused it, but that doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up and declare it a lost cause.

      Pretending that I know answers when I don’t has never seemed as useful to me as admitting the limits of my knowledge. To continue my example; if I pretend to know, convince myself that I know, what causes cancer, what motive is there for me to keep looking for the real answer?

      I am agnostic, and will be for the foreseeable future, because I foresee no way to find an ultimate answer to the questions of life, the universe, and everything. Maybe that’ll change when I die. Or maybe there will be only oblivion and I won’t wonder anymore. But I don’t know, and am not really eager to step off of a cliff to find out. Death being the only experiment I can formulate to test the hypothesis of God, I think I”ll leave that one untested as long as possible, even though it means I have to be satisfied with not knowing. I can live with that.

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        Here’s MY point about agnosticism: when the question can be acceptably answered with an “I don’t know” it’s the wrong question.

        • Shadsie

          Maybe questions like these aren’t hard and fast anayltical?

          Perhaps, at least in the human mind, the subjective exists?

          Some things can be learned through straight testing and analysis – stuff tested out via scientific method and such. Physical things fall into this realm. Perhaps one might be able to pin point a likely source for cancer in a particular paitient.

          It’s still not an answer for someone who’d ask the “what did my loved one do to deserve this?” question or “why in the grand scheme of things did this happen?” The person asking that question is looking for something else – something that falls outside pure, straight reason or science.

          To bring up another example, a scientific, purely analtyical, physical and concrete answer to one question that has plauged mankind might be “A smearing of chemical components, particles suspended in a once-liquid medium upon plant fibers that have been woven together and stretched out upon pieces of another plant, held in place by brads of metal.” It still doesn’t answer the more subjective, non-logical question of “What is Art?”

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            The person asking those kinds of questions will soon realize the answers are not those one wishes to hear: cancerous cells are not understandable framed by the word ‘blame’; happenings are not understandable framed by the word ‘scheme’, and so on. The problem with answering these framed questions lies within the framing.

            In order for the word ‘art’ to have any specific meaning, we have to agree that an answer to such a question as ‘what is art’ is possible. If it is possible, the it is possible in principle even if we cannot find agreement in practice. The mistake of relativists is to assume that no agreement in practice means that there is no agreement in principle. Such an assumption carries with it the cost of making the term ‘art’ meaningless, so no answer to the question is possible. This conclusion is neither subjective nor non-logical, yet provides a framing for an answer that is quite practical as well as possible, which helps us do what you assume cannot happen because it is not physical. Again, how you frame the question is central to the ability to answer it. The problem, then, is to frame questions that are answerable rather than presume the phrase “I don’t know” is just as good an answer as any other because of how it is framed. And that’s why I think that any question that can be answered with “I don’t know” is a clear indication that we’re asking the wrong question.

          • Shadsie

            But, for many people “I don’t know” is the most honest answer.

            One of the cats that hangs out where I work is missing. If you asked me where she was, I’d have to say “I don’t know.” None of the people there knows where she got off to. We know the cat existed. We know that she is gray and white and is rather shy. Ask any of us where she is, we’ll honestly ask “I don’t know” – does that mean that the question of “Where’s the cat?” from someone who didn’t know the situation is invalid?

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            What I’m saying, Shadsie, is that “I don’t know” is not an answer. It is a state of being unable (or even unwilling) to seek out an answer. If that agnosticism is as far as people are willing to inquire, then no further inquiry shall take place and no new knowledge will be learned. That’s why John writes that it is the perfect answer that never delivers… because it was never an answer in the first place but people treat it as if it were.

          • Shadsie

            I tend to think of it as more of an “honest answer” than anything else. I remember you once saying that “agnostics are cowardly” and I *still* want to smack you for that on behalf of my friend.

            For someone to say they are agnostic doesn’t necessarily mean that they “don’t care” or “are not seeking” or even that they don’t have at heart what they think is the “most likely” answer. It’s just, when pressed, if they’re to be perfectly honest, they’ll say they “don’t know for sure.”

            This is, as I’ve said earlier, why many people are essentially atheist in their thinking, but will gladly chose to label themselves agnostic just because their imagination leaves open the possibility that there “might be something.” I am a Christian at core – this is what is in my heart and I *do* label myself Christian, even though it is unpoular these days – but some might choose to call me a bit “agnostic” about it just because, unlike the utterly firm Fundamentalist, I wrestle with doubts sometimes and leave open in my imagination that “I could be wrong.”

            I actually think the world would be a better place/there’d be less pig-fighting among people if they could just pause for a moment upon *any* subject and think, even if just for a moment “Hey, I could be wrong.”

            Just because we honestly have no idea where the cat is does not mean that we are not looking for her.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Shadsie wrote It’s just, when pressed, if they’re to be perfectly honest, they’ll say they “don’t know for sure.”

            And there in that nutshell qualifier …for sure is why agnosticism is dishonest. We know nothing for sure. Therefore everyone is agnostic! But that’s not true, is it? Everyone is NOT agnostic in the sense of how the word is used to differentiate between a faith position and a knowledge position.

            Halfway to knowledge is not an intellectually defensible middle ground if we understand knowledge to be a process of better increasing our understanding. “I don’t know” as a position or a stance does not enhance or further the goal of achieving knowledge about anything but excuses those who choose to disengage from the process by assuming that such a stance is tenable.

            The mistake, I think too many of make, is assuming that certainty is the better measurement – the for sure qualifier you used – to rely on for our position between faith and knowledge. I think we need to recognize that in order for our minds to be open to follow whatever evidence we have and build knowledge acquired to date, we have get off the “I don’t know” position entirely and actually move towards incorporating more knowledge into our faith positions and less faith into our knowledge positions.

        • jes

          I think I’m just going to have to disagree with you there. Just because you don’t have an answer doesn’t mean the question should not be asked.

    • CD

      With the restaurant example you are asking yourself what your preference is, not whether the particular menu item exists. I believe the situation is more like going in to a restaurant and seeing fried alien tentacles on the menu. With such an extraordinary claim you would want some proof that backed it up, preferably the tentacle on a plate. In the absence of the tentacle on the plate other proofs might suffice, but the burden of proof rests squarely on the restaurant making the claim. Until the point that adequate proof was given I would say it is fair to remain skeptical.

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        Okay, in your example you might start with the “I don’t know” but after the restaurant was unable to provide you with any proof, how rational is it to stay with “I don’t know” rather than “I don’t believe you”?

  • Jennifer

    John,
    Having admired your writing for some time now, I am sorry to say that this post is disappointing to me. It seems a little too black & white thinking – and frankly speaking, judgmental. I was raised in the church and Christian schools and I am happily agnostic. It’s not something that I shout from the mountain tops, out of respect for my family and also respect for everyone’s need for spiritual fulfillment. I don’t share your absolute faith, John, though I had thought that you were a bit more open-minded in your thinking. It would be interesting to know how many agnostics follow your blog. I’d bet it’s a lot more than you think. Also, I assume, like myself, most agnostics don’t see a point in arguing something that has no real concreteness. So, you believe in the biblical, Judeo Christian God. OK. It’s not for me to try and change your mind about that – I have no interest in that. It’s not what I believe, but that question hardly gets asked, actually. When it does, my best answer is I don’t know. It’s not my *only* answer, but that question hardly gets asked either.

    Sweeping generalities aside, John, when was the last time you met one agnostic and took a genuine interest in the person that they are? How they live their life, or how they contribute to the world we live in? A person’s religious affiliations do not define them. And since when did saying “’I don’t know’ become so worthless?” I mean, I’m glad you’re so sure of everything, but I’d rather be sincere in not knowing and leave myself open to learning and experiencing.

    The reason agnosticism fails to attract people (to identify themselves as agnostics) is because lack of spirituality is painful. People want to believe in something. I personally yearn for God, so I make a daily choice to believe in God (or not). Is it the God I grew up with from the church, or from my schools? No, because the logic there certainly does not exist. But I yearn for God more than most Christians I know and it’s the same with most agnostics I know. We seek God and open ourselves to God and live our lives as we think a good and loving God would want. The closest I get to actually feeling God is when I am in service to others, so I practice that as often as possible as a spiritual, Christ-like action. Another reason we’re not shouting “agnostic” from the mountain tops is because it makes us prey for evangelists, who think because we’re open to believing something, that we MUST want to be preached at and saved, as dutifully. And honestly, what makes you think I’m so enthusiastic to hang this label on myself? Most of us don’t meet weekly in prayer at the Church of the Troubled Souls, so why do we need to announce it to folks like you, who are so convinced that you’ve found *the only way to God*?
    Anyway, I guess the biggest reason that this post surprises me is because you fail to realize that some of us agnostics are as inspired by our agnosticism as you Christians are inspired by your absolute faith. If I didn’t admit to my struggle with my understanding of God, then I would simply be a liar. Your post here is no different than me pointing to all Christians and saying that your faith is a joke and a delusion. I guess I thought you were more sensitive than that.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Isn’t there anything regarding this matter on which all agree?

    How about: either God is, or God is not?

    Might we start from there and build any sort of mutual understanding?

    • Mike Burns

      John pretty clearly acknowledged that, despite millennia of inquiry, humanity cannot consider the existence of the Abrahamic god (or any other) to be considered fact. (Nor can we claim our understanding of the physical structure of an atom to be a fact).

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Are you saying that the existence of something of a certain nature is not a question of fact? It would seem to me that facts can be not only events but also objects, including an objective physical atomic structure or an objective real deity; why not? Are you arguing (or saying that John argues) that it is not so that God is or is not? If yes, then how might we know when we *can* meaningfully employ the word “is” (which I assume you think we can, since you do, though I’m well aware of the problems inherent in such a way of thinking about the universe)?

        • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

          There are, of course, facts about the existence of a specific god and the

          actual structure of an atom and how many people were bitten by mosquitoes in

          the last 60 seconds…in principal. In practice, however, we may be

          unable to determine those facts with absolute certainty.

          John merely acknowledges the reality that, using the most precise yardstick

          of the scientific method, there is nothing that passes muster as *evidence *for

          the existence of the god of Abraham [or any other supernatural force].

          Therefore faith in Jesus Christ is a matter of preference only and in no

          way, shape or form fact.

          [And John: I salute you for saying as much. Such acknowledgements are all

          that I could possibly hope for. It is the verbalizing of such unvarnished

          truths from the theistic side that spread the seeds of inquiry and

          agnosticism to the detriment of extremism.]

          Now, MT, you go ahead and have all your fun the ‘concepts of God’ and facts.

          I sure it will occupy you for a while.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Occupy me? What am I? For it would seem then you’ve nothing that passes muster as *evidence* for my existence! Now, you go right ahead, MB, and have all your fun with the “concepts of ‘me’” and facts.

  • Don Rappe

    “I don’t know.” is the question answer which theoretical scientists use. It marks the exact point in the chain of knowledge where things get interesting. I am interested in the mechanism which creates pulsar light precisely because I do not know it. Perhaps neutron stars are much smaller than is currently thought? That’s my bet guess currently, but it’s the “I don’t know.” that maintains my interest. As a scientifically oriented believer, I find it necessary to reject every superstitious interpretation of the faith that was once delivered to the saints. Yet this faith is rightly available to every child. If my first thought of “What possible interpretations could there be?” is “I don’t know.” this answer will drive me to find some. I do not wish to be agnostic (without knowledge) yet ultimately this is what I am. I can only approach by faith, not by knowledge.

    • Mike Burns

      Indeed; ‘I don’t know’ is the catalyst for productive inquiry. After all; if someone thinks they already know the answer, why would they look further?

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        Yeah, agnosticism is the starting position from which on wishes to move.

  • Jon

    John, I think this is a missed target wrt agnosticism. All the points of valid conventional wisdom you sight which you claim flies in the face of agnosticism are true, yet they do not (contradict it). Investigate carefully if you have time, the notion of two-truths from Indian traditions, the ‘pinnacle’ presentation, IMO comes from Madhyamaka Prasangika. In that presentation/explanation, every *thing* has a conventional (aka worldly) truth and an ultimate truth, and, in the end, the two are the same truth: seemingly contradictory but not so (ultimately). It, agnosticism of this form, is not ambiguous, ultimately. But it can certainly lead to some ambiguity. We are like monkeys that have somehow gottent the notion that there are goodies inside an impenetrable container. Not knowing it is impenetrable, we waste much by being so distracted trying to get in. We should be swinging in the trees! ;)

    It’s not that we have to be forlorn because we can’t know what’s in the box, rather that we should be free from the notion that we have to know.

    The points you make do indeed explain why it is hard for people to be consistently agnostic if they ever even enter ‘the gates’.

  • Don Whitt

    I have such a stupidly simple attitude towards this. If you’re an intelligent human being, not making a choice, for me, is a form of intellectual and spiritual laziness. Since ambiguity is a given, then we have a responsibility to chose. At least TRY.How do you feel? What does your gut tell you? Nothing?? I can’t believe that. Perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the input, the world, your past, the inconsistencies in how you emotionally address the world. But, if you’re bothering to participate in this forum, doesn’t that tell you something about how you REALLY feel? You’re not just pissing away your time, right? There’s something inside of you that thinks there’s more to this deal than a commitment to ambiguity. I assert that you’re not an agnostic in that case – you’re seeking meaning and doing so in a context of Christian philosophy. You’re struggling with defining your Christian faith and how that fits in your life. And I’m not convinced that’s agnosticism. It’s just part of a spiritual struggle.

    • jes

      Going about answering in reverse order, don’t know why but that makes more sense to me.

      “I assert that you’re not an agnostic in that case – you’re seeking meaning and doing so in a context of Christian philosophy. You’re struggling with defining your Christian faith and how that fits in your life. And I’m not convinced that’s agnosticism.”

      No, I’m seeking meaning in many contexts, one of which happens to be discussion with commenters of varying philosophies on this website. I don’t think you can just broad brush everyone who comes here into secretly christian. I’m sure tildeb and I can agree at least on this point.

      “How do you feel? What does your gut tell you? Nothing?? I can’t believe that. Perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the input, the world, your past, the inconsistencies in how you emotionally address the world.”

      I feel curious, I feel there is grandeur in the world, I feel joy, I feel anger and frustration and love and all the other things that make one human; but I do not feel like there is any God focusing on me, watching and waiting, or changing things in my favor if I say the right prayer. For better or worse, I cannot claim to feel like there is a personally-involved greater being. Which does not rule out the possibility of a greater being who is not personally involved, or the existence of several greater beings running a betting pool on what their pet humans will do. As I said in a different comment, I have yet to formulate a way to test the hypothesis of God without dying, and I’m not that anxious to find out. Thus, I do not know, and am agnostic, at least until someone offers firm proof either way, or I die and see for myself if there is an afterlife.

      “Since ambiguity is a given, then we have a responsibility to choose. At least TRY.”

      No, I don’t agree with this at all. You can’t just make a decision based on a knowledge of lack of knowledge. I have no proof either way, so I canNOT choose. My responsibility is to remain open to further information and not to choose in advance and close myself off to the possibility that I chose against. Unless it becomes, somehow, immediately vital that a choice be made right now, why should I hazard a guess, when a guess is all it will be? No one is affected by my lack of action on this choice, so I have no pressing need to pick an answer.

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        I think, Jes, we very much agree on most things and quibble only over the smaller details. For example, if we assume that the term ‘agnostic’ means having no certainty, then it describes theist and non theist alike. (After all, I dont’ know and you don’t either – nor does anyone else here – what conscious non existence may entail, but we can be pretty sure we cannot know any such details about it including assertions made under the moniker of ‘faith’. Hence, our common agnosticism.) The descriptor ‘agnostic’ in this sense serves no purpose whatsoever, other than to admit that no one has absolute certainty. And that helps us search out answers exactly how?

        As a philosophical position between theism and atheism, agnosticism is simply an intellectual limbo that people use as if it were a destination rather than a starting point. This is my quibble… that agnostics are really cowardly atheists unwilling to recognize that all the evidence for a fully naturalistic universe heads in one direction, that no evidence in any of the sciences indicates any extra infusion of energy or force is unaccountable that keeps the inquiry path open for theism; instead, we find growing evidence to inform our explanations that in turn further our inquiries about the universe we inhabit. The position of agnosticism merely shrugs at these remarkable achievements, shrugs at all the new avenues of exploration to follow, shrugs at the current explanations and the amassed knowledge, as it shrugs equally well at factually wrong claims based on wishful thinking and millennia old ethical advice. Yet the two directions in this case are not equal, nor equally well informed. That difference need to be recognized. Imagine our lack of advances in math, for example, if every answer of “I don’t know” was as equally acceptable as the hard calculations that attempted to provide mathematically valid conclusions to described problems. Such a middle ground paralyzes the integrity of intellectually honest inquiry by assuming that the value of determining what’s true is the same as not even trying.

        • jes

          But I’m not at all unwilling to recognize scientific advancements. I love science, and am daily grateful for it (I couldn’t talk to you right now without the advances in technology leading to home computers and internet access, for example!). But here’s the thing that keeps me from declaring myself an atheist: we don’t have all the answers yet. One of those answers may turn out to be God. The fact that there is no hard scientific evidence for God’s current existence and manipulation of daily affairs doesn’t mean that he never existed, nor does it disprove a distant God who does not take part in day-to-day human affairs. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

          I don’t ask you to believe in anything but science, tilde. But I do ask you not to call me a coward for being true to my own thoughts. That’s just needlessly insulting.

          And ultimately, why do you think it matters, really? I do not think that I will change the way I live or the way I act towards those around me if God is ever proved or disproved. I am (if I may flatter myself) a reasonably good person with or without God hovering over me with a score card. So there is no pressing need for me to pick a side here. I can sit comfortably on the fence on this one until I die and find the afterlife and answers that way, or cease utterly to exist and no longer wonder. Meanwhile, I can spend my time and energy working through decisions that actually will affect the way I live.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            jes writes But here’s the thing that keeps me from declaring myself an atheist: we don’t have all the answers yet.

            And we never will. About anything. Ever.

            If you used that same criteria for any other position in life, you would paralyzed because you can never know anything with certainty. Yet you feel justified in exempting theology with this sole criteria of needing certainty whereas you function in life relying on and judging the safety of your very life on high probabilities of something probably being true, probably being accurate, probably being correct. In all these other endeavors, you feel able to decide yet when it comes to theology you abstain. This inconsistency is yours, and my attributing it to intellectual cowardice is not meant to call YOU names but to identify your continued holding of this inconsistency as being rather unbecoming. It takes courage to change one’s mind when one has better reasons to do so than to hold tightly to ones based on poorer reasons. I will also challenge your assumption that you hold theology exempt from the same consistent reasoning you use so successfully in most other areas of life not because you are “true to your own thoughts” but true to the feeling that you ought to leave wiggle room for faith. Why you feel this need is entirely your own business of course but I don’t see any reason to think it’s because you have better reasons to exempt theology. I see no reasons at all.

            What does it matter? Well, I think what’s true matters a very great deal and how we arrive at establishing that is important business. In this public forum, I think those who argue that agnosticism is any kind of answer to what’s true are, to put it bluntly, wrong.

          • Diana A.

            And I am certain that Jes will give your opinion all the consideration that it deserves.

          • jes

            You did not answer why you think it matters a very great deal that I (or any other agnostic) should just pick something to believe already. You tell me it matters, but offer no reason other than “I think”. Well, I think I disagree.

            I make decisions based on incomplete and/or flawed knowledge when a decision has to be made at the time, or worse things happen for lack of action. You’re right, I do this on a daily basis; I treat patients empirically quite frequently when owners decline diagnostics. My very strong preference, however, is to look for more information. Unless something needs to be acted on right away, I will whenever possible withhold judgment pending more information. Sure, there are things I have made opinions on without knowing all the facts–but I keep in mind that those are opinions, and will admit to not having the facts.
            Not just in theology, but in every day life. And as more information becomes available, I treat similar decisions differently based on that, to the best of my ability.
            God/no god is a decision which does not meet the need to be made right now–not deciding does not change how I go about living.

            I firmly disagree that this is cowardice. There is no fear involved here, only patience.

            I will grant you that I don’t consider agnosticism to be an ultimate answer–come death and more information, I’m sure I’ll stop being agnostic.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            How do you know you’ll have greater certainty at the Resurrection than you have right now?

          • jes

            I don’t. I don’t know anything. That is my point entire.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Be that as it may, by such an understanding of what it is to know, neither does any man or woman, ever. (Or so I believe—not that I really know.)

            So let us give the word definition in such a way as makes practical utilization of it a possibity. I can only assume that that’s the intent with which the word was introduced into language (assuming it was—not that I know that I’m not just imagining it).

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Be that as it may, by such an understanding of what it is to know, neither does any man or woman, ever. (Or so I believe—not that I really know.)

            So let us give the word definition in such a way as makes practical utilization of it a possibity. I can only assume that that’s the intent with which the word was introduced into language (assuming it was—not that I know that I’m not just imagining it).

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Yet how do we know that we don’t know anything? And how did you know that that’s your point?

            Perhaps the truth—which I confess in regards to those gods of which I’ve heard but remain agnostic—is that we just don’t really care to know.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            I doubt very much you have actually considered the wider ramifications of your agnosticism, but before I mention that I will draw your attention to your open-mindedness about Ju Ju of the Deep and Muk Muk of the Volcano, as well as the thousands of ‘gods’ who have populated at least the imagination of many before us. Do you expect me to honestly think that you grant to all these divinities the same level of confidence you seem to grant to the christian god that they may also be factually true? Do you hold all of these possibilities to be as equally true? Do you not lean away from the gods of the cargo cults because you have reasons for thinking that these beliefs in the divine are misplaced in the face of what’s true? And if you are willing to disbelief in these particular deities, then why not for other theistic assertions with evidence even slimmer? Why hold yourself back from staying consistent?

            I care because I care about what’s true – and you should, too – but I’ll say more about how I mean that.

            When a pope or other religious leader steps forth and directly interferes with public policies by appealing to public figures to ‘respect’ the beliefs of its adherents who make a sizable portion of the electorate, then who stands against this interference? When the cleric determines the rules of law and passes judgment accordingly, who stands against them? Those who believe? Those who grant these people a legitimate voice in their interfering ways by withholding judgment about their claim to be speaking in place of their deity?

            The vast majority of people who are willing to stand up and question and criticize the basis on which these influential believers make such pronouncements and attempt to cause certain acceptable actions (often at the cost of increased suffering in the name of some god) are those who do not share your willingness to suspend their quest to find out what’s true. Because what’s true matters, the claims for demanding ‘respect’ for the belief similarly matters on exactly this central point. What’s true is the fulcrum that theist and atheist alike balance their conclusions to determine which claims deserve ‘respect’. But the agnostic holds out on the chance that the beliefs may be true yet are oblivious to the fact that without any acceptable method of inquiry to question the truth value of these claims, these beliefs are granted a free ride. And this matters a very great deal to all of us because these unjustifiable extended beliefs affect us all.

            On a strictly personal level, it doesn’t matter what one believes. But supporting the extension of these personal beliefs into the public domain (or feeling unqualified to even question these claims directly) is a different matter entirely.

            For all intents and purposes, the self-proclaimed agnostic simply watches from the bleachers as this battle for the minds of people to curtail their acceptance of religious beliefs foisted into unto the public and into the public domain continues… and at a very great and very real cost to people you don’t even know at home and abroad. It matters because, as a responsible citizen, you have a duty to uphold enlightenment values and secular government over and above all other competing claims for this allegiance.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            You can’t simultaneously hold both above all other competing claims. No man can serve two masters. I’ll stick with enlightenment values—by which I, at least, mean to exalt the light of men—secular government be damned should it cross my Lord.

          • Shadsie

            Excuse me for my rudeness, but upon reading this reply…

            GOOD GRIEF!

            Throughout this and other threads, you give me the impression that you’re primarily here because you think “you people are too smart for this junk (Christian belief)” and feel a need to tell us or “smarten us up.” To your credit, you do give us more respect than many atheists I’ve met online seem capable of , but you give me the feeling that one of my friends gives me when she complains to me about an ardent conservative Republican friend of hers after she’s been in a political argument with that person. They’re still on friendly terms – but I wonder why…

            You seem to like talking and philosophizing with the people here, but, at the same time, you also strike (me, at least) as being at least midly pissed-off that other people don’t think like you do, that we aren’t “as smart as you yet.” On this subject alone, you’ve brought up scientific inquiry and scrutiny how many times? Even after confronted with people who hold to other ways of seeing and thinking about existance? You’re like many in that you cannot seem to face that yes, some of us *do not care* – and yes, we are smart enough to string two sentences together while thinking that certain things in existance aren’t quite fitting with definition by pure, physical scientific method.

            I believe in ART, dammit. And Justice. and Honor – and many, many other things that don’t fit “logic.”

            And no, not all believers want theocracy, believe it or not. Many, in fact, speak against it (but we aren’t listened to, apparently?) I should have been keeping a post-count prediction of when this old chestnut would show up. I’ll tell you what I told someone who asked me if I’d like “In Xenu We Trust” written on our money – “I don’t give a rat’s ass what’s on my money, as long as I have some.” And, no, the straight-agnostics aren’t passively letting things happen – every one of them I’ve known has been into opposing religious-based law. The ones I’ve best known have been very Liberal in their leanings. Respecting the existance of religion and people who have is NOT the same as supporting religious laws, or even supporting the Pope! Goodness!

            Like it or not, some of us have *thought things through/given our religious leanings and choices MUCH THOUGHT* and have come up with “Yeah, we believe there’s a God.” Like it or not, some people are *still on the journey and still trying to figure it out* and are honest when they say they don’t know.

            Don’t make a damn conspiracy out of it!

          • jes

            I doubt very much you have actually considered the wider ramifications of your agnosticism, but before I mention that I will draw your attention to your open-mindedness about Ju Ju of the Deep and Muk Muk of the Volcano, as well as the thousands of ‘gods’ who have populated at least the imagination of many before us. Do you expect me to honestly think that you grant to all these divinities the same level of confidence you seem to grant to the christian god that they may also be factually true? Do you hold all of these possibilities to be as equally true? Do you not lean away from the gods of the cargo cults because you have reasons for thinking that these beliefs in the divine are misplaced in the face of what’s true? And if you are willing to disbelief in these particular deities, then why not for other theistic assertions with evidence even slimmer? Why hold yourself back from staying consistent?

            Actually, I’ve never even heard of most of your examples there, so prior to reading your comment couldn’t possibly have an opinion or belief in any of them. Frankly, also don’t see how believing or not believing in them would change what I do with my life either, so just can’t say I care much.

            I care because I care about what’s true – and you should, too – but I’ll say more about how I mean that.

            I do care about what’s true. Which means not declaring something true or untrue when I have only a lack of evidence.

            When a pope or other religious leader steps forth and directly interferes with public policies by appealing to public figures to ‘respect’ the beliefs of its adherents who make a sizable portion of the electorate, then who stands against this interference? When the cleric determines the rules of law and passes judgment accordingly, who stands against them? Those who believe? Those who grant these people a legitimate voice in their interfering ways by withholding judgment about their claim to be speaking in place of their deity?

            Anybody who actually thinks separation of church and state is the way to go, regardless of their personal religious belief. That list would, incidentally, include me.

            The vast majority of people who are willing to stand up and question and criticize the basis on which these influential believers make such pronouncements and attempt to cause certain acceptable actions (often at the cost of increased suffering in the name of some god) are those who do not share your willingness to suspend their quest to find out what’s true. Because what’s true matters, the claims for demanding ‘respect’ for the belief similarly matters on exactly this central point. What’s true is the fulcrum that theist and atheist alike balance their conclusions to determine which claims deserve ‘respect’. But the agnostic holds out on the chance that the beliefs may be true yet are oblivious to the fact that without any acceptable method of inquiry to question the truth value of these claims, these beliefs are granted a free ride. And this matters a very great deal to all of us because these unjustifiable extended beliefs affect us all.

            Your conclusion here is flawed. Just because I don’t broadly declare that everyone religious is wrong doesn’t mean I want their religion in my politics. Neither do any of the agnostics or atheists I know. For that matter, I know quite a few Christians who don’t vote based on any particular church standing (see John’s recent post on Jesus voting Republican for some of the variety there). Agnosticism does not mean abdication of personal responsibility to society, any more than atheism makes people automatically more or less socially responsible than religion. You’re making a huge leap (with, I might point out, no apparent evidence) here to suppose you can know how I’d approach political matters just because I label myself agnostic. Tread cautiously on that path.

            On a strictly personal level, it doesn’t matter what one believes. But supporting the extension of these personal beliefs into the public domain (or feeling unqualified to even question these claims directly) is a different matter entirely.

            For all intents and purposes, the self-proclaimed agnostic simply watches from the bleachers as this battle for the minds of people to curtail their acceptance of religious beliefs foisted into unto the public and into the public domain continues… and at a very great and very real cost to people you don’t even know at home and abroad. It matters because, as a responsible citizen, you have a duty to uphold enlightenment values and secular government over and above all other competing claims for this allegiance.

            You seem awfully confident in knowing my opinion or lack there of regarding government from pretty scarce evidence. You can no more make broad judgments about how all agnostics feel than you can about how all Christians, or Buddhists, or atheists feel about government. Unless you’ve got some well-performed study that gives strong evidence of a political bias based on agnosticism to cite in making these claims, I’d say you’re jumping to conclusions. Seeking truth where there may not be any, even. (Sounds almost religious phrased that way, doesn’t it?) If you have such a study, please cite it, as it would be interesting reading.

            If not, then please take a deep breath and RELAX a little about the urgency of belief decisions and how they may or may not affect an agnostic’s stance on government. As I’ve stated before, neither deciding to get me some religion or shun all thought of God is going to change how I live my life right here, right now.

          • jes

            Dang it! html markup fail… quotes from tildeb in the previous were supposed to be indented to separate them from my responses. Sorry for the confusing format it ended up posting as.

          • jes

            Dang it! html markup fail… quotes from tildeb in the previous were supposed to be indented to separate them from my responses. Sorry for the confusing format it ended up posting as.

          • jes

            I doubt very much you have actually considered the wider ramifications of your agnosticism, but before I mention that I will draw your attention to your open-mindedness about Ju Ju of the Deep and Muk Muk of the Volcano, as well as the thousands of ‘gods’ who have populated at least the imagination of many before us. Do you expect me to honestly think that you grant to all these divinities the same level of confidence you seem to grant to the christian god that they may also be factually true? Do you hold all of these possibilities to be as equally true? Do you not lean away from the gods of the cargo cults because you have reasons for thinking that these beliefs in the divine are misplaced in the face of what’s true? And if you are willing to disbelief in these particular deities, then why not for other theistic assertions with evidence even slimmer? Why hold yourself back from staying consistent?

            Actually, I’ve never even heard of most of your examples there, so prior to reading your comment couldn’t possibly have an opinion or belief in any of them. Frankly, also don’t see how believing or not believing in them would change what I do with my life either, so just can’t say I care much.

            I care because I care about what’s true – and you should, too – but I’ll say more about how I mean that.

            I do care about what’s true. Which means not declaring something true or untrue when I have only a lack of evidence.

            When a pope or other religious leader steps forth and directly interferes with public policies by appealing to public figures to ‘respect’ the beliefs of its adherents who make a sizable portion of the electorate, then who stands against this interference? When the cleric determines the rules of law and passes judgment accordingly, who stands against them? Those who believe? Those who grant these people a legitimate voice in their interfering ways by withholding judgment about their claim to be speaking in place of their deity?

            Anybody who actually thinks separation of church and state is the way to go, regardless of their personal religious belief. That list would, incidentally, include me.

            The vast majority of people who are willing to stand up and question and criticize the basis on which these influential believers make such pronouncements and attempt to cause certain acceptable actions (often at the cost of increased suffering in the name of some god) are those who do not share your willingness to suspend their quest to find out what’s true. Because what’s true matters, the claims for demanding ‘respect’ for the belief similarly matters on exactly this central point. What’s true is the fulcrum that theist and atheist alike balance their conclusions to determine which claims deserve ‘respect’. But the agnostic holds out on the chance that the beliefs may be true yet are oblivious to the fact that without any acceptable method of inquiry to question the truth value of these claims, these beliefs are granted a free ride. And this matters a very great deal to all of us because these unjustifiable extended beliefs affect us all.

            Your conclusion here is flawed. Just because I don’t broadly declare that everyone religious is wrong doesn’t mean I want their religion in my politics. Neither do any of the agnostics or atheists I know. For that matter, I know quite a few Christians who don’t vote based on any particular church standing (see John’s recent post on Jesus voting Republican for some of the variety there). Agnosticism does not mean abdication of personal responsibility to society, any more than atheism makes people automatically more or less socially responsible than religion. You’re making a huge leap (with, I might point out, no apparent evidence) here to suppose you can know how I’d approach political matters just because I label myself agnostic. Tread cautiously on that path.

            On a strictly personal level, it doesn’t matter what one believes. But supporting the extension of these personal beliefs into the public domain (or feeling unqualified to even question these claims directly) is a different matter entirely.

            For all intents and purposes, the self-proclaimed agnostic simply watches from the bleachers as this battle for the minds of people to curtail their acceptance of religious beliefs foisted into unto the public and into the public domain continues… and at a very great and very real cost to people you don’t even know at home and abroad. It matters because, as a responsible citizen, you have a duty to uphold enlightenment values and secular government over and above all other competing claims for this allegiance.

            You seem awfully confident in knowing my opinion or lack there of regarding government from pretty scarce evidence. You can no more make broad judgments about how all agnostics feel than you can about how all Christians, or Buddhists, or atheists feel about government. Unless you’ve got some well-performed study that gives strong evidence of a political bias based on agnosticism to cite in making these claims, I’d say you’re jumping to conclusions. Seeking truth where there may not be any, even. (Sounds almost religious phrased that way, doesn’t it?) If you have such a study, please cite it, as it would be interesting reading.

            If not, then please take a deep breath and RELAX a little about the urgency of belief decisions and how they may or may not affect an agnostic’s stance on government. As I’ve stated before, neither deciding to get me some religion or shun all thought of God is going to change how I live my life right here, right now.

      • Don Whitt

        @Jes,

        Yes, I completely cop to the broad-brush bit, but it’s how I feel. Like iron flings to a magnet, we’re here on this forum. And I fully acknowledge that a) that’s a complete reflection of my own feelings and that b) it could be perceived as a cheap trick – reminiscent of recent political rhetorical jujitsu – whereby I brand everyone as secretly Christian, or harboring strong Christian leanings, if they show-up on this blog. Guilty as charged.

        • jes

          By Hawkings chair, I wish it were so easy to get my ma in law to admit to the fallacies of broad brush arguments! :D
          *hands Don a cookie*

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

    I have a different take on agnosticism and what the term means and how it is used. Of course I have recently been *****-slapped over my ‘unreasonable’ and ‘self-serving’ definitions of words…but that shan’t stop me from challenging common notions of the term.

    I would posit that we are virtually all agnostics in important ways…and thankfully so. Doubt is the great dampener of extremism. Abortion clinic bombers are not agnostic. The 9/11 hijackers were not agnostic. Not having doubts is like finally reaching the asymptote and could probably be argued as being a pathology.

    Agnosticism is not a destination or an answer… it is a characteristic of inquiry. As far as where on the gradient of atheism, deism(toward one end) and theism (toward the other), that is a subjective thing . (yes…I do think deism is much closer to atheism than it is to theism).

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

    ~ just subscribing to replies

  • CD

    What happened to comments that were left last night? I wanted to follow up on a conversations and now it is not here anymore!

    • CD

      Oh, I didn’t see the little button at the bottom. Got it.

    • CD

      Oh, I didn’t see the little button at the bottom. Got it.

    • CD

      Oh, I didn’t see the little button at the bottom. Got it.

  • CD

    With regard to this topic I have come to the conclusion that things held to be true should be discussed in terms of degrees of certainty. If we can agree that nothing is absolutely certain from our perspective (you might be dreaming/psychotic/subject to the laws of quantum theory) then we can assign levels of probability to the things we claim are true. I am sitting in this chair = very high probability. This chair is going to levitate = very low probability. Jesus is Yahweh’s son and has come to redeem humanity = ? It comes down to proof, in all of its forms, with more extraordinary claims requiring proof to match. Does that sound reasonable?

    • Don Whitt

      There are things that don’t sit well in the realm of “proof” which places them squarely in the realms of religion or politics. You just have to pick a position. Clearly, that can be on the fence or on either side of it.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    We cannot know God but not know whether or not there is a god; it is not to know Christ to know not that He is Lord.

    (“[W]hat may be known about God is plain…. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen….” (Romans 1:19-20) “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8) “‘Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’” (John 17:3) )

  • jes
  • Laih

    Hello, all! New poster here, and was alerted to this by my good friend Shadsie.

    I’m Laih, and I’m one of those mythical agnostic people. I post with slight trepidation for I fear I may be challenged by several of the posters for this, but at this stage in my life, I’m actually pretty comfortable with “I don’t know” as an answer. I don’t know, and there’s no way for me *to* know, not with the type of surety I’d like. When enough evidence comes in one way or the other, I’ll review it and make a determination then.

    Honestly, though, there are other questions that press and concern me more than “is there a diety, and what does this mean for my free will/life after death/soul/etc?”, questions like “how can I help stop rape as an act of war in the Congo?” and “how can I help raise awareness for people with developmental and physical disabilities?” I suppose I feel like being practical and taking care of my fellow man is a more pressing concern to me than what’s going to happen when I die.

    • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

      Welcome, Laih.

      Keep in mind that most of us have good intentions even if we are sometimes critical of particular points and/or ideas. Even I – believe or not – am actually a nice person!

      • Laih

        Hah, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I often find that on the internet what starts as critical of particular points can snowball into Godwin. It’s made me more of a lurker than anything else, alas!

    • Diana A.

      A pragmatist–cool! Welcome Laih!

      • Laih

        Haha, one would hope that being pragmatic isn’t as rare as all that, but thank you!

  • Erica

    Oh ok . I just emails you about agnosticism, as it happens, and then found this. In brief, I disagree for the following reasons:

    Agnosticism is widely misunderstood, even by people who call themselves agnostic, just as Christianity is so widely misunderstood, even by some people who call themselves Chrisitian. Agnosticism can be an active spirituality where admitting humbly to be without knowledge leads to an engaged, conscious and active pursuit of knowledge. In an ironic kind of way, agnosticism and Gnosticism go hand in hand.

    Agnosticism is NOT fence-sitting or bet-hedging or question-dodgi, not when it is practiced in its most effective and meaningful way. Just like Christianity is NOT judging and finger pointing and smugness, not when it is practiced in its most meaningful way.

    Also I would hazard a guess that few people confess to being agnostic because the atheists tell them to harden up and admit they don’t believe, and the theists tell them to just pick a side already and stop god-shopping. Both are intolerant attitudes.

    Agnosticism = active spiritually inclusivity and humbleness. Ideally.

  • LSS

    i live with an agnostic and he is very real. he’s also, in practice, a better christian than i could ever hope to be.

    not sure i can express his reason well, but i’m going to try: long story short, i would say he has PTSD from religion. he feels like all the dogmas that tend to take up a lot of energy in both our families, have done us more harm than good. and since God and religion are kind of connected, he prefers not to think about God at all, but just to concentrate on the everyday things like taking care of each other.

    he’s really zen but he doesn’t think about that, either… and he doesn’t even meditate or anything. he just tries to get to the next day and keep me from going crazy so i can, too.

  • Aggie

    John,

    Enjoyed the article. First off, unlike some more traditional kinds of faith, I do not see your faith as a hindrance to human progress or the golden rule– therefore, I can’t say I have a problem with it. (Ha, don’t you feel relieved to have my approval??)

    Otherwise, I would say that if a person doesn’t know, what’s wrong with admitting it? I see agnosticism in that positive sense as I understand Huxley to have envisioned it. Some may say that my positive outlook is still just trying to fill up the “god-sized vacuum” in my heart. (But, since Pascal believed in everlasting hell for most of humanity and that no salvation came outside the Catholic Church, I’m not sure that his resolution of the yearnings of the human heart was a very satisfying one…)

    As I’m sure you know, in certain interpretations of Buddhism the Buddha eschewed metaphysical doctrines and asked people to focus on what life’s realities were– death, suffering, and the general list you make above. So what is the human response? Be miserable, focus on pain, be afraid, etc.? Or help each other, seek peace, enjoy the good things in life, drive out fear wherever you can. Maybe there’s a god at the bottom, maybe not. Either way, it seems good to make life better since we’re here and all. (Not a Buddhist, but this kind of approach makes sense to me. I think Stephen Batchelor’s books are terrific with this sort of discussion.)

    I think you’re spending your life in a great way, your ministry to the “fringes” of the church is wonderful and a source of light. The way I see it, that’s a good thing no matter if there’s anyone up there approving or not.


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