A "good enough" mom muses about alpha moms, adoption, computers, the State Of The World, Internet quirkiness, and the Kosmik All
Why I am an angry agnostic
Dear Rabbi Gellman: I'm not an atheist, I am an agnostic. I realize that to many folks of the religious persuasion, that difference is slight; they don't get the idea that I have a spiritual life but simply do not like having a religious life. In this, I mean that I don't want the rituals and Big Men Telling Me What To Think. My husband and I get our experience with God/the Kozmik All/the Ineffable One/whatever you call it by walking in the woods, by admiring the beauty of the universe, by seeing the curve of our daughter's cheek when she's asleep. We don't tell other people what to think. We don't go around grabbing people on the streets and saying, "Fool! You are lost! You are being led around by Big Men Telling You What To Think! Experience God/the Kozmik All on your own, and you will be set free!" But the fanatical religious people out there do that to us, figuratively and literally. We have evangelical Christians doing their very best to get "creation science" taught in our schools as science. We have fanatical Muslims bombing our people going about minding their own business. We have orthodox Jews pushing Palestinians out of the Middle East, and Palestinians doing the exact same thing, for the exact same reason. All of this in the name of "religion". We have people all across the United States insisting that Terry Schiavo be kept alive. We have people all across the United States trying to mandate how I or my daughter handles an unexpected pregnancy. We have people all across the United States insisting that people who don't have religion can't be moral or ethical people, that they live lives of "existential despair". I am not threatened by the idea of God. I am threatened by people who insist that their idea of God is the One and Only True God. I am threatened by people who use their idea of God as an excuse to wage war. I am threatened by people who insist that I follow their idea of God, or else... I am irritated by people who claim that my life is filled with "existential despair" because I don't follow a religion. I am irritated by those who claim--either outright or by implication, like you do--that being without religion means that people will submit to their "desires to do what we want when we want to do it". To me, that implies that people are by nature vile and evil, willing to commit any and all nasty actions at the slightest impulse. What a dark vision of humankind! Why do religious people believe that humankind needs a carrot and stick approach to behave well? Behave well in your current life and you will be in heaven in the afterlife...what about behaving well in the current life simply because it's the Right Thing To Do? Does humankind need a numinous Father figure to Do Right? If so, then we are lost. All of us.
posted by Kate @ 4/28/2006 07:24:00 AM  
  • At 4/28/2006 09:18:00 AM, Blogger Simon said…

    You have to see if from their point of view.

    It's like they were sold this car, and the salesman told them is would go faster than any other.

    So they buy the car and they head down the highway.

    The truth is, their car is no faster than the others.

    What do they do? Admit they have been sold a car which hasn't lived up to the promise? Or do they try to persuade themselves our cars are slower?

    You see, it's essential for a believer to think his belief gives him an advantage, because that's what's been promised to him.

    If he doesn't see an advantage, what is the point of his religion?

  • At 4/28/2006 09:24:00 AM, Anonymous "Non-agnostic" said…

    I just thought I'd inform you that, judging by the beliefs you describe, you are not in fact an agnostic. "A-" (Greek for "not") and "-gnostic" (Greek for "knowledge-having"). This means you doubt ALL spiritual claims, but at once do see see ANY of them as refutable. This means not merely that you believe in some species of cosmic spirituality but don't know what KIND of God or force there MIGHT be (e.g. personal, cosmic, pantheistic, monotheistic, a force, Om, Yahweh, Allah, etc.). Rather agnostic means that you have no idea WHETHER there is any supernatural force or being in the universe, and doubt it but do not think proof positive (one way or the other) exists. To be an agnostic is to have the philosophical position that one is skeptical about ANY kind of claim supernatural power or God or gods or spirits or souls, including being unbelieving about the very kind of claims you describe in reference to your OWN spirituality. To be agnostic is to doubt all supposed non-material existence, and to function as a philosophical materialist, though one willing to say that he/she doesn't know the answers concerning supposed gods and spirits etc. It's also to say that one is committed to the proposition that one CAN'T know that kind of inormation as a human. Thus, if you were an agnostic, (1) any sort of spirituality would be an unintelligible and contradictory notion to your belief system, and (2) since agnosticism entails a claim of utter ignorance to all spiritual (non-material) issues for all you know any one of the major organized religions (Islam, Christianity, etc.) could be the right one--as an agnostic, you must be willing to admit, since you don't know the answer, that any one of these could be the true "religion" or religious understanding of the universe. The problem the agnostic has is not that these religions are false; rather that they have no proof, and the agnostic has no proof. The agnostic believes all such questions hover in a skeptical state of gridlock. Thus, you couldn't be an agnostic if you dispute (1) and (2) as you do in your article. Lastly, there is of course, a difference between atheism and agnosticism, though it is not, as you seem to think, a big one in practice (just a minor philosophical one). Also it is not the difference you think it is. The atheist believes prove positive can be had (and that he has it) that philosophical materialism is true (i.e. there is no God or souls or anything other than atoms in the entire universe). The agnostic thinks proof is impossible (that's the minor philosophical difference), but in the absence of proof for a God (bearing in mind the burden of proof is on the believer not the doubter), functions for all practical intents and purposes as an atheist. If you don't believe me look up some debates on the internet between theists and atheists, or theists and agnostics, or any other combination of the three. As far as your own belief system, the name you are looking for is "pluralist" or perhaps "agnosticism, but only when it's convenient and doesn't apply to my own case."

  • At 4/28/2006 10:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    right on there, I agree with all you said, lots of people do, we are tired of religious people telling us how to live and getting involved in our politics, which write laws, that inforce their ways on us , there are those like us , who want freedom and those who try and take our freedoms away from us by trying to force their beliefs on us, God gave us freedom of choice , they are controllers who think everyone should foolow their way of life.

  • At 4/28/2006 10:06:00 AM, Blogger PAgent said…

    I am utterly certain that "non-agnostic" is completely oblivious to the fact that, in response to your post complaining of people trying to force their definition of religion down your throat, "non-agnostic" is attempting to force their definition of agnostic down your throat.

    Ironic, is it not?

    But you can't blame them. After all it is MUCH easier to denigrate someone else's beliefs when you are allowed to define them as you wish.

    Nevertheless, now that you have been given the official lecture on what IS and IS NOT agnosticism, perhaps you should reconsider your position, missy.

    Or, just possibly, you could find a way to make peace with the fact that you disagree with the characterization of your own philosophical outlook by an anonymous and agenda-driven commenter, regardless of how qualified they feel they are to define your existence for you.

  • At 4/28/2006 10:14:00 AM, Anonymous LiveAndLetLive said…

    Well put, OmegaMom. Thank you.

    "Non-agnostic": label shmabel. it's just a word. Your 'correction' is irrelevant to the point of the post.

  • At 4/28/2006 10:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Couldn't have said it better myself

  • At 4/28/2006 10:58:00 AM, Anonymous non-agnostic said…

    Busted! You've all caught me red-handed demanding that words actually be given meanings! Are we all then at liberty to use words that actually have a meaning, but use them in ways utterly differnt from their meaning? If I begin to describe my cat, and mention how he barks at intruders, you all, knowing well what "cat" means, will (rightly) correct my understanding. Likewise, if someone says "agnostic" (which term just means skepticism toward non-material existence and a commitment to the idea that no one can know ANYTHING about supernatural existence), then begins to talk of spirituality and which religions are right or wrong, such a person is saying things completely contradictory to agnosticism. We don't get to have words mean whatever we want them to. If you all don't believe me, look it up in a theological or philosophical lexicon.

    Also vis-a-vis labels and forcing ideas, Who says I am "one of those people" as someone says (meaning a hyper-religious sort, I guess)? I said nothing about my own beliefs, rather you have "forced" some category on me. In fact, I like atheists who know what they're dealing with in thought and have a clear notion of things; my point is not about whether there is a god, it's about knowing what you're talking about (like some atheists and theists both do but not all of either camp) vs. treating the question lightly and mishmashing together contradictory ideas to suit one's own fancy.

  • At 4/28/2006 11:49:00 AM, Anonymous Dave Wesner said…

    Nicely done. I wrote Rabbi Gellman upon reading his column, and expressed many of the same sentiments. It's unjust to assume that a lack of religion is the product of some trauma, amounting to the belief that the only reward of life is death. Atheists of my acquaintance (I actually call myself a Humanist) do not "expect too little" of life on earth - we expect EVERYTHING of it, because to us, there's nothing else. If I appear angry, it's really more that I am (as you say you are) threatened by the incursion of the proselytizing fundamentalists into spheres both public and private. Moreover, many of us are frustrated by the exclusion of our viewpoints from many discussions of religious issues (e.g. "Islam v. Christianity," as though those viewpoints comprise the entire universe of human thought on The Big Subjects).

    Anyway - more than I intended to write. All I came to say was "great job."

  • At 4/28/2006 01:53:00 PM, Blogger PAgent said…

    Non-agnostic: Omega left a very nice post in which she proclaimed herself an agnostic. Do you not see that leaving a comment telling her that she isn't REALLY an agnostic is a bit provocative? No? What if someone left a comment hauling out a Theological dictionary and lectured an evangelical Christian that she wasn't 'really' a Christian?

    And I believe you when you say that you can find numerous scholarly works where 'agnostic' is defined according to your preference. But this is neither a philosophical nor a theological venue. As such, we're entitled to use the plain meaning of words as they are used in common conversation. An agnostic is "a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and prob. unknowable; 'one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god (Merriam-Webster). I think Omega's use of the term is perfectly acceptable in common parlance. I think you are being overly critical.

    And that's the point, really. I'm forced to the conclusion that you have an axe to grind. You have completely ignored the thrust of Omega's post -- that she shouldn't be forced to conform to other's religious holdings -- in order to pick at her use of the term 'agnostic'. And more telling than this, of all the things you could call yourself, you have adopted the nom de plume "non-agnostic". From all appearances, you seem to think it is VERY important that people be educated as to what it means to be agnostic, particularly when they are so clearly wrong.

    As long as you are trotting out your lexicographic authorities, why don't you look up 'pedant'.

    And now I must apologize to Omegamom for cluttering up her blog and being contentious. I will henceforth leave this thread well enough alone.

  • At 4/28/2006 04:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My husband often says, "I like Jesus. I just have a problem with his fans." (I'm paraphrasing, but, hey.)


  • At 4/28/2006 06:24:00 PM, Blogger MomEtc. said…

    I hear you on this!

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Name: OmegaMom
Home: Southwest
About Me: Middle-aged mom of a 4-year-old adopted from China. Love science, debate, good SF and fantasy, hiking, music of almost every style. Lousy housekeeper. "Good enough" mom.
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