George H. Smith is responsible for getting me to think about agnosticism from a totally different perspective than I had in the past. I read his book, “Atheism: The Case Against God” while in college, studying theology. Being that this is my first contribution to #onetheology, I suppose some context is in order. I am not a theist. I am probably one of the few contributors who is not going to post about believing in Jesus, or God, or Buddha, or any other deity figure popularly known in the theological realm. I am an agnostic atheist (technically speaking). I believe that everyone is an agnostic. That’s what this post is about.
I studied theology at a small bible college in rural north Texas, with the intent on becoming a minister. I learned about the God of the wealthy westerner, framed in the context of pentecostal evangelicalism, and decided to be a teacher, instead. Needless to say, I am no longer religious, but I am still very much interested in thinking/talking about theology and philosophy, and how it interacts with our culture past, present and future. That’s why Chad asked me to be a part, I suppose. I am glad to be here and I look forward to the stimulation and inspiration this blog promises. Okay, enough with the pleasantries, and back to the topic.
We are all agnostics, after all. It’s true. Let’s consider what that word actually means…
Exactly. I’ve heard many people use the word agnostic in different ways. Both in positive and negative fashions, dependent upon context, of course. I’ve heard people use it as an alternative to being an atheist. I’ve heard people refer to agnostics as those who are too scared to commit to any one belief. I’ve heard agnostics defined as people who are incapable of knowing anything, at all. But what do we mean by the word? More specifically, are we all agreeing on the same definition? Or does my definition differ from yours? And if so, does that make the word itself meaningless?
I enjoy speaking about the real world in ways that allow for clarity and mutual understanding. So what does the word agnostic mean? Etymologically speaking, the root word is gnosis. Gnosis means knowledge. The prefix “a” used before a gnosis means “not” or “without.” The word agnostic simply means “without knowledge.” When we use this word in reference to the metaphysical (which is usually how we all use it), we are speaking of metaphysical knowledge, not the every-day, evidence-based, knowledge we use our senses to interact with. So why does that make you and I, and every other human an agnostic? Because our theology demands it.
Although, our theology may differ, it does bring us together on the position of agnosticism (or our lack of metaphysical knowledge). I believe we all start from the same point. That point is the inability to know about the metaphysical world. More specifically, the inability to know anything about a deity within the metaphysical realm. To say that such a deity is unknowable/immeasurable/incomprehensible/etc. is not to make a positive knowledge claim. In other words, it is to actually deny knowledge. To say that such a deity is all-powerful and all-knowing is to make a positive knowledge claim. But, those 2 claims contradict one another, and a theist’s theological construct mandates both be true. They can’t both be true. An individual must either be an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist.
As we’ve established, to speak of being agnostic is to speak of knowledge, specifically (the inability to know). The label theist or atheist is strictly referring to positive belief or the lack thereof (I believe in god, or I lack belief in god). This is why one cannot be either agnostic or atheist. They must be a collection of 2 (either agnostic theist or agnostic atheist). Both labels answer 2 separate questions. Both labels are mutually exclusive.
So, now that you are an agnostic, what will you do with yourself? I suggest you you sip on some hot tea, or maybe a coffee and have a nice meal with someone you care about. Enjoy life. Agnostic bliss has a nice ring to it, I think.