I had set about to write a ‘what is agnosticism’ post several times. It turns out that it wasn’t as easy as I had at first thought. Insert some saying about getting on a horse here. I’ll have to leave equestrianism for another post 🙂
Agnostics can be militant or not, vociferous or not. In many ways they are like atheists. The label does not define them in any way but one – they generally do not believe in the existence of gods (see no evidence for them) but cannot be certain that gods do not exist so will not claim that they do not. Most people with any vestment in this discussion will already have formed an idea of how they feel about such a position. I’m not going to discuss their opinion, or even the opinion of agnostics.
Meditating with my cousins
I remember well the transition from evangelical believer to agnostic to atheist to anti-theist. It was not a weekend fling. It took a lot of work to figure out that I was agnostic when in fact I finally told myself that I was. I can’t remember exactly when it was but I do remember that it was out of frustration. I was in search of answers since I was a very young boy. Finding none in my parents church I sought them in other churches. They didn’t have answers either. I travelled the world, well, I travelled some of it. More of it than most American born folk. I looked for answers everywhere I travelled, and found none. Oddly enough, one of the few places that I went where I did go that did not raise more questions was the zoo. I visited zoos all over the world. Never once did I find a question there that I could not also find an answer. There, the magic of the number 5 was all around me. There I found the meaning of life: eat, drink, fornicate, sleep, wake … repeat. It is what all these wonderful animals and I had in common. The real meaning of life, if there must be one, must be a meaning shared by all of life; the best of us and the least of us. I know that I spent a lot of time watching primates. The looked to me like cousins, however it was the apes that made me think. I watched them and I could spot the policeman, the troublemakers, the miscreant teens, the caring, the democrats, the republicans, the libertarians. I could see in them all manner of human behavior. At least I then thought it was only human behaviors. I did not understand evolution as I do now.
This made me think. How can God not care for them? Why are humans special? Why is there no heaven for them? Where do they go after death? Why doesn’t my God care the same about these wonderful creatures? There were, of course, no answers in the brochure with the map of the zoo. These thoughts troubled me. They troubled me more than anything else ever had. I could find no answers and as far as I knew I was the only one for thousands of miles that felt as I did, if there even was another thinking like me. I have always known what it feels like to be, or at least feel, alone. I thought quite some time about it and finally decided that I just don’t know. There are no answers that sound right so I just don’t know and can’t know. I can’t know what happens to animals when they die. It was not long before I had a discussion with myself and we concluded that it is unreasonable to assume that we can know that a god like that exists. For quite a few years I was content with the fact that I can’t know. It was not until many years later that I would understand this to be agnosticism.
So What Exactly Happened Next? (C’mon, finish the story)
I was agnostic for many years. I searched in all the usual ‘spiritual’ haunts for signs of supernatural evidence of any kind. For that I can only say that Harry Houdini and Penn and Teller are kind influences on the world that I then inhabited. It was at this point that I started learning the importance of thinking critically about the world around me. Reason and rationality became part of my world. I know the sequence well. After these changes it was then that I started becoming an atheist. Not because I hated god or anything as silly as some apologists will tell you. It was simply because I had looked everywhere and could find nothing but reasons to not believe, nothing but lack of evidence, nothing but evidence that gods are not necessary to life. I remained agnostic, yet fearful that a god might exist, though I did not know if it was the god of Abraham or some other god… it still seemed possible.
I don’t remember the day exactly, only that I was thinking to myself that it was frustrating that yet another ‘spiritual’ story turned out to be complete scam. I was frustrated. This god was supposed to be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. Why is it that I can’t find him? Why is he hiding? It was in this funk that I sat up like a shot, looked around carefully, thought to myself nervously…. and said a prayer: God, if you exist, show me. Give me a sign, throw me a bone, something, anything… and I waited. Weeks, maybe months later I hesitantly repeated this prayer. Still nothing. I began to become distraught by this result.
Months later yet my distress turned to anger. Again sitting by myself I repeated my experiment but spoke the words out loud as if this would help him hear me and know I meant it. I didn’t even see a pair of paper clips posed in a cross formation. I looked. There were no signs. I did not know what to do. Eventually I firmly called out in prayer ‘show yourself. I don’t care if it kills me. Show yourself, this teasing is not working for me’ and waited. Still nothing. This was repeated until it became a threat for god to kill me if he could. Just show up and obliterate me with laser beams from his eyes or something. Still no sign. I teased back… ‘guess you don’t care, not about me… show yourself… coward!’ I did not know it, but I had become an atheist. I had lost all fear and respect for gods. They have no power, no presence, they are nothing. The god of Abraham, like Thor, was a myth.
Still, I was alone. Always alone. I did not know anyone that thought even a little bit like me. I had never thought of finding others. I never thought of needing others. I was simply content that I had the answer I had looked for. The meaning of life was already clear. I learned it from my cousins. If there is a true meaning of life, it is true for them. If they can enjoy it I too can enjoy it. I was content. I needed no more explanations, no more excuses. Life made sense to me.
So what happened to make you so angry?
That’s fairly easy. After 9/11 the activity and zest of Christianity popped up and started making claims and pushing for this and that… it felt wrong. My cousins would not do this. Why are these people doing this. Their god does not exist, surely they have a clue? Some time later I heard about these four horsemen fellows. I studied and listened. It was amazing to find that there are other people who think like I do. I was stunned. I literally did not know what to think of it all.
The more I read, the more I studied, the more certain that I became that religion poisons everything. That these angry fellows were right, but more pointedly many of them did not go far enough. It is not enough to say that the god of Abraham does not exist, that there is no credible evidence for such a being to exist but that there is no credible reason to believe that such supernatural beings even can exist. Since that moment science seems to have accelerated. Perhaps I’m just reading more and more on the Internet, I don’t know. The evidence I needed for the answers I sought is becoming available at an ever increasing pace. Religion offers me no answers. Science brings me more answers every day. The god of Abraham is the kind of horrendous manifestation of mankind’s imagination that truly sets us apart from animals. An animal will kill another but never make up a story to justify it. In this, yes, we are different from the animals.
I don’t agree with all atheists. I don’t agree with all non-believers… I am me. I got here on my own. I speak for me and no other and no other speaks for me.
If you wish to present to me apologetics I ask that you start with the evidence for believing that a supernatural being of any kind can exist. What evidence even shows that such beings are possible. Show me that, then we can talk about the rest.