82.1 F
Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 3, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesWhy I am an Agnostic

Why I am an Agnostic

I am an agnostic.
There, I’ve said it! And it’s not a joke.
Many people think an agnostic is an entry-level atheist. Not so! The two words aren’t even related except by uninformed common usage.
The origin of both words is Greek. The Greek letter “a” is a negative prefix meaning no, not or none. The Greek word for god is “theos.” So “a-theos” means literally “no-god.”
Agnostic isn’t even a religious word, or a word about religion.
“Gnosis” is Greek for knowledge. “A-gnosis” translates into “I don’t know."
It’s not an accusatory word; it’s an honest-mind word. It describes someone who has no information, or inadequate information, or cannot reach a conclusion based on the information one has.
Honest religion begins with agnosticism, not-knowing. Not knowing important things is very unsettling.
Did our prehistoric predecessors one day run terrified from a mountain exploding in a downpour of boulders and spewing out rivers of fiery molten earth innards?
And was their fear born not only of an instinctual reaction to pain, but also an even more frightening notion — from not having a clue about why the mountain was mad at them?
And did they create a ceremony, a ritual, which probably included a sacrifice (most likely the life of one of them) intended to pacify the angry spirit of the mountain and persuade it not to hurt them again?
And when the eruption stopped, did they say “It worked!” So the next time the volcano acted up, did their shaman say, “We must do what we did the last time: It worked!”?
Were a religious belief and a form of worship begun, which were practiced in perpetuity by the descendants of those people, whose fear-born-of-ignorance became permanently embedded in their culture?
Probably, something like that.
So “Why does the mountain hate us and what must we do about it?” was answered by what they believed to be the spirit of the mountain through the holy man, and the people’s fear was calmed. But sooner or later, some of them began to question the holy man’s answer, and the cycle of not knowing, fear, questioning and new answers began again?
Thus it has ever been. Most religious thought and practice came into existence so the adherents would not have to say, “I don’t know” and be afraid.
But in the history of humankind, no belief system has ever put an end to the cycle. Not knowing is part of the finite human condition. Harry Emerson Fosdick once wrote, "All intelligent faith in God has behind it a background of humble agnosticism.”
There is a delightful bumper sticker that proclaims, "Question Authority.” When a religious person, group or system insists that questioning is not permitted and doubt is damned as lack of faith, its adherents should run in the opposite direction. Questioning purported truth is not defying or denigrating it. Honest agnosticism pays religious belief and spiritual faith the compliment of taking them seriously.
I am an agnostic because to be otherwise is arrogant and self-deceiving and produces a shallow faith which will always fail in the face of human fallibility and the realities of life. Only when we have the spiritual courage to say “I don’t know” can we claim the calming confidence of saying, “I believe!”
A student came into the office of former Harvard chaplain George Buttrick and declared, "I don’t believe in God." Buttrick’s disarming reply was, "Tell me about the God you don’t believe in, chances are I don’t believe in that God either."
Agnosticism is alive and well, as it always will be among those who have not turned over the keys to their mind to someone else, or who lack the spiritual integrity to live with being vulnerable. Religious people who claim to have accurate, comprehensive answers to life’s deepest questions make me very nervous.
So let’s tell each other what we are agnostic about; maybe we can help each other find another piece of life’s puzzle.
Editor’s note: W. Jackson “Jack” Wilson is a psychologist, an Episcopal priest, a sometime academic and a writer living in Colorado. He writes with humor, whimsy, passion and penetrating insight into the human condition. And in Pushkin, Russia, a toilet is named in his honor.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,756FollowersFollow

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
10 hours ago
Virgin Islands Source

Host Adisha Penn recaps the biggest headlines of the week while Source reporter Knema Willett joins USVI Division of Festivals Director Ian Turnbull in the studio for some behind-the-scenes info on the 2022 St. John Celebration. ... See MoreSee Less

Load more
I am an agnostic.
There, I’ve said it! And it’s not a joke.
Many people think an agnostic is an entry-level atheist. Not so! The two words aren’t even related except by uninformed common usage.
The origin of both words is Greek. The Greek letter “a” is a negative prefix meaning no, not or none. The Greek word for god is “theos.” So “a-theos” means literally “no-god.”
Agnostic isn’t even a religious word, or a word about religion.
“Gnosis” is Greek for knowledge. “A-gnosis” translates into “I don’t know."
It’s not an accusatory word; it’s an honest-mind word. It describes someone who has no information, or inadequate information, or cannot reach a conclusion based on the information one has.
Honest religion begins with agnosticism, not-knowing. Not knowing important things is very unsettling.
Did our prehistoric predecessors one day run terrified from a mountain exploding in a downpour of boulders and spewing out rivers of fiery molten earth innards?
And was their fear born not only of an instinctual reaction to pain, but also an even more frightening notion -- from not having a clue about why the mountain was mad at them?
And did they create a ceremony, a ritual, which probably included a sacrifice (most likely the life of one of them) intended to pacify the angry spirit of the mountain and persuade it not to hurt them again?
And when the eruption stopped, did they say “It worked!” So the next time the volcano acted up, did their shaman say, “We must do what we did the last time: It worked!”?
Were a religious belief and a form of worship begun, which were practiced in perpetuity by the descendants of those people, whose fear-born-of-ignorance became permanently embedded in their culture?
Probably, something like that.
So “Why does the mountain hate us and what must we do about it?” was answered by what they believed to be the spirit of the mountain through the holy man, and the people’s fear was calmed. But sooner or later, some of them began to question the holy man’s answer, and the cycle of not knowing, fear, questioning and new answers began again?
Thus it has ever been. Most religious thought and practice came into existence so the adherents would not have to say, “I don’t know” and be afraid.
But in the history of humankind, no belief system has ever put an end to the cycle. Not knowing is part of the finite human condition. Harry Emerson Fosdick once wrote, "All intelligent faith in God has behind it a background of humble agnosticism.”
There is a delightful bumper sticker that proclaims, "Question Authority.” When a religious person, group or system insists that questioning is not permitted and doubt is damned as lack of faith, its adherents should run in the opposite direction. Questioning purported truth is not defying or denigrating it. Honest agnosticism pays religious belief and spiritual faith the compliment of taking them seriously.
I am an agnostic because to be otherwise is arrogant and self-deceiving and produces a shallow faith which will always fail in the face of human fallibility and the realities of life. Only when we have the spiritual courage to say “I don’t know” can we claim the calming confidence of saying, “I believe!”
A student came into the office of former Harvard chaplain George Buttrick and declared, "I don’t believe in God." Buttrick’s disarming reply was, "Tell me about the God you don’t believe in, chances are I don’t believe in that God either."
Agnosticism is alive and well, as it always will be among those who have not turned over the keys to their mind to someone else, or who lack the spiritual integrity to live with being vulnerable. Religious people who claim to have accurate, comprehensive answers to life’s deepest questions make me very nervous.
So let’s tell each other what we are agnostic about; maybe we can help each other find another piece of life’s puzzle.
Editor’s note: W. Jackson “Jack” Wilson is a psychologist, an Episcopal priest, a sometime academic and a writer living in Colorado. He writes with humor, whimsy, passion and penetrating insight into the human condition. And in Pushkin, Russia, a toilet is named in his honor.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.