Ask the Patriarch 22
An Agnostic Assignment
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My name is Natasya K....., I am seventeen years old and attend St. Josephs College in G........, Australia.
I am in my final year of school and have a particular interest in Agnosticism and have chosen to undertake a major assignment on Agnostic faith and beliefs.
I found your site whilst browsing for more information on the topic and I would be very grateful if you would be able to provide me with some information I have been unable to find to date.
These questions include-
- How have Agnostic beliefs influenced the everyday lives of believers?
- Reasons why people follow this belief system
If you were to be able to answer these questions or guide me in the right direction I would be extremely grateful.
Thank you for your time,
The Patriarch replies:
Thank you for writing.
Yours is not the first in this line of questioning and I think it will be informative for you to read Meditation 15 which covers some of the same ground.
You state your assignment concerns "Agnostic faith and beliefs." This gives you a problem because agnosticism is not about faith or belief. It is about knowledge - or lack of knowledge. At the most basic level, an agnostic says "I do not know whether god exists or not." Neither belief nor faith is required to make this statement.
Now a lot of those who believe also claim they do not know if god exists, but they have faith that he does. But, the agnostic rejects faith as an argument for god.
It is useful to distinguish between knowledge, belief, and faith
Knowledge is what we are highly confident is true.
Belief is what we consider to be true - but which is not necessarily proven. Generally, an agnostic will want a certain amount of evidence before expressing belief.
And faith - is what we consider to be true in the absence of significant evidence.
Let me a simple example using your existence and mine:
Knowledge: - I know I exist, and you know you exist.
Belief: I believe you exist and are as you describe yourself - though the only evidence I have is your message and the fact it originated from an Australian ISP. But it is something that could be turned into certainty - I could personally verify your existence by flying to Australia and visiting - or alternatively, by doing a little internet snooping I could find out you don't exist, and the message was written by a 14 yr. old skinhead in Des Moines. Either way, I could potentially turn my belief in your existence to knowledge of whether you exist or not.
Similarly - you probably believe I exist; you wrote to me and I answered. And in the same way you could turn that belief into certainty.
Faith: Suppose that your message had stated that you were an intergalactic alien schoolgirl on a spaceship circling Io, and were researching agnosticism for a home schooling project. If I were to believe that, then I could only be believing it on faith, and would have no way of turning that faith-based belief into knowledge that you do exist. I could potentially disprove it by tracing your message back to (for example) that Des Moines skinhead - but if that tracing evidence were lacking, then there would be no way to make a clear statement about your existence - at least with today's technology.
Sometime in the future, claims about intergalactic aliens may be subject to verification - and they might move out of the realm of faith. Given the purported nature of god, claims about him are unlikely to be based on anything but faith.
Having spent a lot of words on your premise, let me get to your two questions.
1. How have Agnostic beliefs influenced the everyday lives of believers?
I don't think agnosticism has very much affect on the everyday lives of believers. Most believers are unaware of agnosticism and its implications. The reason is that most agnostics do not "preach" agnosticism. In general, agnostics feel religion is unimportant, irrelevant. We just opt out, and you don't know we are here.
2. Reasons why people follow this belief system
Our reasons for being agnostic are that we use reason, we reject faith. We expect our beliefs about the metaphysical to follow the same standards we use for every other facet of life. Yesterday, another person wrote to me trying to convert me. In his message, (Talk Back 27) he wrote, "Listen to what your spirit agrees with. Your reason is in the way." While his overall message was no more than meaningless rote fundamentalist rhetoric, in this one extract, he showed he recognized the basic difference between a believer and an agnostic. And if we worship anything, we worship reason. And our reason is precisely what keeps us from belief in god.
I hope this will be of some help to you.