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Ask the Patriarch 201
Clarification on being agnostic

from: Melyssa

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I was basically raised as a baptist, however as I grew older I began to question a lot of religious claims. 

As far as religion is concerned, I now claim to be "agnostic."  However, I need some clarification as to what this is exactly.  There is strong agnosticism, weak, apathetic, etc. 

If I could talk to someone directly, that would be great.  I would love to meet with other people to discuss this subject.  As far as I know, I am somewhere between weak and apathetic, but I am very unsure.  I live in (xxxxxx), CA so if there is somebody I could meet directly with, that would be great.  I am 20 years old and am just trying to understand and define myself. 

Thank you very much,


The Patriarch replies:


The question of "what can I define myself as" has been asked several times on this site.

But, to condense all those into a simple answer - it does not matter what you call yourself. It really does not matter. You say you were brought up a Baptist. That's a nice label - but what does it mean? When one Baptist, the Reverend Richard G. Lee - editor of a new edition of the Bible - says of another Baptist, Jimmy Carter - former president of the United States - that he does not know if Carter is a Christian or not, then I suggest that makes Baptist a pretty meaningless label.

When someone says they are a Baptist, you still do not know with a high degree of certainty what their specific religious beliefs are. And similarly, when someone says they are a something-or-other type of agnostic, it is still not very useful because there is no "official" agreement on what the various qualifiers to agnostic mean.

You are just as well off thinking of yourself simply as agnostic - which means you don't know whether or not a god exists.

If you want to think in terms of strong agnostic and weak agnostic, my own thinking is that a strong agnostic regards the question of god's existence as forever unanswerable, and a weak agnostic regards the question of god's existence as potentially answerable at some time in the future. That's my own usage - it's not universal.

Both strong and weak agnostics can be apathetic agnostics. As far as this web site is concerned, an apathetic agnostic is one who regards the question of god's existence as unimportant. Not only don't we know if god exists, we don't care. But, again, that is my own usage; others may have quite different ideas of apathetic agnostic means to them.

The important thing is that you have stopped labelling yourself as a Baptist. What you call yourself now is not as important. As I suggested to Julian on how to respond to questions about his religion in Q&A 182 "I don't have one... nor do I need one."

You say you would like to meet with someone to discuss these things in person. I can understand that, but these days I'm not prepared to put two people, neither of whom I can personally vouch for, in direct contact.

My recommendation for those who want face-to-face contact is to find a local freethought, skeptics, or humanist group and start attending a few meetings. Really, there is not that much to discuss about agnosticism unless it is integrated with other issues such as are discussed in these various groups.

Melyssa, I wish you best of luck with your search for self-knowledge and understanding.