The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

What is an Agnostic?

There are those who believe in God and those who don’t. And there are many people who sit on the fence and call themselves agnostic. However, most of these people are not really agnostic, they are procrastinators. They are hoping they can wing it when the time comes.

And yet…

Let us, for the sake of argument, suppose that there is a God, in the traditional, Western understanding of Him. If there really is a being, so powerful that He was capable of creating the entire universe and all life within it, and that on His say, at the end of this life you will spend the rest of forever (which, let’s face it, is a bloody long time), in eternal bliss or eternal damnation, then figuring it out ‘when I get there’ has to be one of the most idiotic forms of procrastination possible.

If you were going to take an exam where if you passed you would have untold riches, but if you failed your life would be doomed to misery, you would make damn sure that you did a bit of revision before you went in. With that much weighing on the outcome, you wouldn’t want to just leave it to chance and just hope for the best, would you?

And yet, this is what the vast majority of us do. It seems that most people I know don’t go to church and don’t let religion worry them too much, but will go there for weddings and funerals. They may even get their child christened, ‘just in case’. Their feeling is that as long as they dip their toe in the water and don’t actually murder anyone then they’ll probably be ok. Most have not read enough of their bible to realise that getting into Heaven is a lot less about “being good” as it is about “being committed to God”. For example, in Christianity, you could be the nicest, kindest, warmest, most helpful person in the whole world, but unless you accept Jesus Christ as your saviour, you ain’t getting in.

Personally, I don’t believe in God. I am an atheist, which means if I am wrong I will burn in hell forever. But if I do end up facing God at the pearly gates, I have my arguments ready for why I think He’s done a lousy job and is nothing more than a con-artist. Does it worry me? Of course not, I don’t believe in it.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t condemn anyone for believing. In fact, I have the greatest respect for anyone who has taken the time to investigate his or her beliefs and come to a conclusion (either way), or is continuing to search for answers. But what I find I have precious little time for is blind faith or procrastinators.

Feel free to open up a debate in the comments section.

41 comments

Gyrobo said...

The way I see it, there are hundreds of religions that have caused countless wars throughout history; therefore MINE is the right one.

Gyrobo said...

As Socrates once said: "The unexamined life isn't worth living."

Or something like that.

BStrong said...

Kim,
Once again I'm on my pocket pc. I will comment when I have the chance to spread out my fingers on a real keyboard. Probably Sunday evening or Monday. Have a great weekend.
B.

Ramana Siddharth said...

i find ur views on this interesting..me being an agnostic..ok this is my take on the whole thing..i think the ability 2 care and be sensitive well these far more important than praying 2 an almighty..if he,she or it exsists.however being an agnostic is like being a cat on a hot tin roof..its tough because one has 2 have the guts 2 admit like in my case..ok i am 90% i dont believe..but there is a part of me that wants 2 believe.must we take absolute stances always?say 4 instance one does not need 2 support mr bush nor the terrorists...and still be a rational person-dont u think?

kats said...

Nice to read some sense

Kats:0)

Kim Ayres said...

Gyrobo - I think I'm with Socrates on this one. Good quote - thanks for sharing it

bstrong - I look forward to your comments.

Siddharth - I don't expect everyone to come down completely in one camp or the other. And I have the greatest respect for anyone who has examined their belief system, even if they feel they have come to no conclusions. My posting about agnostics is really having a dig at people who call themsleves agnostic as an easy opt-out. To them it means, maybe, maybe not - I'll worry about that later. It's like trying to keep a foot in both camps, just in case, rather than through any sense of conviction.

Kats - thank you. I try my best ;)

Dr Maroon said...

This is a worrying turn. I had banked on winging it.

Tara Marie said...

Reading,,,,with lots of interst, just no time to post with a real comment....but will tell you that currently on my nights stand are the following books: Unconditional parenting, The essentail Tao, The book of Zen, The Craft, Simple Kabbalah and Anam Cara ~ A book of Celtic Wisdom........reading bits and pieces of each,,,,,,weaving my thoughts into one quilt that I can wrap around my shoulders!

Gyrobo said...

By the way, I found this religious test thing a few days ago. Take it to find out which religion (or lack thereof) you belong to, or, like, forget it.

MomTah said...

Wow. I just took that religion test and scored equally for Buddhism and agnosticism, with Paganism, Hinduism, and Satanism all tied for 2nd place. Now I'm really confused! LOL! I never say I am one religion. There are bits and peices of lots of religions that I agree with, and lots I don't agree with. I guess if someone put a gun to my head and made me align with one "religion" or another, i would have to say Druidry or Wiccanism, not that I practice either, but in examining their belief systems, I find that they align pretty closely with my own. I believe there is a higher power, or some type of life force. I believe you should "do no harm" and that your good deeds will come back to you in their own space and time. I believe we should respect the earth and it's resources. Hmm...I think I need to go back to my own blog and start a "101 Things" of my own! LOL!

Anyway, great discussion, Kim, and thanks for posting on my blog and urging me to post on yours. I really like it here. You and Harry Hutton keep me engaged and interested on a daily basis!

See ya!

Terri

fatmammycat said...

Ah crap, I hate those types of tests and yet can never seem to resist them. Flat atheist, harumph, not even slightly surprising result.

Lord Lessismore said...

Interesting thoughts, Mr. Ayres, as per usual. I'm a little disappointed that you haven't attracted more "believers" to your comments section because I'd like to hear the thougths of some hard-core Christians, Jews, or Muslims on this one. Hell, even a scientologist would do!

Personally, I've struggled with this (passively) for many years which is why the Unitarian Church has worked best for me. In general, I think people have come up with pretty elaborate ideas under the rubric of religion because a) they are afraid of death and can't truly believe that consciousness just stops when life ends, and b) because they've needed a way to maintain or establish or enforce order.

But I also have a hard time disregarding the possibility of some force out there, somewhat benign and non-distinct, that is larger than all of us and quite possibly, a coalition of all of our life forces. This belief probably stems from my belief in karma and grace. Maybe it's because I've been incredibly lucky and blessed in my life -- there must be some source for this grace that I feel I have been granted. (And I'll knock on some virtual wood here because I'm hoping it continues to hold out...)

I used to think I was a Deist (in the 19th century Thomas Paine kind of sense) but now have morphed into one of those hippy-dippy Americans that has a hodge-podge kind of faith concocted from various different ideas I've heard or been exposed to over the years. It makes the religion conversations with the kids very interesting. I find myself thinking, can't we talk about sex or drugs please?

BStrong said...

Christianity, Judaism, Islamic, Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheist or Agnostic….

If you chose to practice any one of the above, does it really mean that you have a better chance of getting in to heaven? In my opinion, NO. I am a religious person who vary rarely enters into discussions about religion. I truly believe that religion is an outline of how one should live their life. A religion that is good for one person may not be good for another. In 2000 thirty three percent of the world was Christian, does that mean that the remaining sixty-seven percent get a one way ticket to hell? LOL. If you live your life as a good person with a compassionate heart towards others I think you will have a pretty good shot of getting in whether you are a believer or not. Getting back to the outlines of religion, most faiths have specific laws to live by which gives a person structure and helps that individual with their decision making throughout their life. Really, isn’t life all about making decisions? In my religion we believe in free will even though each outcome is already determined, we just choose which path to follow. To help me choose the right path I look to my religion for guidance. It works for me.

I just realized that I could write a whole Megillah (hint) on this, so I think I’ll stop here.

B

BStrong said...

PS. I realize that I based my comment on the fact that there is a god and heaven and hell exist.

I speak only of what I know, and I know that a religious person like my self with strong beliefs has not chance of proving my beliefs and disproving yours and you likewise. Been there, tried that and it was a lot of fun.

A few years ago my family and I went on vacation to the beach and invited a friend of ours who is an atheist. I remember sitting at the kitchen table all night drinking beer and coffee arguing our cases. It was hysterical.

Kim, I have a tremendous amount of respect for you because I know you are a good person, and again, I think that’s what matters most.

B.

Amanda said...

Well, to Lord Lessismore (btw, great name)...I am a "hardcore" Christian, as you put it, so your disappointment may cease. ;)P

I don't know that I would call it hardcore, however I believe that God sent his son to the earth so we could have the opportunity of spending time with Him for eternity...and all that jazz. How did I come to believe this? Well, I was raised in a Christian, although somewhat hypocritical household, and I decided at a very young age that I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with this so-called Christianity, based on the fact that my family was everything Christians get a bad name for (judgemental, abusive and legalistic) I stopped going to church as soon as I was old enough.
However, due to things that kept happening in my life, I realized there was a larger being then myself, and I also knew I wanted to know that truth of it, for myself, not based on the faith of any other. I prayed that if God was real, he would reveal himself to me, because I wanted to know. I began to read the Bible, cover to cover, and through that and God's working in my life, I came to believe that he was absolutely real without a doubt. I developed my own faith and relationship with him, which has sustained me throughout many hard times. He didn't promise us that there would never be hard times, but that we could overcome then with his help, and something far better is waiting. You say you stopped believing in a supreme being when your daughter had open-heart surgery, and yet she still lived. I wonder if you have ever thought about it from that perspective? My life is far from perfect and I am far from perfect, but I have someone to rely on which is much greater than anything else...and all the things I used to see as bad, it is amazing how I can see them all working together now in a way I never could. It is something that one has to experience for themselves.
When I met my husband, he reinforced my faith because he is very scientific and the basis of his study on God and the world has been from this skeptical angle. After a certain amount of extensive study, his faith became inevitable, and he has taught me a lot of practical sciece which points to our God.
Sorry for the book, I have the utmost respect for anyone who comes to their own beliefs through personal study, as Kim mentioned. However, I think if is a shame that most of us are brainwashed at a young age to associate God as a mean judgemental being, and associate Christianity with going to church. No wonder it seems so unappealing and few people ever really study the Bible in depth to see what it actually has to say. I would be interested in any comments of responses! ;)

Take care,
Amanda

fatmammycat said...

Amanda, you are exactly the sort of Christian there should be more of, thoughtful,authentic and not pushy. And better yet, capable of describiing the joy of having an actual faith. I don't have any, never did. I do however try to run my life on the 'do no harm to others' principle, but also on the 'this is not a dress rehearsal to some great after life' belief too. There's room for all of us.

Naomi said...

To each his own, I'm an athiest although I have had a few spells of maybe being agnostic instead. Organised religion has never appealed to me. I'm not accountable to any higher being, only to the people around me. If I die and find out I'm wrong then ooops, I guess I'm going to have a warm afterlife.

Amanda said...

Thank you fatmammycat...I don't think I'm anything special though...true Christians are not supposed to be judgmental, know it all and pushy...I got turned off by this so many times...I think it is a shame when people become prideful because "THEY" are right...:(

Amanda said...

I think its great how many comments this post has inspired...way to go Kim! ;)

Natalia said...

I don't think of myself as a procrastinator. I think of myself as someone who believes all organized religion is major bullshit and yet I am not sure there isn't some force we can call God out there.

I am into proof. I can understand faith but I don't subscribe to it in that sense.

Taking the time to explore the different believes is hardly procrastination. Neither is it taking the easy way out of sitting on the fence out of fear. I think agnostics are the most honest people...the ones who are not afraid to admit they do not know...cause the fact is...no one does.

-N

Kim Ayres said...

Been out all day. Got back late and found all these comments. How fantastic! Thank you all for taking the time to think and comment on this post. I'm afraid I'm very tired just now so will try and post some replies tomorrow.

Cheers,

Kim

El-Branden Brazil said...

I believe (and fear) that perhaps life and the Afterlife is similar to the Aboriginal Creation Myth - that existence was dreamed into being. Perhaps having a belief in the Afterlife is imperative in the conjuring of the realm that is to follow death. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote: 'Life is but a dream within a dream.'

Personally, as a Buddhist with a long Pagan past, I have absolutely no doubt that the universe is far more complex than our five senses allows us to be aware of. There are layers and layers of reality that continue to give those rare mystics of insight work to share with us, who are blinded by an affection for the plain and visible.

Kim Ayres said...

Firstly, thank you to everyone for your thoughts on this. Clearly the people who like to comment on this blog are people who reflect deeply on their lives.

gyrobo - thanks for the pointer to the quiz. Needless to say I came as an atheist, although it turns out that Satanism, Budhism and Pagansim weren't too far behind.

Dr Maroon - I can't believe that you haven't already investigated and found the answer to the universe alread. I was relying on you for the answer!

Tara Marie - after reading your 101 things on Rambling Mommy Thoughts your book list doesn't surprise me :) (sounds interesting too)

Kim Ayres said...

Momtah - welcome to my ramblings and thank you for your thoughts and positive feedback. I look forward to your 101 things!

Lord Lessismore - hope you enjoyed the additions from the religious hardcore ;)

Your point that people look to religion because they "can't truly believe that consciousness just stops when life ends" is an intesting thought. Certainly I used to have a strong sense of incomprehension at the idea of non-existence. However, more recently I have experienced that sense of comprehension, and perhaps that's contributing to a 'firming-up' of my athiesm

Amanda - That hypocrisy you speak of is one of the things, in my mind, that is most vile about some people who call themselves religious, and is one of the things that led me to question religion in the first place. People who are true to their faith, I have a great deal of respect for.

As to your question of my losing any lingering faith after my daughter's heart operation, even though she survived, it is something I intend to write about in the near future.

Fatmammycat - I love your quote 'this is not a dress rehearsal to some great after life'. It certainly resonates strongly with me. I also think many people put off their lives until it is too late. If we just have the one life, what are we doing wasting so much of it?

Kim Ayres said...

Naomi - Like you, I feel a far stronger sense of acountability to those around me

Bstrong - the respect is mutual! I too love the round-the-kitchen-table-deep-into-the-night conversations and, if truth be told, is one of the things that led me to take a degree in philosophy.

Believing "in free will even though each outcome is determined" sounds like a great starting point for a lot of beer and coffee!

Kim Ayres said...

Natalia - As you are a philosophy professor, I would never accuse you of procrastination where this is concerned! The point I was making is not that all agnostics are procrastinators, but that a lot of procrastinators call themselves agnostic.

However, I am a bit curious about your need for proof. The one thing I came to understand about philosophy is that you can kiss good-bye to proof. What you can do is come up with persuasive arguments, which isn't necessarily the same thing ;)

Kim Ayres said...

El-Branden, my old friend, many thanks for taking the time to comment. You are right, of course, that the universe is far more complex than we can hope to understand, but that doesn't necessarily imply that there is someone running the show.

But your idea that "perhaps having a belief in the Afterlife is imperative in the conjuring of the realm that is to follow death" certainly sounds like a great topic to discuss round the kitchen table with plenty of beer and coffee!

Lord Lessismore said...

Kim,
I just want to compliment the high-caliber folks you are acquainted with and who have posted on your site. A discussion involving religion that hasn't degenerated into a hissy fit or two is pretty amazing, I think.

I also want to second fatmammycat's comment on Amanda. Maybe there are more thoughful, non-judgemental, non-hypocritical deeply religious Christians out there, but certainly not in my family (where I've got a couple of fundamentalist Christians, a Mormon, and at least two that worship at the temple of the almighty dollar!)

Thank you for presenting a thoughtful and well-considered perspective.

Kim Ayres said...

Well it certainly got a bigger response than I was expecting.

Strangely enough, it didn't cross my mind that it could degenerate into a slagging competition. But then I guess I can always remove posts by wankers.

When I used to run philosophy evening classes I would always begin with the idea that it was fine to disagree with people, in fact, that was encouraged, however, you were only to challenge someone's argument, and not attack the person.

I love diversity in culture, experience and thought, but it can only be maintained with respect on all sides. If that respect, and therefore tolerance, is there, then everyone gains big-time.

030 said...

Kim,

Fantastic thread. I am a non believer in the God/Devil religious control mechanism. Please see below for a wholesale cut and paste from one of my own recent blogs on my religion.

"No Gods No Masters

Because I have had time on my hands and I am now relaxing about not being at work I have been reading and researching all things connected to Tai Chi such as the Taoist view of the world, the yin and yang, power meridians in the human body, chi kung, trees, nature etc.

My initial thoughts and feelings are that the Taoist view of life, the world and the cosmos is bang on. Chi the universal energy is very similar to the Christian perspective on an all pervasive omnipotence. In Taoism this energy has no intent with regard to humans. We are free beings in the Taoist universe with no gods and no masters, there is a religious branch of Taoism with deities etc, but this is one aspect of a massive all encompassing philosophy on life that allows free thinking, and self determination, which for me is very important. I have never practiced my inherited religion as I have not believed in God from a very early age. I have wrestled with the concept and tried to believe, but experience and free thinking have lead me to an acceptance of another view on reality.

I have finally accepted that for me God and the Devil do not exist, I am a free man, responsible for my thinking and my actions. Reaching this perspective means I do not have to live in fear of or bow down to non existent supernatural beings. The other important aspect is that a non religious view of the world lets me see reality from an unfettered perspective, which for me has meant a clearer understanding of what the real treasures in life are. Simplicity, Compassion and Humility are the three jewels espoused in the Tao. Striving to live my life by these three principles is proving to be difficult as I wrestle with my modern life progamming but I am the calmset and happiest I have ever been."

Kim Ayres said...

Thank you Xendog. I practice Tai Chi myself and have always had leanings towards Taoism. I hadn't realised that you had set up a 2nd blog. I'll update my link to your site.

Carole said...

I never really know if it is okay to comment on old blogs, but since I try to read at least one or two of your old ones a day, they seem new to me. I like your thoughts on God,actually on most subjects, although completely disagree. Well, I don't disagree that your an atheist. I just disagree that there is no God. Believing in God is like breathing to me. I just can't know how not to. I don't argue it though, it seems purposeless because what is, is. It can't be changed by my aruments or yours. It can't be changed if both of us do a complete about face, and surrender to the other's beliefs. Truth just is. If I am wrong, I shouldn't think I have hurt the world to much. Still, I want to believe the truth. I do not want to be wrong, but have very little to verify my belief but me. So here is why I believe God to be the Truth, if you will.

There are certain things I know simply because of experience. A Buttercup is dazzling yellow. Makes no difference if someone tells me its red. I have seen, I have looked for myself. I have experienced the yellow of the buttercup as I have always understood yellow to be. I love the taste of Dr. Pepper. It would not matter to me what someone put in a Dr. Pepper can, one taste and I would know if it was real. I might not be able to analize it and tell, I might not be able to see or smell it and tell, but if I tasted it, no one could persuade me that it was something it wasn't. God on the other hand is much more difficult, yet I do not think a person can throw him out with the bathwater unless he experiences him--and finds no experience. And everyday, I feel Him in the wind, I see HIm in the wildflowers, I feel him in Nebraska's breath, I see Him in the sky, I taste him in a clear cool mountain stream, I read him in the way you put together words, I touch him with my yearning. And I am but a babe. It cannot all be meaningless or we wouldn't strive for meaning. If i lay in the grass and get still and watch what happens in a small area--maybe even one square foot--I see things that are too incredible to be left to chance. Something much greater than me had to create. So much greater than me, that I can't see a millionith of it. A certain amount of things can just happen perhaps, but not the scope of what is. That is far more inconceivable than God. The delight in my heart--which happens on a frequent basis-- cannot come through this world (it is far too ugly) with the horrid things that happen. I would have given up long ago and said a bitter farewell to this place, had I not this hope.

I do not know I am asleep until I wake up. But when I wake up, I feel refreshed. I realize these are not good arguments. They are just how I know for me.

You are I think a very honest man. If I am right, I will see you in eternity. If I am wrong, I will not. But you will not burn in hell, of that I am sure.

Kim Ayres said...

Carole - It's fine to comment on old blogs. I get them because comments are emailed through to my box, but unless someone else stumbles back here for a look, it's unlikely to be read by anyone else.

This post was deliberately provoking. I wanted to see if I could stir up a bit of debate. What I have found is that most people won't criticise in the comments of someone they regularly read. It's a standard thing not to want to risk upsetting someone you like. So for most people, if they disagree they just won't say anything.

When it comes to God, if you see Him in everything, then I am genuinely pleased for you. He has not chosen to reveal Himself to me so, as in one of the first posts of mine you commented on, there is no way of me knowing whether He exists, or in what form.

According to Christian doctrine, in order to get into heaven you have to accept Christ as your saviour, which I do not do as I do not believe. Therefore, if I am wrong, I ain't getting in.

However, if I am wrong I appreciate that you might put in a good word for me :)

Carole said...

Your responses to comments are a good feature of your blog. I always look forward to them. And I never have to worry about disagreeing with you. I think you truly do enjoy honest debate. Which is curious. Most people do not. Or at least, most people I know.

Kim Ayres said...

I'm always quite impressed at the standard of comments and that it doesn't degenerate into a slagging match - I've seen it happen too often on other sites. But then it's often started by the blogger whose site it is who responds to a comment with an attitude of "this is my blog and if you don't like it f*** off!"

I think because so many bloggers use anonymous identities they forget that we are all dealing with real people who deserve a level of respect.

Mind you, on the rare occasion I have had someone just coming along and being vicious for the sake of it I've just deleted the comment rather than engage in the argument. People get fed up posting pretty quickly if their carefully crafted insults are continually deleted.

K. Erickson said...

One school of thought (from Piers Anthony's 'On a Pale Horse' I think) has it that athiests, by refusing to believe in God, receive neither eternal salvation nor damnation but rather eternal nothingness. My personal opinion is that we will all get to the end (athiest, Muslin, Christian, etc. ad nauseum, alike) at which point God will say something like "Nice try, but let me show you a few things you didn't get quite right." Of course, if there really is a pantheon of Gods, we can pretty much expect the current state of affairs to continue on for eternity.

Kim Ayres said...

My feeling tends to be, that if there is a God in the sense of a being who is capable of creating the entire universe and all life, then surely he is capable of making himself known to me in a way that I would recognise and understand. He has not done so. So either he does not exist, or he cares not whether I believe in him or not.

Ron Tipton said...

Kim,
Up until now I have labeled myself as an agnostic. However, after reading your blog I think it is time to get off the fence. Of course I don't believe in God. I was just hedging my bets. Now I better not end up at the Pearly Gates and have to explain myself. I'm blaming everything on you.

Kim Ayres said...

Ron - I had fun with this post :) I like people to think, regardless of their religious persuasion - it's the Philosophy graduate in me :)

carlie_star said...

Great post Kim
It inspired me to comment which has ended up turning into a blog post for me have posted it below for you
thanks for the inspiration

I believe in God
purely because of experience in my own life
I believe i know him? her? (I believe god contains both male and female aspects in one being)

The character of God

unconditional love and acceptance
encouragement, care, sense of humor, joy

that is what i believe in

It feels like most of the time organised religion stands as a wall between us and knowing that divine being
rather than drawing us closer.

I don't want to be powerless. So many people in the world have no choice how they choose to live.
I do. I will not surrender that power to any other person or organisation

I don't believe God requires of me to give up this freedom
I believe God is more interested in relationship and partnership than having power over me


I am a Christian who doesn't like to use the word because of the associations people have with it.

I am a Christian with many friends who tell me I have changed the definition of the word for them.

I am a Christian who believes because my heart tells me to rather than because I know all the answers.


All I know is what I have experienced in my own life. I do not see myself as having the right to argue or push my view on others, they are on their own journey.

This is my truth today and I believe I will learn more and understand more tomorrow as long as my heart is open.

Kim Ayres said...

If you have had direct exprience of God that fills your heart then I am pleased for you. All I can truly say on the issue is if there is a God, or gods, or some kind of Karmic system, then he/she/they/it has not made itself known to me in any way that I would understand

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