Why am I agnostic?
On the first day of class in my God and the Theological Imagination, the professor asked the so-he-though rhetorical questions of "why would a person chose to be agnostic? What would it take to make you choose one way or the other?"
First, what he assumes with this question is that I am sitting on the fence, and cannot decide which pasture has the greener grass. This is not the case. I feel that I have found the pasture with the greenest grass. I am not indecisive, I have decided.
Ok, so you will probably ask, how can this be? You refuse to make a decision on whether there is a god or not, and you find this to be a decision.
To say that I have a religion means that I think that there is one path that is better to pursue than other paths in life. I do not think that is so. I don't think that there is only one way to live your life. If you choose to be Christian, and that works for you, that is great, but it is not a reason to say that everyone else has to be a Christian. Buddhism may be the best choice for someone else. Agnosticism is what is best for me. I don't know if there is some mighty force that is watching out over my life, and I don't want to say one way or the other. There is a different path for each person.
To choose a religion, means that you have to choose a certain set of beliefs, and sometimes a very rigorous lifestyle. I don't conform in this way; it doesn't fit me. I don't want to try to figure out the rules of the game, and make sure that I am playing it right. I don't want to have to fit into a rigorous schedule. I want to do what I feel is right, when I feel it is right, and not because it is Sunday and we are supposed to be more generous on that day, because our religion says so.
Much of religion is merely ritual. I do not see a purpose in ritual. It is replicating over and over the same actions, in the belief that it somehow pleases a God, for whom there is no solid proof for the existence of, or more rather, there is no proof that this ritual is what said God desires. I am going to pick on Christianity, because it is the predominate religion in my life, even though it is not one that I partake of to any large extent. The ritual that is performed in Christianity is written in a book called the Bible, for which I have many reasons to doubt the validity, such as that it is man made (as opposed to being handed to a prophet on a cloud, direct from the writing room of God Himself), the Bible is not complete (many books written on the event were not included in the Bible, and worse, were burned), not to mention all the mishaps that could have occurred in translations and copying of the Bible during the early ages where there was 1) very few copies and 2) no printing press (both making it easy to change a phrase here and there during the copying process).
Now I am not saying that ritual is a bad thing (well, some are, but as a whole it usually doesn't cause harm). I am just saying that to me it seems rather pointless. Now there are many things that I do in my life that is seen as pointless to many people, watching TV sure doesn't change the world any, for the better or for the worse, for example, yet it is an activity that I often find myself pursuing. So I have no problem with other people performing rituals, if it is their desire (so long as there is no one getting hurt in the process at any rate). If ritual is your thing, then have at it, I always strongly say that there is no one correct path in life, and I certainly don’t want to change everyone in the world such that they all have the same opinions as me. Diversity is a good thing; I don't want a million clones, all thinking the same way.
So what do I do as an agnostic? What do I believe?
Some say that if you do not have religion, you do not have morals. I beg to differ. I do not go out every day to feed the poor, but I do not take pleasure in torturing small animals either. I just find that there are many more gratifying things that I can do, like spending quality time with my dearest and truest love, my boyfriend, I see that there are more useful ways to spend my day, like scaring off my best friend's stalker rapist ex boyfriend, I find that there are things more pressing in my life, like trying to keep my boyfriend awake to prevent him from going into a coma, or to hold him down while he is in the midst of seizures, then to focus on religious questions, like trying to make the seeming controversy of the Triune of God (three people in one being) work for my brain's understanding.
Does my view necessitate that I see no meaning in life? Absolutely not!!! Does my view require me to think that I am totally unconnected to the rest of the universe? Indeed not!!!
I see so much meaning in life. I see happiness as the pursuit that all should be following. I will find myself dancing merrily along a sidewalk, greeting random people as I pass, and I see them suddenly smile. My friend and I were doing just that, and brought smiles to many faces as they passed us on their way. Some were wrapped up in their own world, but as they drew near us, they would suddenly burst out in a smile, we even got a few of them to dance with us.
I am connected to the universe. Going back to the dancing example above, I effected what these people were doing. My actions directly affected them. For the positive I assume, at least for those that noticed us. And this makes me happy. And there is so much more, most of my examples involving my boyfriend, and personal moments, but he and I are so connected sometimes, it is unbelievable. We find ourselves thinking about the same things, we will be lying side by side, and (you may call it random if you wish) we would open our eyes at the exact same instant. Minutes would pass by, and the same thing would happen again and again. This isn't the full extent of it. I have managed to sense someone else's mood, and know exactly what to do to cheer them up (course this isn't isolated to me only, I never said that I was the only one connected to the universe mind you).
I may not feel myself connected to the universe through God, or find meaning to my life through the church, but I am connected, I have meaning. I just do not rely on some obscure translation of someone else's thoughts to tell me what I am supposed to feel. I feel it for myself. I don't need to be told what is supposed be going through me, I just sit there and feel it, experience it, embrace it. And this is deeper to me than having to go through the middle guy of God.
So, why don't I take an existing religion and use that as a basis for what I want it to mean? If Christianity has as much diversity as it does, why can I not make it work for myself, or even turn to another religion to find my beliefs?
As I said before, religion just doesn't suit me. It does do good, but I don't see that it is necessary. Religion can be used as a post for leaning on. People turn to religion in times that are hard, when they are trying to make a decision and need guidance.
I think that if you had deep relationships, that you would rather turn to someone that can actually talk to you and tell you some advice, versus holding a book and hoping that you can find the answer yourself. People say that when they turn to the Bible, they are able to find a source for advice, and that is great if that is true and if it works for you. But to me, it is better to turn to someone more solid than the book, someone who's shoulder I can cry on, someone that listens to me and responds. For hard times, it works better for me personally to actually have someone solid, someone who will put his or her arms around me and tell me it will be alright, than to turn to a book. Again, if it works for you, that is great. But I am giving the reasons why I personally don't find benefit in religion.
The only reason that I would object to religion is that it can also cause harm. It has been used in murder; an example given in my class was in the 300's CE, a group of religious persons (can't remember what they were, priests, bishops, something like that), that asked a peasant what he thought Jesus was: a man, or divine. When he gave the "wrong" answer, the religious persons used this as an excuse to murder him. Then there are of course the examples of the inquisitions, the Crusades, the witch burnings. More recent is the trying to forbid homosexual marriages, contraceptives, abortions are objected to strongly by the church, but the same people screaming "murderer" at the clinics also turn out the girls that are pregnant and are looking for help, not wanting to turn to abortion. I have known people that will diss a girl for getting pregnant and then try to have an abortion, and in the same breath start calling a teen mother a slut and state that it is a fitting punishment for her to keep the baby. These kinds of actions are not focusing on helping and solving the problem, but rather on the punishment. Instead of fighting the church on all these issues, I would rather just face the issues head on.
If religion were somehow more beneficial to me, then I may indeed use it extensively, but I have found something that I think to be more powerful.
Followers of God and Jesus may be very good people indeed, I will not argue that there are people out there that follow Christianity in such a way that all they do is benefit those around them. There are many people that follow Christianity that do great things.
But I don't think that the motivation is as strong as it can be for most people. Let me give you an example; most countries have laws saying that you cannot steal. Yet there are people out there that do steal, because the temptation is too strong. There is the law saying that you shouldn't do it, yet there is your internal person saying that you want to. There is the temptation within you that convinces you that your wants are more important than those of the law. And thus you are convinced that the law that is externally placed on you isn't as important. My father told me one time that he thinks the most important thing about Christianity is accepting the virgin birth, death and resurrection of Jesus are the most important things in the religion, because it will prove to you that Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore give him more authority. And this will convince people that what he says is indeed something that has to be considered true, and should be the most convincing things ever to motivate you to do "as God says". So in other words, it is the law of the country, with more authority, and harder consequences. But it is external motivation.
The temptation to still do what you want will be there if motivation is external. If you think that you can get away with something that you really want to do, you are going to give it a shot. You may find a way to get away with stealing; I mean look at how many people do already. The same should apply even if it is with Divine law versus country laws. Some people can find a way to validate cheating, such as "well if I cheat on this test, I will be able to pass the class and get this really great job and accomplish all kinds of great things" and justify breaking the rules. People do the same with religion. "If I burn this witch, the world will be a greater place". Charles Manson follower Sadie Atkins murdered in the name of love, she said that she was sending her victim to a better place. She managed to convince herself that she was doing good, and that she was following Jesus Christ (thinking that Charles was Jesus). She justified in her mind the actions that she took. If this can happen here, it can happen again. If you can manage to make it work in your mind that some action you take is indeed good, then you can do all kinds of harm, all it takes is justifying it in your mind, and a determined mind can find the needed loophole.
If motivation to do good was not external (doing something because it is what God wants), but rather internal, then it is more powerful. That is how people are able to justify doing harm; they convince themselves their case is an exception, and make it somehow work in their minds that they are special in this sense, that they will be forgiven or their case overlooked, or even that they are doing the correct thing in what they are doing. They convince themselves that what they want to do is what God wants them to do. My brother, while watching a movie one time, commented "isn't it strange that God always wants the same thing as the psychos", because in the movie that we were watching, this man was stating that beating his wife was what he was supposed to do, it is God's will that she obey him. If it is something that you want to happen, you can find a way to make it work so that it is the correct thing.
Now if someone is motivated to do good, because it is what they want, then they don't need to justify it in their minds. If someone is internally motivated, nothing is stronger than that. You have only yourself to obey, only yourself to say "hey, is this what I want" versus "hey, is this what God would want". You don't have to think about if you are doing right by someone else's point of view, you only have to think if it is correct for yourself. You don't have to justify yourself to God, you do what you think is right, or you do wrong and have only yourself to blame for the consequences. If you do right, then you can sleep with yourself at night, if you do wrong, you learn from the experience. I have hurt people on occasion, and it is not because Christianity says that hurting is a bad thing that makes me not repeat such experiences, it is because I actually inside feel bad for hurting someone. I regret my own actions, and then learn not to do it again. I do not repeat such experiences, because I feel it in my heart that what I did was bad. This is much more powerful a motive, at least to me personally, than not doing it because some obscure passage in the Bible listed a huge number of things that I should not do, and this qualifies as one of them.
In a conversation with my friend phoenix872002, we approached the point about whether it is more amazing to think of Jesus as mortal, or as divine. And we both agree that it is more powerful to think of Jesus as mortal. First off, it means that he was not in a sense "destined to win" because with God at your back, do you really think that you can lose? Possible, but not that likely. People will look at Jesus, and think "man, he is powerful and he did amazing things", but then turn around and look at their lives, realize that they don't have nearly that kind of ability, and not even try to motivate themselves into doing something that great. Secondly, if Jesus was just a man, then they can relate to him better. They will look at him and say, "he is not that different from me, he doesn't have anything that I don't have, I may not be as great as him, I may not achieve nearly as much, but I can give it a shot and see where I come out".
If you look at someone that is a nuclear physicist, you probably can't relate so well. If you consider doing some of the things s/he does, your eyes glaze over, your brain shuts down, and you sit there with a blank look on your face, because you know you can't achieve what that person can. If you look at someone that is just a regular Joe, working a nine-to-five, blue collar job, and find out all the wonderful things that he has done in his life, you are more likely to say "hey, that is achievable, I wonder if I can give it a shot", and are more motivated if you think that there is something that you yourself can do. If you go into the matter saying "well, what that person does is not something that I well ever be capable of doing, so why should I even bother?" you won't even make the attempt, and the message is lost.
If you see someone making an attempt at making something better in life, and you think that it is possible for you yourself to do something similar, then you will be more likely to do so. If you think from the very beginning that it is impossible, then you will not even make the attempt. That is why I think that the message that Jesus being mortal is more powerful than Jesus as Divine.
Church may help people become better. But I follow my own path, and I find that it works better for me. I do not choose to be theist; I do not choose to be atheist. And I do not feel like I am sitting on a fence trying to figure out which side is best suited for me. I already know where I am and why I am here. I am not trying to find the right path; I am already following it. I don't declare to know what is out there; I am experiencing it. I do not seek the path that presents you with all the answers, nor do I presume to know them already; I learn them as I go, and figure them out for myself, which answer is better for me than the others. I do not turn outwards when I need to make an internal decision; I turn inwards and look to myself. I do not follow the conventional religions; I do not follow the conventional non-religions. I am not theist, I am not atheist; I am agnostic.