10 Year Anniversary

10 years ago I started this blog with this post:

Well, I’ve started a new website. There are several Agnostic websites and resources already available on the Internet, but none of them totally feel like home. Also, none of them contain the content that I feel presents my beliefs 100% accurately. So I’ve decided to make an Agnostic site and here it is.

I’ve put up a few quick things to start it up. The FAQ only has 3 questions and answers, so that is definitely a work in progress. The Library only has what I’ve written as my Agnostic Bible and it will be a continuous work in progress for a good while to come. Finally, I installed this blog program real quick. I haven’t even figured out how to change the links on it yet. Like I said, it’s a definite work in progress.

I plan on spouting off in this blog from time to time about such things as this category, which is about the site itself. I’ll also post my musings about other topics in whatever categories I need to add. So check back in from time to time and there should be at least a little something fresh here.

This site is just one person’s hobby. I’m most proud of providing the Library page. I haven’t seen a good collection of agnostic writings anywhere else so it’s a good reason to keep this site up. I’m also proud of the Answers/FAQ page which hopefully 10yearsserves as an honest primer of agnosticism based on Huxley’s development of the term. It includes some good answers to various questions from Bertrand Russell. People try to steer the meaning of agnosticism in various directions so I like going back to the original intent. The original intent is to acknowledge the limits of human knowledge and our ability to understand our origins. I’m not sure there’s another agnostic website out there trying to showcase the founders of this agnostic viewpoint.

The blog part of this doesn’t get much readership and few comments, but I honestly write these posts for myself and don’t care how many or few people read them. I do thank everyone coming by and commenting since many of you get me thinking a little more. This blog is a way for me to talk out loud in a personal discussion of my viewpoints. Throwing it out there for the world to see makes me think a little more critically with some much needed structure. I know I ramble here and it’s just how I think sometimes.

I mentioned an Agnostic Bible in my first post. Agnostic.org is a parked domain now but it was a site with content and a posted “bible” of agnostic beliefs. I liked the idea of having my own reference book and started writing my own since their bible wasn’t a good read to me. After a while I took mine off this site because I didn’t like the idea of it being a bible. I’ve continued hacking at a body of text I’m now calling an agnostic guide. It’s built from bits and pieces of this blog as I try to mold my thoughts into a coherent ebook. Maybe I’ll publish it someday or it might just die off as my own personal guide.

I know I don’t post here often but I also don’t see a reason for completely stopping this either. Maybe I’m more apathetic than The Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic. Check them out for more frequent agnosticism. Otherwise, check back here every now and then to possibly see something… or not!

An Agnostic Look At Humanism

According to the American Humanist Association, Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity. The Humanist Manifesto III (2003) expands on this statement:

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through thHumanist-Logo-2-squaree ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

I’m not the type of person who needs a defined structure for philosophy and morality provided to me by an organization. I don’t want to simply follow any organization without question. I need my own deeper understanding for what I do. Freethinkers shouldn’t advocate for following an organized philosophy since following the whims of a group is counter to the ideals of being an independent freethinker.

However, humanism is unique with their manifesto stating humanism isn’t what we must believe, but is an attempt to reach a consensus of what we do believe. Just as humans are evolving beings, humanism appears to be an evolving philosophy. This is a good approach as long as it never reaches a final stage of dogma with rigid or absolute views of what humanism and morality must be.

I wouldn’t consider myself a humanist no matter how much I may personally support what they’re trying to achieve. This isn’t necessarily done as a criticism of humanism, but the definition of a humanist is to be a proponent or practitioner of humanism. This puts the humanist in the same category as any other -ists I avoid.

The -ist suffix means a person follows a principle or system of beliefs. In general, it isn’t a good idea to be a devoted follower of anything or anyone. It doesn’t mean I think we should avoid associating with compatible groups similar to our own principles and beliefs. I just think we shouldn’t blindly follow any of these groups when we participate in them.

I can’t imagine being a person that would embrace the humanist label to describe myself because I want to avoid the pitfall of automatically assuming my associated group is right in everything the group says and does. It tends to go that way when you adopt the label of a group with strong identity and start following a herd. I don’t want to be just one of the sheep in any flock.

Agnostic in the Middle?

Agnosticism isn’t a middle ground between theism and atheism. Theism is the umbrella term for faith-based belief systems such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, deism, and pantheism. Atheism is lacking belief in those belief systems. Agnosticism is concerned with our lack of knowledge about gods and supernatural causes for this universe.

agnosticatheist

comic from stanleycolors.com

I often feel like I’m stuck in the middle of belief and disbelief even though I’m on the side of disbelief as a de facto atheist. I’m criticized by both sides since I primarily define myself by our collective knowledge instead of what I believe today. I just don’t think anyone’s belief position is as important as our views of knowledge.

Sure, agnosticism means holding the creation question open to a certain extent. I have no problem doing that while rejecting the current set of theisms. We should continuously judge available information for anything that rises to the standards of knowledge as verifiable truths. In practical terms, an agnostic should come to an atheist conclusion on a daily basis even though we may not view atheism as the final answer.

Theism isn’t a final set of described beliefs so how can atheism be a final answer? One day we may finally understand some grand truth not currently dreamt of in our philosophies. Applying ignosticism to a scientifically researched variation of pantheism might give us a universal truth about some sort of universal intelligence. I don’t think it’s very likely, but the truth for me in agnosticism tells me it’s still a possibility.

If the universe itself is our creator then it could have used an intellect flowing through energy in a way we may never understand. I’m just a simple human but it’s the kind of idea where I say “sure, maybe there’s something to The Force in Star Wars and George Lucas might be a true prophet.” I’m mostly joking about The Force, but there’s something about the idea that just feels right even though it’s probably an illusion of my simple human senses. I know I don’t have faith enough to become a Jedi.

I don’t have the intellect or senses to know how all of existence simply came to be if it didn’t always exist. There’s new evidence that points to existence without a beginning. See No Big Bang? Quantum equation predicts universe has no beginning at phys.org. If this can be proven then hopefully the whole theism/atheism scale disappears in a puff of logic. Atheism isn’t needed without theism. We could still have agnosticism as long as humanity isn’t omniscient.

Back on topic, I still feel stuck in the middle because other people try to tell me I’m not believing or disbelieving correctly. People criticize agnosticism despite the evidence that we’re all just making it all up in the absence of verifiable truths. I can understand theist criticisms since they rarely deal in verifiable truths but atheist criticisms are confusing since there isn’t atheist dogma for me to violate.

Some theists argue with me that they know things about god or an intelligent creator through their faith and I should accept this unproven knowledge they’ve gained. They think I’m more open-minded than self-identified atheists even though I don’t share in their theism either. I’m still an unbeliever, infidel, and heretic but they sometimes get surprised and upset when I won’t see their truth.

On the other side, some atheists try to argue agnosticism is useless so I should fully embrace atheism. They push atheism as an obvious final answer since the current major theism of their focus is unproven. They insist we should define ourselves based on our rejection of other people’s specific beliefs. They say nobody can justifiably call themselves agnostic and sometimes get upset when I won’t see their truth. Would this be an atheist attempt at dogma?

Anyway here’s some examples of “Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you” starting with one of the most polite exchanges I’ve had on Twitter with a believer:

‏@lcorbo13  Being in a pitch black room does not mean it is empty. It means U simply can’t see anything. #Catholic #Christian #atheist #agnostic

‏@AgnosticU  “Being in a pitch black room does not mean it is empty. It means U simply can’t see anything” or know it’s empty or not #agnostic

@lcorbo13  Thats why you walk around and search the room rather sit in a corner and keep asking yourself if it is empty or not..

@AgnosticU  Very true, but what if simple us lack the right senses to experience what could be? We may not be equipped to ever understand…

@lcorbo13  U are trying to come up with any solution that eliminates the OPTION of God.

@AgnosticU  God is a specific concept requiring great leaps of imagination and faith. Universe as creator is possible but intellect unknowable

@lcorbo13  U R making assumptions…. If U say God is imagination and that is a fact U share a burden of proof too.

@AgnosticU  I didn’t invent human definitions of “God” so I don’t share in a burden of proof for the unlikely beings described by others

@lcorbo13  I deflect…have a good day..Peace to you

@AgnosticU  have a good life and peace to you as well :-)

Here’s a recent exchange with an atheist claiming people shouldn’t call themselves agnostic. It wasn’t directed specifically at me but I answered the general criticism:

‏@Zohso  Stop calling yourself agnostic. Everyone’s #agnostic. The question becomes, “What do you believe?” #atheism #Christianity

‏@AgnosticU  Everyone isn’t #agnostic. Believers make knowledge claims of gods & say their faith is proof. #agnosticism says knowledge > belief

‏@Zohso  the guy in the asylum also talks to elves. Just because someone CLAIMS something doesn’t make it so. Default: Christian=agnostic

@AgnosticU  We know they don’t know, but they seldom identify as agnostic which is often a first step for switching to knowledge to find truth.

@Zohso  but see, agnosticism is NOT a middle ground somewhere between belief and disbelief. It’s a position of knowledge. #epistemology

‏@AgnosticU  Agree agnosticism isn’t middle ground. Truth about knowledge is much more important than beliefs/disbeliefs so I emphasize agnostic

@Zohso Let’s first establish we’re both using the same definition of “agnostic.” Is this definition the same? http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/agnostic

‏@AgnosticU  Our definition of agnostic (noun) is same. Most religious people don’t claim to be agnostic and believe ancient books are knowledge.

@AgnosticU  atheism helps very few people see truth about knowledge, #agnosticism helps show the folly of blind faith beliefs

@Zohso  again, everyone is agnostic. Someone’s belief can either be theistic or atheistic. There is no middle ground. It’s binary.

‏@AgnosticU  Not everyone describes themselves as agnostic. Religious don’t care about knowledge. Atheistic agnostic with emphasis on agnosticism.

‏@Zohso  I think @pennjillette gives one of the best descriptions in the first couple of minutes in this interview. http://youtu.be/4_WKlttKRDw

@AgnosticU  non-theists are both we don’t know/we don’t believe. Both are fine if using one to be short, why deny agnostics can be?

‏@Zohso  That’s completely fine… Just answer the question, “As an agnostic, what do you believe?”

‏@AgnosticU  I don’t believe in any religions, but what we know is the better question. atheistic agnostic

This is a recent conversation so it may continue but I doubt anything more meaningful will be said. Penn Jillette is right that we’re both agnostic and atheist depending on the question but we differ in which question we think is more important. @Zohso says we shouldn’t call ourselves agnostic because he thinks we’re better defined in terms of what other people believe. For me, that gives more legitimacy to those human defined beliefs to only define ourselves as a rejection of them.

The same logic that we shouldn’t call ourselves agnostic could be used against humanists. Humanists put their own focus and emphasis on humanism even though they’re also de facto atheists. I’m a bit of a humanist so maybe I’m an agnostic atheist humanist. It’s too many terms so I pick the one that means the most to me.

You could go even further and say human defined theisms are unproven and false so everyone is atheist. Saying there are no true theists means they should just admit the truth and call themselves atheist. See how silly it can get when you try to force definitions on other people?

This is what happens when you concern yourself a bit too much with what other people believe and call themselves. I could see an issue if I tried to redefine the terms but I used the commonly agreed upon definitions. I just try to focus on agnosticism as my core viewpoint, but for some reason there are people that just won’t let agnostics self-identify as such based on historical agnosticism. Please just let agnostics exist if that’s what we feel like using as our label. It doesn’t impact your viewpoint.

Both religious and disbelief viewpoints are capable of being stupid and unreasonable in the areas where we lack specific knowledge to support our views. It’s yet another thing that makes me see agnosticism as the right fit for me. We just don’t KNOW and what’s so bad about proclaiming that viewpoint?

Blasphemy In Our Agnostic Nation

Religious beliefs and our rights of free expression to criticize those beliefs are on my mind lately with the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Fanatical believers tried to enforce religious blasphemy laws with their own hands in countries that don’t have those laws in their government.

I watched with interest as devout Christians in the US supported the right to be blasphemous against Islam even though the same people have cried about the need to restrict free speech when their beliefs were criticized or mocked. Some examples are in this Salon article about 5 times the right flipped out over blasphemous depictions of Christianity.

all great truths begin as blasphemies

Those Christians often try to claim the USA as a Christian Nation despite our clearly secular government. We even have Mike Huckabee claiming the country has become a secular theocracy which he needs to fight. The argument for a Christian Nation usually centers on the beliefs of the founding fathers and the majority of our citizens regardless of what was actually codified in the constitution and laws. It shouldn’t be disputable, but Huckabee claims our country’s laws (from and for the people) are actually the natural laws of his jealous God who demands no other gods before him. No thank you!

The “nation” isn’t actually secular. We have an awful lot of individual religiosity permeating our communities while our government and laws are supposed to remain neutral. We can’t ignore this fact in the unbelieving minority. The laws clearly allow us to not believe as the majority does while they also allow for the free exercise of religions by individuals and groups. This causes much confusion in government and the public square as we balance an overall freedom of religion with individual freedoms to do as they wish while not being forced to go along with other beliefs or disbeliefs.

Mike Huckabee’s call for a God-centered nation with God-given laws is equivalent to Muslim desires for Sharia law. It’s sad that so many Christians don’t see that purely biblical law has no place in our free and democratic society even though they’re free to use it in their churches. They can ban birth control and gay marriage in their church but they should quit trying to push those religious-based rules on the country.

Democracy isn’t compatible with any type of theocracy and that includes Huckabee’s invention of a secular theocracy. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean every public square should be devoid of religious expression. The public square is for the use of the public to come together as communities and hopefully celebrate their differences. Like it or not, a variety of religious expression is a part of being an American and that includes our non-Christian religions and non-religious lack of beliefs.

Tax dollars shouldn’t be directly funneled to support any of these viewpoints. The right model is the town square that allows a variety of privately funded holiday displays. Street parades should be allowed for veterans, ethnic pride, gay pride, Christian pride, science, and everything else we can celebrate in this country! Banning all viewpoints to promote a sterile unbiased secular government is un-American.

In belief or disbelief, we should all be able to honestly agree that nobody truly knows. Nothing on the belief scale rises to the standard of knowledge. If everyone else can claim what type of nation we are then I can propose the most inclusive label. I see the United States as an Agnostic Nation with a secular government full of agnostic theists and agnostic atheists. Let’s have so much religious freedom that we all remain free to believe in ways that are blasphemous against other religions just as our neighbors are free to be blasphemous against our beliefs and disbeliefs.

The Muslim and Mike Huckabee alternatives to our blasphemous freedoms could take our nation to a theocratic society that’s simply too scary to imagine. Yes, Christians, a Christian Nation would be a terrible thing. All you have to do is pick a denomination you disagree with (Catholic? Mormon?) and imagine their religious leaders telling you how to live your life. Would you really want that?

Happiness and Religion

Religion has been described as the opiate of the masses. A recent study finds that religious people are much happier than others. Those “others” are all of us non-believers not going to church and not talking to a powerful imaginary friend. Are we missing out on a good opiate that increases happiness in our lives?

The study doesn’t give a clear answer:

The correlation between religiosity and happiness is clear, but explanations of the connection and possible causal relationship are less clear. One theory suggests that the social support that religious communities can provide may be a key factor contributing to increased happiness, since “religious Americans are more apt to be involved in their communities.” Yet even here, the study found “that those who attend religious services often are happier than their peers with similar levels of involvement in the community.”

I always assumed it was the common bond and support of a community that added to their happiness. The study has been repeated and still holds true so there must be something to it. It obviously doesn’t prove religion is right but it does show religion provides an extra something to people’s happiness that simply not being religious doesn’t replace. It’s something to think about during religious holidays with our secular observances. The article ends with:

One could almost predict that many of those celebrating Christmas will be merry, those observing Hanukkah will be happy, but those only recognizing the “holidays” will have a little less cause for rejoicing.

I’d like to see a study that delves into those that simply drop religion and ground themselves in humanity and atheism. I like to think I’m not just that kind of person. I still live in awe of the universe and the mystery of our existence.

Where atheism tears downs the wonder and miracle of it all, agnosticism simply says we don’t understand it. The human described gods aren’t the answer but no god at all isn’t necessarily the answer either. I just don’t know. Freethought should allow for all of us to believe as we choose as we’re all just trying to figure it out.

I marvel at the mystery of it all during winter solstice, Yule, Christmas, or whatever this season is to me. I’m thankful to be alive and have my family and friends. I hope that whatever makes you happy with religions or no religions isn’t hurting anyone else and that you all are free to be yourselves. I wish for freethought and joy for everyone during this winter season!

winter happiness