Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why I'm an agnostic

In second grade, I understood why God approved of Samson burning the fields of the Philistines, but I couldn't understand why he approved of Samson doing that by setting fire to the tails of foxes. That was just mean.

Florida's schools were segregated in the early '60s, and Bible-reading was mandatory at the start of the day. I spoke up against both—think of me as the chibi version of the Klansman's favorite opponent, a godless commie niggerlover. By the end of the decade, the movements for civil rights and the First Amendment had been won in public schools: the Bible was out, black people were in. As I came into my teens, my side of my generation was famously focusing on sex, drugs, and rock and roll. People like lists of three, so the fourth usually gets left out: we were also trying alternatives to conventional Christianity and Judaism. I studied Theravada Buddhism and tried meditation and was fascinated by gnosticism and desperately wanted to know the answer to the great question, what's it all about?

Sometime in my teens, I learned about agnosticism. While I knew then that both theists and atheists included people who had doubts, agnosticism seemed the best description of what I was: I didn't know the truth, I was open to learning more, and since religion was no longer imposed by the government and public schools, I was concerned with other struggles.

I began seeing something that atheists mention while missing its full implication: if religious beliefs have little to do with whether we're good or bad, that applies to theists too. Their belief does not make them behave badly; their mistaken beliefs about goodness do. If that was not so, there would be no good people in any major religion, yet there are good people in all of them.

Lately, I've been thinking about something else: Only 3% of the US identifies as atheists and 4% identifies as agnostics. No one will make a better world without the help of the other 93%.

And I've been wondering about this: Why is the economic class I oppose the class that is most receptive to atheism?

It comes to this:

1. I don't feel obliged to take a side on something that can't be known.

2. I don't feel obliged to convert people to what I believe. If your understanding of the universe pleases you and you don't force it on others, I'm happy you found something that comforts you.