Religion and Agnosticism

I was going to go to hip church tonight, but I think riding bikes gives me the flu. (How else could one explain the fact that a few hours after my first ride in 3 years I suddenly feel like crap?) Nevermind, I'll use the time blogging and using the magic of the internet to set this so it doesn't appear until tomorrow so that you, my relatively faithful readers, won't get overloaded by too much thoughtful, funny, and interesting commentary in one day. Then I'm going to do some laundry and read some Creation Spirituality by Matthew Fox, who in my estimation moves between brilliant, traditional and WOOWOO(!) effortlessly, but who I'm also enjoying much more than I did five years ago when I first came across him. For now though, a thought from my apparently-illness-inducing bike ride.

I've talked about this before, but my ongoing question is are agnosticism and religion really to be treated as opposites?

Religion, after all, isn't necessarily gnosticism--even Christian religion. That is, it isn't always about possessing and adhering to some esoteric spiritual knowledge in order to obtain release, salvation, whatever. Religion in many of its healthiest forms is a system of rituals and the pursuit of a 'path'. It's a sort of rigorous commitment to a community, a system, and even to a god, but not necessarily to a set of beliefs. A-gnosticism, therefore, while it might be the opposite of 'belief' or 'knowing' or even 'faith', certainly isn't the opposite of (or incompatible with) religion. In the Christian tradition, one element of the honoring of the 'dark night of the soul' is certainly a recognition of agnosticism as a legitimate and even beneficial religious category.

The fact that we see these concepts as opposites points to several ideas, if you ask me: 1) Much of mainstream American Protestantism is off base, and has reductionized and fundamentalized itself to the point of heresy 2) Many of the cultured despisers of religion don't fully understand the complexity of the religious life and 3) The decline in religious community participation today might not be so much about belief as is sometimes assumed. (My theory: the cost/benefit of participation in a religious community has moved dramatically towards the 'cost' side of the equation, in most places in the Western world.)

I also think we need new categories if I'm going to be able to place people as neatly into ideological boxes as I would like.


catchawave said…
I wanted to address your Bike Riding Flu reality only because I relate to your experience. Like you, I had not riden a bike in a couple of years. So...
Some time ago in the Fall of the year, I decided to try out my new bike around the well paved streets of our rural neighborhood. I grabbed a jacket and headed for the door when my great aunt, who was then almost 100 yrs old said to me, "you had better put on a Hat or you might catch a Cold". It was a little windy that day, but not particularly that cold. So... I got that Cold and it came on by the time I went to bed that night.
This then somehow relates to the reason why people wore 'sleep caps' when they went to bed at night before there was Central Heat. Also having to do with the 'Soft Spot' on the top of the head that babies have at birth which slowly closes up.
We have been told over many generations to "Cover your Head". We know that most all Body Heat is lost through the top of your head.
In eastern religions this is also known as the 'Crown Chakra'. In the Jewish and Catholic religions people are shown to wear 'beanie' type hats during religious rites. Of other religions people are shown covering their heads with a scarf or shawl type fabric. What does all this have in common, if anything?
I want to mention also, that within the last hundred years the 'Gnostic Gosples', scrolls were unearthed in Egypt and were believed to be written by some esoteric sect at the time of Christ, and are considered hypocricy by the Church. So then, 'Agnostic' is a very new word and seems to relate to Christianity exclusively. In other words... do you believe in the "New Testament", word for word? Which brings me to...
How does the word 'Agnostic' and 'Atheist' mean the Same Thing across the board in relation to All religions or ones belief in God? It can only mean that one Questions or is Not Certain of the validity of the 'word for word' gosples as written and accepted by The Church, as the one true documentation of the life of Jesus of Nazerth, who was said to be the embodiment of God.
On the other hand, to be 'Atheist' must mean, to have No Knowledge of or Faith in a Supreme Intelligence that rules man and the universe.
Shayne Mathis said…
In regard to the comment by Catchawave,

Agnosticism is indeed a newish word. It was coined in the mid to late 1800s I believe. However, it was never intended to be associated with Christianity specifically. Rather, it deals with general metaphysical topics like the existence of gods or where we go when we die.

Agnosticism differs from atheism in that atheists dismiss the idea of gods, an afterlife, etc as totally false. Agnostics, on the other hand, aren't willing to make a truth claim either way; we believe that claims like the existence or nonexistence of God (for example) are unknowable and we can never really KNOW what the truth in these matters is.

I think what Tim is getting at in this post is that agnosticism and religion are not mutually exclusive: You can be a Christian, Jew, etc and also accept that you don't no for sure if you're belief system is right. Whether or not this is possible is debatable but that's what I take from the post.

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