Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Ignorance is This

EDIT 09/11/2015: I fixed up some of the language to reflect my current understanding and education in relation to these words and their meaning, and also changed some of the less charitable word choices to be more forgiving. My position has not changed, so the meaning of this blog post has not changed, merely its attitude

I hate it when people misuse words. Words exist to communicate ideas, and when you try to warp their meaning, you make communication more difficult. But there's a certain kind of misused word that really annoys me, and that's the entitled misused word. Words like "terrorism" when it's used to fight wars; words like "nigger" when it's used to demean & words like "love" when it's used to control.
These words have meanings that are misused and misapplied in such a way as to benefit the speaker while confusing the listener. Of all the misused words, there is a certain misused word that I keep hearing ALL the time. It's starting to seem like people are building their whole lives around it, despite the fact that the word they are looking for doesn't exist.
The Word of the Day is: 'AGNOSTIC'.

Agnostic /ag'nostik/ n. 1. Someone who believes that human knowledge is limited to experience and that God is unknowable. ♦n. 2. Having to do with agnostics or their beliefs. 3. Claiming that all knowledge, or a particular question, is relative and uncertain.

I am an Atheist, myself. That means, I don't believe there is a god. Now, the opposite of Atheism would be Theism, which is belief is a god. This is a binary system. Do/Don't. It can't get simpler than that. You can try to complicate it with "Polytheism" or "Spirituality", but in answer to the question "Do you believe in God?" there are two possible answers, 'Yes' and 'No'. But some people seem to believe this exists on a sliding scale that goes:
Atheism - - - - - - - Agnosticism - - - - - - - Theism
There's this deeply ingrained belief that "Agnostic" means "I believe there 'might' be a god". This doesn't make any sense to me at all. Either you think something is or you think it isn't. As I said, binary system. Like a lightswitch, ON or OFF. Even if you try to hold a lightswitch in the middle, the light will always be either on or off. Even if it's flickering, at any one moment it's either on or off, it can't be both at the same time. More importantly, it can't be neither at the same time, it must be one or the other.

But let's stop on that for a moment, because this isn't about my inability to perceive their beliefs. I also don't understand how someone logical can still believe in God in this day and age, but people do. So let's move onto something more important.

Agnostic does NOT mean "Someone who believes their 'might' be a God". If you believe that is the case, then the definition is right up there, check it out. But more than that, I want to introduce you to another word: GNOSTIC.
This is the opposite of 'agnostic', and I'm gonna get Dictionary to give you the definition, so you don't go thinking it means "Someone who believes there might not be a god".

Gnostic /'nostik/ adj. 1. Relating to knowledge. 2. Having knowledge, especially knowledge of spiritual things. 3. (cap.) Related to or common to the Gnostics. ♦n. 4. (cap.) A member of any of certain sects among, or religiously similar to, the early Christians, who claimed to have superior knowledge of spiritual things.

The 'a-' prefix in agnostic, (generally) means "not", just like it does in words like asexual, amoral or asymmetric. It is the opposite of the word Gnostic and Gnosis is the Greek word for "knowledge", often used in the context of spiritual knowledge. While I could easily take this moment for the stealth insult of claiming all agnostics have no knowledge, this actually goes a lot deeper. Because even these supposed 'agnostics' can read this and think:
"Yeah, NOT and KNOWLEDGE, so it means I DO NOT KNOW. Makes sense to me."
But this isn't talking about what you do know, it's talking about what you can know. If you think "I don't know if God exists or not, but if you show me proof either way then I will believe/disbelieve accordingly", then claiming you are agnostic is not the full story. See, Dictionary says that agnostics believe "God is unknowable".
True Agnostics are, basically, those that believe that there is no evidence for God because of God's Nature, and that God is imperceivable in any way. It doesn't mean "I can't tell if God exists, so I can neither confirm nor deny" it actually means "I can't see, feel, know or understand God, the supernatural or the nature of spirituality".
You may note, that this doesn't make any claims about your position on existence, it's not fence-sitting, it is the claim that you can't know something without evidence. See, this isn't a sliding Scale, it's just another binary system. Rather than a sliding scale, the scoreboard looks like this:

Agnostic/Gnostic
Atheism/Theism

There's four potential beliefs here

Gnostic Theism
This is most religions. They believe there is a god, and they can understand that god's will and percieve what they call its influence on the world. These tend to be the more fundamentalist and irrational bible-thumpers; sometimes, literally insane.

Agnostic Theism
This is the belief that there is a god, but you cannot percieve or know him in any way, you just have to have faith. They are more likely to question religious claims. These are often called "moderate" theists; they are harmless and kind people.

Gnostic Atheism
This is the belief that, through science, we will come to understand everything about the universe. There are no gods, and it is impossible for there to be a god. These are often called "hard-line atheists" and they tend to be quite conceited.

Agnostic Atheism
This is the belief that there is no proof of a supernatural deity, and pragmatically speaking, there is no god. These are most commonly called "Skeptics", and while there are different degrees of skepticism, this tends to be the most scientific position.

I identify myself as an Agnostic Atheist, but these days it misrepresents my true beliefs, so I tend not to do that anymore in public forums. Because people think it means that I am still a 'little bit' theist. But I am not at all, I am just open-minded, and capable of accepting the concept of the supernatural; however as a logical man, I also know that possibility is not the same as reality, so I make a fundamental pragmatic assertion that when something cannot be observed in any way, then it should not be treated as though it can be observed in any way.
However, I was frustrated with the amount of time I had to spend explaining to people what Agnostic really meant whenever someone asked me about my faith, since people kept sticking to this "agnostic means I don't know" myth.

To be perfectly clear here - there is no one word for the "religious fence-sitter". I can think of a few words that I would choose such as ignorant, uneducated and foolish. But that's just name-calling which, while deserved, is deconstructive.
Sure, if you don't know the truth then you are definitely an agnostic. But that's still doesn't answer the question of faith. It's like if someone asked my favourite flavour of ice-cream, and I said "with sprinkles on top". It's the unimportant part of the wrong answer to the given question.

But it's impossible to have this answer of "I don't know" because it's a binary system. You either believe that something exists is or you don't. We all know that both are intellectually possible, but we do believe one. If you think I'm being unreasonable, allow me to explain my position.


Going back to the lightbulb analogy, when a lightbulb is first made, it is off. It's only after it's plugged into the power source that it becomes on, but it is still in that binary system, on or off. It's the same with people.
All born children are atheists, because they have yet no religion or belief, they are babies. It's the default position. In the absence of matter, there is a vacuum & in the absence of thought there is atheism, it's super simple stuff - I recognize that those words could be quote-mined by fundamentalists to insult atheists, but the fact is, it's true; atheism is not an arrogant position, it's just the default, logical position. It is in the most literal way, common sense. Even religion knows this, that's why they invented baptism, to introduce children to God, they know that all children are born without any theistic belief. But, baptised or not, the child is an atheist until it is presented with either religion, philosophy or science regarding the nature of the universe. But as soon as these issues are brought to your attention, you need to make up your mind:
Do I believe that a God created all of this?

I want to remind you, I am not telling you to be an atheist. I know that I'm right, but religious folks know that they are right as well, such is the fickle nature of knowledge. No matter how much paperwork, fact or support I have on my side, this is still a question of personal discovery and belief. Indoctrinated fact is still indoctrination, and everyone deserves the chance to question what they are told as truth. So you need to discover for yourself what you believe in. I'm not telling you what to choose, I am merely asking you to make a choice.

If you are over the age of 12, and haven't decided what you believe about the universe yet, you are ignorant. Literally, you are ignoring reality.
This is one of the most important questions in the world, and you couldn't come up with an answer? The worst part is, this isn't a question about fact, it's a question about faith. It's a question about what is happening in your own head!
If you don't know what you are thinking or believing within your own head, then you are just being ignorant, and I make no apologies for that.
If you still haven't made up your mind by now, you're not Agnostic you're Ignorant.

If you don't like being ignorant, then answer this simple question: Do you believe there is a God?

Take your time, because if you have finished primary school and answer with anything other than Yes or No, then you are both Ignorant and Incorrigible.


Now please, spread the Word! That is, the word 'agnostic' and what it really means. Or, hell, just link self-proclaimed agnostics to this page and let them learn the hard way, because I am getting sick of this misused language. People seem to think they can hide behind this 'I don't know' state of affairs. But the truth is, it's a cop-out for the weak willed. Just someone too scared to admit how they really feel or too spineless to put their foot down and make a decision. Some people are really proud of their agnostic beliefs, but I don't understand how anyone can feel proud about not having made up their mind.
So let's reintroduce the word agnostic to the masses, and represent this misguided subculture for what they really are: Indecisive Ignorants.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and in case you were wondering, my favourite flavour of ice-cream is strawberry ripple.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for clarifying; I was told that "agnostic" means that you believe something is out there but you don't know exactly what IS out there. Need to use the dictionary more.

    Has someone been reading Life of Pi, by the way? Pi also says that he hates agnostics, saying they sit on the fence.

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    Replies
    1. No, I haven't seen Life of Pi. I was told that the movie's premise was that a man had a story that was proselytizing and as a skeptical man I looked up the story.

      But apparently it's core conceit is SPOILER: "If the truth is scary, then a lie is better". Since that is insulting, to me at least, I refused to watch the film.
      [I get my information from MovieBob's review of Life of Pi, not the film itself: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/escape-to-the-movies/6573-Life-of-Pi]

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