Thursday, February 9, 2012

I don't know what I don't know

I am an agnostic.

This isn't something I'm closed-mouthed about, or something I hide from people.  However, it's not usually something I talk about so openly (certainly not on a public blog) because religion and personal belief systems are icky topics that tend to make people uncomfortable and, sometimes, angry.  If they don't believe the same way as you, you must be right and they must be wrong.  How many wars can trace their roots back to differing belief systems?

But I decided to air this one over my blog, and on Facebook, because I'm tired of misunderstandings and misconceptions, and I have a few things I need to say.

As an agnostic, I neither believe nor disbelieve in some sort of higher power, deity, or deities.  Honestly, I just don't know, and I don't think I have enough information either way to make a decision.  On the one hand, it's difficult for me to believe in something I cannot see, hear, touch, smell, or taste.  On the other, I'd like to say that I keep an open mind to the world of possibilities.  I think the world--and the universe--is a big and mysterious place, and we cannot begin to quantify it all in terms and concepts we can understand.  On the other, just because something hasn't been explained doesn't mean it cannot.

This is not a place I arrived at quickly or easily.  I started questioning my own personal belief system when I was in my early teens.  This was where I arrived after years of reflection, and I've been here for the better part of a decade now.

I think maybe the ambiguity of it is uncomfortable for some people.  I have friends who are religious, and I have friends who are atheists.  (A roughly equal number of both, as a matter of fact.)  I find that I receive pressure--from both sides--to "decide," to "figure it out."  Do I believe in a higher power or not?  Pick a team, pick a side.

The atheists in my life, when I question the idea of where did we come from, how--if there is no higher power--something could come from nothing, say to me, "Oh, I was there once.  The chicken-and-egg argument.  You'll get to where I am eventually."

The religious people in my life, when I question why, if there is a higher power, the world tends to be such an incredibly screwed up, cruel place to so many, say, "You've just lost your way.  You'll find it again."

(And before I go on, I'd like to note that this is not all the atheists in my life, or all the religious people in my life, by any means.  But responses like this seem to happen almost every time my beliefs come up.)

I am not lost.  I am not undecided.  I have decided that I don't know.

I am not saying that this can't, or won't change.  But I don't think it's likely.  Sometimes I envy people who have faith--and I include atheists in this number.  Religious people have faith in a higher power.  Atheists have faith there is none.  It must be nice to feel like you have answers instead of just questions.  But I'm not wired that way.  Any answer I try only leads to more questions, and I'm not satisfied with answers that leave so much doubt.

I believe in asking questions.  I believe in questioning your assumptions.  I believe in keeping an open mind.  I believe in using words like "impossible" and "never" sparingly, because you don't know what you don't know.

I believe in possibility.

I also believe in respecting others and their belief systems.  I think this is one of the reasons why I've had friends from so many different nationalities, backgrounds, political affiliations, and belief systems.  As long as you respect me, and I respect you, it's all good.

You're allowed to disagree with me.  Most of the people I know do.  But don't patronize me.  For me, this is not a "stepping stone" to a less ambigious belief system.  I am not naive, nor am I having a crisis of faith (or a crisis of doubt, as it may be).  Until I see a vision in the sky saying, "This is the answer," I will continue to ask these questions.  (And even after I'd see such a vision, I'd probably still ask questions, like whether I should get an MRI to check for possible brain tumors.)

I could say, "I believe in a higher power," or "I am an athiest."  I could choose my faith, pick my side.  It would certainly be easier for me.  But that would make me a liar, and a hypocrite, and I respect myself too much to be either one of those things.

Personal beliefs are exactly that: personal.  Mine are no different.  When I tell you that I'm an agnostic, I'm not looking for help or guidance.  I'm okay with where I am.  I only ask that you respect that.

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