28 January 2007

Why did you end up agnostic? (Part 2)

This is Part 2.

Part 1 is here.

We were discussing in the previous part about how, thanks to no pressure at all from anyone, I grew up an apatheist.

I did point out in that part that atheists and theists have a problem with apatheism in that they don’t understand it.

If you're an atheist or a theist who doesn't get it, I can probably tell you about apatheism by asking the following question:

When cutting a 100mm slab to put in an air-con drain pipe, and assuming that the cut required is 50mm deep by 50mm wide, is there a school of thought as to whether this is allowable based on current building regulations?

Some would suggest that if it’s roof slab, you need to be aware of the rate of decay of the reinforcing bars, regardless of re-concreting over and waterproofing.

Others would add to this any time that the slab covers a void of some sort, including basements, crawlspaces, passageways etc.

In my honest opinion, this is all very important stuff and all, and it probably affects every apartment block ever built, but do I really care?

Getting it wrong can affect tens or hundreds of lives. But do I really care?

I mean, really. Should I care?

This is how religion appears to the apatheist. Irrelevant. Boring. Full of rules that make no sense at all to the uninitiated. Or, more accurately, indoctrinated.

Ask yourself this: Football. Music. Chicks. Religion. Is it really any wonder that the last one just couldn’t find space in my short attention span?

Oh, I forgot to try to cram schoolwork in there, too.

I think that it was third year uni when I began to start thinking a little more deeply about religion than what I had in the past.

It all happened one lunchtime in Union House. I was manning the ticket table for a play that was being staged at the residential college where I lived at the time. I had, at various times that day, been approached by various members of all three major Christian campus groups and asked about my thoughts about the meaning of life, whether I believed that Jesus had died for my sins and whether I would like to come along to a prayer meeting or three.

The major campus Christian groups had tables set up somewhat permanently in Union House, and would be hassling everyone who passed by to come along on a daily basis. I thought that by virtue of manning another table, I’d be immune, but I still got hassled.

In fairness, I also got hassled by a rather attractive brunette in a top showing her bellybutton with a tray of brightly coloured drinks that I was assured would make me smarter.

Even though I was in third year at university, the pseudoscience of Smart Drinks™ would probably have been completely plausible to me, had I heard a word that she was saying. As it was, I suspect that I was concentrating on flirting way too hard to actually take in anything that she was saying and can only dimly recall the words “amino acids”. I had about three different coloured thimble-sized samplers that day, and I can tell you right now, felt no different at all.

Anyway, being hassled by the campus Christians was a daily occurrence. Being hassled by scantily-clad marketers on campus was slightly more unusual – the Womens’ Collective normally would frighten this sort of marketing initiative off into another state.

But the “wimmin” didn’t appear to be around today, so our young Smart Drink™ sample dispenser could go berzerk. I’m sure that it wasn’t lost on her that every bloke who went up to her to sample her wares was flirting with her big time, if not hitting on her outright, but I’m digressing here. The sight of those flawless, tanned, athletic legs disappearing into a ridiculously short pleated mini-skirt was, I’m sure, not noticed by anyone there that day.

I had just breathed a sigh of relief as a third, over-ardent young Christian tacitly admitted defeat in getting me to attend one of their prayer meetings. He’d scarcely handed me one of his group’s flyers and gone on his way when another young gentleman came up to me.

Swearing under my breath, I greeted our new addition, whom I’ll call “The Dude,” with bemused insincerity. Our conversation went a little like this:

Dude: I see the campus Christians won’t leave you alone either.

Me: *winces and waits for inevitable approach line*

Dude: My name’s The Dude, and I was wondering what your thoughts on religion are?

Me: Dude, I don’t have any thoughts on religion.

Dude: That’s great, cause you know, our group is always looking for fresh ideas and thoughts especially with regards to the relentless bombardment of everyone with other students forcing their religion down others' throats.

Me: Um, when I said, ‘I don’t have any thoughts on religion,’ what I meant to say was, ‘I have no interest in religion.’

Dude: And that’s fine. Our members have no interest in religion, either. In fact, one of our topics this week will be taking action to stop the insane amount of proselytising that all the campus Christians have been doing lately…

Me: What did you say your group was called?

Dude: We’re the University Atheist Society.

Me: Dude, has anyone noticed that you’re proselytising?

Dude: No I’m not… That’s like saying atheism is a religion and it’s not… And there has to be a belief system for proselytising… [Insert atheist cliché here]… [And here]… Blah blah-dy blah.

Me: Right. When you stop rambling, please try to understand this. I have no interest in religion. This directly implies that I have no interest in joining the uni’s atheist society.

Dude: But atheism isn’t a religion.

Me: I never said it was. But it's irrelevant anyway - having no interest in religion almost completely infers no interest in atheism.

Dude: No it doesn’t…

Me: Don’t argue, Dude. And, let me finish – I don’t really care who comes up to sell their wares to me, be they Christians, atheists or nubiles with Smart Drinks

Narrator: At this point we both looked over at the sensuous figure in the pleated mini-skirt and crop top as she had a laugh with another bloke who must have been on his fifth or sixth Smart Drink sample.

Me again: …all I ask is that they don’t get hypocritical or sanctimonious. Do you understand?

Dude: Yes. I’m sorry I disturbed you.


And then he slunk off. I felt a bit bad, actually, like I’d been too hard on him, but it was nearly the end of my shift on the table, and quite frankly I was a bit rattled. I may also have been hung-over, although I don’t recall this specifically.

I also may have been a bit dishonest with him – I rather liked our young Smart Drink dispenser looking for conversation and picking me out of everyone there. That is, I probably would have tolerated a bit of hypocrisy or sanctimoniousness from her.

This event was a bit of an epiphany for me, as I now went out of my way to learn a bit more about religion, atheism and the like. This took about two or three years.

Apathy does take a long time to shift.

Atheism, I saw in the dictionary, was one who believed that God doesn’t exist. Tossed that one around in my head for a bit. Decided it was too “final” for me.

I came back to agnosticism, which was a word that I recalled learning at school. I remember having someone tell me that an agnostic was one who doubted.

I looked it up and noticed that this particular definition was right up my alley – agnostics expect that evidence will never be found concerning the existence or otherwise of God.

I had been listening to the long running Skeptics show on 3RRR (don’t think it’s on anymore which is a real shame because it was an excellent show put together by the Australian Skeptics that introduced me to the work of James Randi) and I noticed that you could turn this definition on its head and view it another way – that is, an agnostic will not accept a position concerning the existence or otherwise of God without evidence.

This fitted me like a glove at the time, and I don’t believe that I’ve changed all that much since then.

I have however, noticed that theists and atheists really, really don’t understand agnostics. Probably more so than how they don’t understand apatheists.

And I’ll discuss this some more in part 3.

15 comments:

taj said...

I wonder why they would bother giving away samplers for such Smart Drinks. Is there is a measurable, non-zero proportion of the population that tries a sample and says, "why yes! I feel more clever already! Here's all my money." Surely the placebo effect is not pronounced enough to make this profitable...

Dikkii said...

Taj wrote:

Is there is a measurable, non-zero proportion of the population that tries a sample and says, "why yes! I feel more clever already! Here's all my money." Surely the placebo effect is not pronounced enough to make this profitable...

LOL!

Reminds me of the Simpsons episode where they go to Lollapalooza and Otto drinks a Smart Drink.

Otto: Oh man, I've wasted my life.

A few of us would benefit from such a drink...

taj said...

I clearly have not been taking my dose of smartdrink, as I don't recall that particular bit of that episode. Shame on me - it was a good episode and it featured an inflatable pig and also Cypress Hill.

Did you consider setting up a "We don't care enough about The God Question to Join Your Club" club? It is likely you would have been funded by the university.

ted said...

I'd have thought there'd be a problem with the samplers. One sip and you'd see right through the tacky marketing, no matter how scantily clad...:)

Dikkii said...

Taj wrote:

Did you consider setting up a "We don't care enough about The God Question to Join Your Club" club? It is likely you would have been funded by the university.

Actually, QC and myself pondered that exact same question - how to fleece the university of some much needed drinking money by setting up a "club".

As I recall, the Kiteflyers club did that with breathtaking boldfacedness. The Kiteflyers Ball each year became one of the "must attend" events of the academic calendar.

Ted wrote:

I'd have thought there'd be a problem with the samplers. One sip and you'd see right through the tacky marketing, no matter how scantily clad...:)

Well put.

Rockstar Ryan said...

Agreed 100% that any atheist who goes around preaching that the xians preach too much is a moron.

I hate labels, but when people ask me if I'm an atheist I usually say either "yes" or "none of your fucking business".

My position is simply that since there is no evidence of the existence of any supernatural, I choose to believe it does not exist. Just like I told that kid over on 2%'s blog:

I'd change my stance in a heartbeat if there were supporting evidence.

Dikkii said...

RR wrote:

My position is simply that since there is no evidence of the existence of any supernatural, I choose to believe it does not exist. Just like I told that kid over on 2%'s blog:

I'd change my stance in a heartbeat if there were supporting evidence.


RAmen to that.

Must admit I'm pretty much the same on this.

I'm not really a big fan of labels, myself.

If I was, I'd be describing myself as a "centrist skeptical agnostic small-a anarcho-capitalist disestablishmentarian and diehard Swans fan."

Too much of a mouthful for anyone, really.

Tom Foss said...

I always find myself bristling a bit when I hear folks making derogatory comments about wishy-washy agnostics. Especially when it's atheists making the comments, and especially when it's people I respect. I mean, this is the first agnostic blog I think I've ever seen (besides my own), which leads me to believe either that we're too quiet, I'm not looking hard enough, or that most folks haven't ever met an agnostic.

Like you, I initially chose the term out of a misconception of the meaning of "atheist," i.e., someone who believes that God does not exist (as opposed to the subtle but important distinction of "someone who does not believe in the existence of god"). I've stuck with the term, and I give my reasoning in the post I linked to above (so I don't clutter your comments with it).

It's interesting; just yesterday I was thinking about amending my personal label to that of "agnostic atheist," given partly how much I identify with atheists. I live like an atheist, after all, assuming the null hypothesis on the existence of God(s) as any decent scientist would. And, I suspect, most atheists would, like Ryan, accept that existence on the basis of positive evidence. But when it comes right down to it, the question of the existence of God doesn't really affect my day to day life, except when I'm reading and posting on blogs like these.

So, it's nice to discover that I'm not the only blogging agnostic around. And I'll mull over the question of "agnostic atheism" a little more, with a little less desire to be part of a label-group.

Dikkii said...

Hi Tom, and thanks for stopping by. You wrote:

I always find myself bristling a bit when I hear folks making derogatory comments about wishy-washy agnostics. Especially when it's atheists making the comments, and especially when it's people I respect.

I think I'm totally with you on this, particularly with regards to certain recent comments by a certain writer (whom I respect and admire greatly) in a particular book that sold by the bucketloads last year.

I think you may know who I'm referring to.

I'll actually be examining these comments to a greater extent in Part 3 as I think that they illustrate perfectly the idea that agnosticism isn't well understood.

You also wrote:

I mean, this is the first agnostic blog I think I've ever seen (besides my own), which leads me to believe either that we're too quiet, I'm not looking hard enough, or that most folks haven't ever met an agnostic.

I think that there's a stigma associated with agnostics which I associated in a previous comment with "collaborateurs" (*'Allo 'Allo style French accent off*) in WWII France.

Needless to say, I don't think that there are terribly many people who identify as being "agnostic". Sad, really.

I don't think I misconceived the meaning of the word, "atheist", I think that the meaning has actually changed.

I offer no evidence other than the Oxford English Dictionary (the definitive source for all of us outside North America) says so, and it is a reflective, rather than a prescriptive dictionary.

Part three (yes, Adam, if you're reading, you knew this was coming) I'll actually get into some semantic pedantry on this.

I like the term "agnostic atheist", but I don't see the need to use it where the word "agnostic" says enough. Particularly after I was able to re-word the established definition of agnostic to read as follows:

"An agnostic will not accept a position concerning the existence or otherwise of God without evidence."

Says enough for me.

Incidentally, I hope you don't mind if I add yours to my blogroll - I don't think I have any agnostics there, yet.

Nice to know there are a few of us out there.

beepbeepitsme said...

You're tagged mate. :)

ted said...

I don't really think it matters how you label yourself anymore. Atheist or agnostic, I don't think there's many "non believers" in this world who, if god were to come and smite them mightily, wouldn't change their mind.

That said, I have to agree Dikkii that the meaning atheist has certainly changed, so has the meaning of agnostic though, I think. As you know, I have many dictionaries and none of them really seem to capture how either of those terms are used in todays language.

Personally I call myself an atheist and I agree that me proselytising my position is just as annoying as a christian doing it, if I'm not in the right forum for it. But if proof should be forthcomming, then of course I'll change my mind.

Dikkii said...

Beep: Aah!

Ted: I like the term - "non-believer", but it's a bit of a mouthful.

I'm actually a fan of something that I think Carl Sagan wrote on this - if no evidence exists where we should ordinarily expect evidence to be found for the existence of something, it's not unreasonable to believe that that certain something does not exist.

Covers most woo, I think, except for the relatively recent stuff.

ted said...

I almost wrote "unbeliever" but that doen't really cut it. "Non believer" on the other hand, seems to pretty much sum up the whole atheist/agnostic thing...

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said...

I've always been comfortable with the seemingly-waffling term "Agnostic Atheist" because, in my opinion, it accurately describes what I believe (or don't.)

I'm agnostic because personal experience has shown me that no one can know, for sure, that there is a God. Sure, I was raised as a Christian, but nothing in that upbringing led me to believe that an actual God even existed (the Bible being anecdotal, apocryphal, mistranslated, and/or completely fictional).

Not to say that there, definitely, isn't some sort of "God." I mean, there might be some sort of Deist "higher power" wholly unknown to us, maybe. Granted, not a single God (of any stripe) has been able to prove to me that he/she/it exists, though...

On the other hand, I'm also an ardent atheist because, as I'm wont to say, "If you can name a God, I don't believe in it."

Once again, because no God (as far as humanity understands a "God") has contacted me directly.

So, I'll leave open a slim possibility for some Deist manifestation of God to, albeit impotently, exist. I'll even, in a fit of unwarranted generosity, give it 50-50 odds.

But if you're talking about a specific, Human-Religion-Based-God, then I say, "No! Unless your God can make a definitive personal appearance, he/she/it is either a piece of shit or nonexistent!"

Dikkii said...

Jenner, you wrote:

But if you're talking about a specific, Human-Religion-Based-God, then I say, "No! Unless your God can make a definitive personal appearance, he/she/it is either a piece of shit or nonexistent!"

I've never uderstood why anyone would want to believe in a God that is such a bad bloke.

On the "evidence" provided in the bible, I'd much rather have a beer with Satan. He seems a bit more balanced.