Friday, October 27, 2006

From May 05:
Concerning agnosticism. For years now I've considered myself more or less an agnostic. I didn't really know that much about the term, I just thought it meant "don't know" based on the way the word is constructed (a- as a prefix usually means "not"; "gnosis" comes (I think) from the greek word for knowledge). I do very much believe that there are limits to how much it is possible for me to know about many things-- what will happen after I die, what exactly happens when I pray, what exactly I'm connecting with when I feel like I'm connecting to what I think of as "God." To phrase it a little differently: I believe in a number of things that I've experienced and continue to experience but I don't claim to know what they are. I thought that was at least within the parameters of what it meant to be an agnostic.

But just in the last week, the word has cropped up twice in books I'm reading-- "Life of Pi" and "In Search of Grace"-- and in both cases, the word agnostic is used to mean something fairly different. In common use, it seems to mean that since we can't know, there's no point in believing in anything. Skepticism, doubt, prove it to me. In "Life of Pi," the narrator says that he can easily imagine that an atheist, at the moment of her death, would see God and have an epiphany-- "Oh, I get it now!" whereas an agnostic would still waffle around wanting more proof and better data.

I looked up the definition of "agnostic" on Bartleby (I do love the internet) and I think the way I define the word fits in with the first definition listed there ("One who believes it is impossible to know whether or not there is a God") but maybe not with the elaborations: skeptical, doubtful, noncommital. And then there is a fairly interesting word history. The word "agnostic" was coined by Thomas Huxley in 1870 to describe himself and his fellow intellectuals. He wanted a term to describe someone who didn't deny that God and heaven might exist, but didn't feel the need to believe in them in order to explain the world around them. So that would be pretty different from what I'm talking about.

So what term can I use to describe myself? Someone who believes, but doesn't know what they believe in? I have experienced connection with something, something that reliably comes to my aide in certain types of situations, something that can be trusted to spur me on toward health and wholeness when I (my ego-self) allow it to, but I have no idea what that something is. God, Higher Power, something within my own subconscious, something within the collective consciousness of the human race, who knows? and it is hardly infallible, since it is always interpreted through my own too-fallible awareness/perception. But there it is. I just have to come up with a catch-y label for it and I'm all set.

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