In this world there exists a misunderstanding perpetuated by religion throughout the ages. It continues today despite the definitions long being known and agreed upon in philosophical circles. Believers are not taught these terms by their faiths. Instead they are taught alternative religious definitions, or standard literary definitions, which are not precise enough for the conversation involved. This has led to a long, centuries long in fact, running misunderstanding between humans.
People of faith tend to see the world in terms of their faith, that is you either believe as they do, or you do not believe as they do. In the first case your ok, and in the second your often doomed. This black and white vision is not clear on terminology or on precisely what the believers actually believe or think and so is rather useless in examining the beliefs themselves. The question of belief is not so simple in philosophy and so it is broken down into terms.
There are two aspects to belief, there is the belief itself and there is the claim of knowledge. A claim of belief is Theism, a belief in God. A claim of knowledge of God is a claim of Gnosticism. Proving Gnosticism, as I said before, is quite problematic. Yesterday I went into some depth about the claim of actual knowledge in my post “The Engine of Uncertainty”, so I feel no need to re-explore that issue today. My words will never discount the claims of other believers however, for to them the things they feel are knowledge.
To claim no belief in a God is to be A-Theist, or Atheist. To claim no knowledge of God is to be A-Gnostic, or Agnostic. This is not a linear model with belief and faith on one side and disbelief on the other, but an X and Y axis graph with Knowledge claims on the X and Belief claims on the Y, and where your personal convictions intersect is where your own idea resides.
If you have a Christian who believes they have a personal relationship with Jesus and has personal knowledge of this they would be defined as a Gnostic (claiming knowledge) Theist (Believer in God). Christian = Gnostic Theist
If you have a Deist who believes in God but also thinks true knowledge of God is impossible because God is outside our reality, then you would have an Agnostic (not claiming knowledge) Theist (believer in God). Deist = Agnostic Theist
If you have a non believer who thinks they have knowledge there is no God then you would have a Gnostic (claiming knowledge) Atheist (non believer in God).Non Believer= Gnostic Atheist
If you have a person who can find no proof of God, no evidence for God and hence claims no knowledge and then because of this lack of evidence does not believe in God itself, you have an Agnostic (not claiming Knowledge) Atheist (non Believer in God). Non Believer = Agnostic Atheist
Believers are often quick to shout that atheists say there is no god, but this is a conflation of terms and often comes from the fear I discussed yesterday in “The engine of uncertainty”. Atheists, by and large, simply do not believe. The large majority of them are Agnostic Atheists as they make no knowledge claims. The reality that a person exists who not only does not believe but also finds the narrative not compelling or perhaps unethical is unthinkable to many believers. To even consider that position is to rock the foundations of their very world view, due to the conflation of terms and knowledge I discussed previously. For many believers this is a sticking point.
I do not think the Gnostic position can be proven by either side, a Gnostic Theist puts forward rhetoric claiming knowledge by personal experience or from divine revelation on a personal level or through an agency like a text or spirit. They cannot show you a motor to prove their assertion of knowledge of the engine. A Gnostic Atheist puts forward the lack of hard evidence for God as evidence of no God, but a lack of evidence can never amount to more than a preponderance of evidence pointing toward a conclusion. It cannot of itself be conclusive. A lack of a motor is not proof there are no engines, only that we find none.
An Agnostic Theist does not claim knowledge, but faith. They believe despite the uncertainty of life. Such an individual trusts God by belief alone, understanding that what feels like knowledge to them cannot be shared like knowledge because it is a feeling. Nonetheless they take comfort in that feeling and trust it.
An Agnostic Atheist claims neither knowledge nor faith, as without knowledge there is no thing to trust (have faith in). Such a person does not seek solace in internal feelings of oneness or peace, but by actually attempting to connect with other humans and the world around them.
The combination of the conflations of the definitions of the term faith , (which I expounded upon in “The engine of Uncertainty”), and the non understanding and misunderstanding of the terms above, leads to all forms of discrimination by good people of faith against others who simply see the world in a different light. The insistence I touched upon in “The engine of Uncertainty” comes to play in this most profoundly, because, to many believers, a non believer threatens the whole apple cart; and an outspoken non believer is seen as actively tipping it over. Whereas the reality for the non believer is that they see no cart to tip, for them it only exists in the mind of the believer.
I live in America, where the Founders created a secular nation in order to enshrine free speech, free expression, and freedom of religion among other things. In those times if you were a Christian Anabaptist and felt called to go preach in the neighboring town, if that town was not also Anabaptist you might be in grave peril from other Christians. Anglican Christians would routinely imprison such wandering preachers and sometimes would baptize them to death. In order to end such injustices we enshrined religious freedom so that no single religion or denomination of a religion would ever be allowed to lord it over other religions or denominations of a religion. We did not want a “Church of America” as there had been a “Church of England”, with good reason. Hence the “wall of separation” of church and state.
In order to have peace we must have tolerance of others. This is not respect, as these terms are also often conflated. For a Christian to “respect” Islam they would have to show deference to Islam, which would make them Muslim and not Christian. Tolerance is what is required, and all we need for tolerance is the understanding that not a one of us can prove divine knowledge, that we either accept our ignorance and admit it (agnosticism) or we stand on faith (theism). Gnostic Atheism and Gnostic Theism can not prove their cases as we can all prove our engines by presenting our motors.
If you stand in your faith, or your reason, and do not insist on a correctness you cannot prove, then you are tolerant and you will sow peace. If you insist upon yourself and your own understanding of a reality you cannot prove as you can prove your engine, you will sow conflict. We reap what we sow right?
I cannot claim knowledge and without such knowledge I find no reason to believe. The narratives are far from compelling and often are rather the opposite, thus by process of elimination I am An Agnostic Atheist. I do not disparage others from their chosen faiths and narratives as these things often help them to cope with life. I will however dispute claims to knowledge, because no one has ever presented a single proof, only rhetoric and reiterations of their chosen narrative.
As an ethical human being I must stand against bigotry in all it forms, and sadly I find a lot of it in religion. It is there because of peoples insistence on their own point of view and the correctness of that view. A thing which cannot be proven. To my way of looking at things this is like kids fighting over whether Santa likes sugar cookies or frosted cookies better. Each believe a thing, but no one can call Santa up and ask. Santa won’t show up and prove the issue. Rather than admit ignorance (there is that uncertainty again) they would rather argue or even come to blows over the issue, than admit they might be wrong. Simply put, it is a childish behavior which religion often encourages. Religion needs to move beyond this childish motif of “he who screams loudest is correct”; as all it leads to is violence, bigotry and the mistreatment of others who do not conform to the religion’s ideas.
Believe, if you feel so led, but do not insist on a belief you cannot prove. Reason, if that is reasonable, but do not insist on a rationale you cannot prove. If we all adopt this reasonable, tolerant stance; if we stand in faith or reason and insist not on our own understanding; then we all treat our neighbors as ourselves, do we not?