On July 11, 2012 Alternet Website published an article, “When Atheists Confront Mortality”. The article was a summary of some recent social science research on the difference between atheists and agnostics.
Agnosticism almost by definition is ambivalent. The agnostic says, for example, “there’s not a strong case for the supernatural. But who knows? Religious people could be right. There’s a lot we don’t know. Maybe there is a God or a spiritual force which is sort of like God.” The atheist would reply, “Agnostic cut the B.S. Stop dreaming. We live in a world without God or Gods. And have you forgotten the Inquisition, the modern jihads, the horrors of the Indian Caste system, the close connection between Zen and Japanese militarism? Religion doesn’t make bad people good it just makes good people behave badly.” Perhaps the differences between atheists and agnostics are more difference in temperament than belief. Agnostics are less confrontational than Atheists, born appeasers, or simply less stubborn than the more militant ranks of non-believers.
Science might help us think more deeply about the difference between the atheism and the agnosticism. We’re all afraid of death. The real distinction between atheists and agnostics is how they handle this fear. According to Prof. Vail of the University of Missouri, atheists accept their own mortality better than agnostics. He wrote in The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin “the psychological comforts of religion do not appear to be of universal necessity.” Not so fast, counters Prof . Jong of Oxford University, writing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. By using a word association test, he found that non-believers “wavered from their disbelief” after thinking about death.
Of course these kind of question: involving faith, lack of faith, intensity of conviction, are not easily answered by social science. Even if they don’t admit to any personal bias. I suspect that both Prof. Jong and Prof. Vail’s research programs were deeply affected by the values they hold dear. The quantitive methods of science can never really provide answers to these deeply personal questions about the meaning of life. I will attempt to describe the impossible.
Agnostic don’t think there is a real possibility of life after death or the existence of a supernatural being. Atheists know there is no Sky God or mystical forest beings. Late at night, or in the midst of an existential crisis, or if they have bad stomach ache, the agnostic will hope that their whole rational world view is wrong and yes there is magic left in the world. Maybe that kid in the coma will recover and yes maybe you can live forever. Atheists are made of sterner stuff.
Being a bit of a Christian, but leaning agnostic, I have to agree that your take on this subject hits the nail on the head. Ignorance is bliss, or will the truth set you free?
No offense, but I’d hate to be either an agnostic or an aethiest!
My faith provides me with “evidence of things unseen”, or. as Wm. Shakespeare says so beautifully: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
I am enriched and blessed with optimism and the belief that our lives are pre-chosen curricula taken here on Earth School 101, and that I, in partnership with “God”, made the choice to come here and to live the life most suited to my spriritual growth and understanding this time around.
Thanks for the comment. I remember reading Kirkegaard in my early 20’s. He was one of the earliest philsophers to concern himself with authenticity and faith. He was the writer who coined the phrase leap of faith.
Basically, I think spirituality is a matter of temperment. If you have a sceptical temperment it’s difficult to make the leap of faith.
I had a friend at work. Leslie was doing poorly in public school, so his father enrolled him into a Yeshiva. His father decided later than he should also enroll Leslie’s younger brother into the Yeshiva. After experiencing a Yeshiva education, Leslie said he became immune to all dogma political as well as religious. His brother became ultra-orthdox. He works part time job at a Yeshiva library. Basically, he was supported by his wife. I think he published one or two articles of Talmudic commentary over the course of about four decades.
You’re right! I agree, it is a matter of temperment.
I have seen the same result as you mention above. A friend likes to say that God has no grandchildren, meaning that each person has to step into a “faith” relationship. Not everyone can or will.
I guess I’m just one who believes and so makes the “leap.”
By the way, before I slip and “name you” what do you want to be called on here? Guru, Dictator, King….lol.
Orthodox religious people and atheists are more similar to each other than they are to agnostics. Both are afraid of doubt. Agnostics welcome their doubts and revel in them, making so much more possible. This is probably the main reason that I have left straIght Christianity behind and became a Unitarian Universalist. I got tired of feeling guilty about all of my doubt. UUs are non creedal and religious doubt is embraced.