How the world (mis)understands agnostics

You probably know about two types of people based on their faith in God. First, there are believers in God. They may also follow a certain religion. Let’s simply call them Believers in this post. Next, there is a group of people who are certain that there is no God. They don’t believe in religion, don’t like any practices that are religious and do not believe in anything written in the religious books, epics and mythologies. These people are atheists.

I don’t belong to either category. Because, there is a third group of people who don’t subscribe to either school of thought. They just don’t care. These are the agnostics. An agnostic person’s philosophy is, “I don’t know if there is God… and I don’t care. I am glad that belief helps person A. But it doesn’t drive me. But unlike the atheist person B, I don’t believe that faith is blind and that the earth is better off without it. I just look the other way!”.

Agnostics are very clear about their philosophy. But they are often misunderstood by the other two categories of people. Believers think that agnostics are on their way to atheism. Atheists think of agnostics as people who don’t believe, but don’t have the courage to own up! Being an agnostic can bring up some exasperating, but really comical and entertaining conversations. This happens because everyone thinks that a person has to absolutely polar when it comes to belief. It’s hard for someone to imagine how someone can simply not care about which side to lean on. Go figure!

Believer A: Hey Hari, I heard you are an atheist. You don’t believe in God? You say He doesn’t exist.

Hari: Uhh… I am not an atheist. I am agnostic. I don’t believe or disbelieve in God or question whether He exists or not. Its just that I don’t care about that concept. I prefer not to have any opinion about faith. The entire setup is just not for me.

Believer B: Come on, how can it be? You can either believe or you can’t. How can there be a neutral side to it? A coin has only two sides, you know.

Hari: Well, this is not a coin. See, you must have seen apolitical people who just don’t vote, regardless of whichever political party has good candidates in their constituency. Or you must have seen a choice named ‘None of these’ in entrance examinations and IQ tests. This is like that. Q: Does God exist? A: I don’t know, I don’t care.

Believer A: I think you imply He doesn’t exist. You are just not comfortable saying so and are making excuses.

Hari: No, no!! I am not saying He doesn’t exist.

Believer B: So where is your Poonal (Upanion thread)? Why don’t you pray every morning? Why don’t you perform Pooja rituals at your home?

Hari: I don’t care about prayers and rituals. In my opinion, they are not a productive use of my time. But I am happy for people who derive pleasure and meaning in prayers and rituals.

Believer A: But I know that you medidate thrice a day. You see that as a productive use of your time. But not the rituals? You can be religious one way, but not the other?

Hari: Meditation isn’t religious. Meditation is a process of discovering yourself, your deepest sense of consciousness. It is the process of methodically slowing, even suspending your thoughts and discovering who you really are and what everything around you is. I would call that spirituality, definitely not religion. There are certainly methods within each religion which deals with spirituality. Many people I know chant Om Namashivaya or Om Namonarayanaya in order to seek Shiva or Vishnu within their meditation and ulitimately use that to reach a deep state of consciousness. I don’t need that. In fact, any kind of chant or even the faintest human voice actually distracts me. I prefer complete silence or some kind of low frequency flute music.

Believer B: You are being ignorant about belief. You should read epics like Ramayana or Mahabharata to learn the essence of life. Maybe even Bhagwad Gita or Upanishad. Maybe they will change your mind about religion. I am certain that you have never read those books in your life.

Hari: I haven’t. Nor will I ever. The Ramayana, for instance, is not written for an audience like me. Let me tell you that unlike atheists, I believe in the authenticity of the Ram Setu. I believe that such a bridge existed and that there were generations of people who had technology either comparable to or even better than what we do now. The concept of Ram Setu and its construction is very interesting to me. The architectural marvel, the logistics, the effort. Trust me, if the Ramayana describes the minute scientific and architectural details of the Ram Setu, I’d be hooked. Likewise, if it describes what chemicals were used to concoct the Laxman Rekha, I’d love it. As an interested traveller, it would be interesting to know how to spend 14 years in a deep forest. But Ramayana mostly talks about human virtues and emotions. That’s not interesting to me. I ignore Ramayana the same way I ignore Frederick Nietzsche or Paulo Coelho.

Believer A: That’s spoken without respect. Are all agnostics so characterless?

Hari: Says who? You don’t need religion or fear of God to build good character. You just need motivation and need to feel good when you do your best for everyone. I know so many atheists and agnostics who practice philanthropy, teaching, medicine and other noble deeds. They follow rules and pay taxes fairly.

Atheist: Hey Hari, heard you hate religion and that you don’t believe in God. Way to go man!

Hari: Uh.. I don’t hate religion. I am happy for those who practice it. I personally find religion and faith in God irrelevant in my life.

Atheist: Bah… happy for those who practice it? Whatever good ever came from religion? People divide themselves into groups, they practice blind beliefs and rituals, they looks for signs in stars and planets, they…. Oh well! Forget it! You should come with me to this conference on atheism that I am going to tommorrow. Let’s rid the world of its blind beliefs.

Hari: Well, faith has made people do a lot of wonderful things. So many wonderfully architected temples, the pyramids, cathedrals, music… the list goes on. It turns sick people into superhumans. If faith gives people wings, what’s wrong with that. And… I won’t attend your recommended conference the same way that I won’t attend a Bhajan mass. I don’t care about either sides.

Atheist: Alright… your wish. I am going for sure.

Believer B: Hey, you wonderfully dispelled that atheist’s claims. Why don’t you just start believing?

Hari: Uff… listen, I respect that you are a believer. But please stop egging me to share your belief. I am happy as I am.

Believer A: Ok, ok. You are entitled to your opinion. We won’t press you further.

Hari: Thank God!

Believer B: God? You said God. You are actually a believer. So sweet of you!

Hari: Hey … what??? Wait, wait! That’s just an expression in English language…. Hey come on………………


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Harikrishna Natrajan

Unleashing life's full potential

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