My Beliefs as a Pagan, Part 1: An Agnostic Ethic

agnosticI’m planning on posting several entries on my blog delineating my beliefs. In this first post of the series, I will describe my approach to agnosticism.

Most people define agnosticism as either a state of not being fully certain about one’s beliefs given the available evidence, or they define agnosticism as a state of uncertainty which runs so deep that formulating a belief is not possible. For example, a person who is an agnostic theist believes that evidence indicates the existence of a god is likely but they are not fully certain of this existence. A person who is purely agnostic and neither theist nor atheist would assert that they can not take a position on the existence or non-existence of gods because they do not feel there is enough information to formulate a position. An agnostic atheist believes that evidence indicates the existence of god is unlikely but they are not fully certain of this non-existence.

Simply put, I am an agnostic pagan. I am not certain that my particular cosmological perspective is accurate. Consequently, I am open to the possibility that I might be wrong in my understanding and analysis of my spiritual experiences. I believe that I have no way of truly being certain, ever. My limitations as a human being tend to favor cosmological questions remaining within the realm of mystery and the unknown. My perspective is birthed at the confluence of spiritual experience and guesswork interpretation. What beliefs I build upon that confluence are speculation and I accept that.

For me, agnosticism takes on an additional dimension beyond a component of uncertainty in my cosmological perspective. My agnosticism also includes a set of behavioral standards which governs how I interact with perspectives that are different from mine and how I interact with the people who hold them. In other words, my agnosticism includes an ethic which guides my interactions with others whose spiritual paths differ from mine. My approach, ideally, is one of reserve, respect, empathy, and humbleness. I’m am not a cosmological exclusivist. I accept that others have very different beliefs from mine and that those beliefs might be as valid or more valid than mine. I am not a repository for the universe’s secrets and I refuse to behave as one.

My reasons for this ethic are threefold. First, if I can’t be certain my cosmological perspective is accurate, how can I truly be certain that someone else’s perspective is inaccurate? Put another way, I approach these issues as one small human being who’s scope of perception and knowledge is limited and consequently, much of my understanding of these esoteric matters is simply guesswork. If I’m running on guesswork, what right do I have to dismiss another person’s perspective out of hand? We both have our strengths, weaknesses, differing sources of information, differing experiences and so on. Second, from personal experience, I know that a person’s experience with spirituality and the cosmology that informs it, are often very personal in nature. These perspectives can be rich, deeply emotional, deeply intuitive experiences that run down to the core of a person’s being. Such experiences come with a deep degree of emotional vulnerability and I do not wish to tread upon and harm that vulnerability. Third, I embrace treating others with the same kindness and respect that I wish to be treated with. Having someone verbally tear apart something that is so integral to my sense of being is deeply off-putting if not painful. I wouldn’t want to visit that experience on another person. Because of these considerations, my agnosticism requires that I approach a person of different cosmology with care and respect. These understandings, commitments, and acknowledgments form the core of my agnostic ethic.

My decision to formulate and embrace this ethic was motivated by witnessing far too much hatred, prejudice, and dehumanization being exchanged between various communities of differing cosmologies and religions. There is far too much tribalism in the world, sourced from many factors. While there are indeed different levels of power and privilege accorded by group, and that difference governs how negatively one is impacted by conflict, our universal humanness too often leads to the fanning of glowing tribal embers on all sides. Innocence is a state rarely maintained. Bringing relief to this fiery entanglement and coping with the downside of our humanness starts with oneself. Derision, condescension, patronizing language, and other forms of unkindness rarely fail to accelerate tribal conflagrations and so, I embrace an agnostic ethic.

† Note: At some point in recent history, people collapsed the position of pure agnostic into atheism because they claim that pure agnostics hold no belief in gods. However, the pure agnostic does not feel they can take a position on the god question and hence, to say they are an atheist is not accurate because theism and atheism represent distinct positions on the god question. Theists and atheists represent a yes/no response, respectively. The pure agnostic says, “I don’t know.” rather than yes or no. I see this collapsing of the pure agnostic and atheist positions as nothing more than a political stratagem crafted to increase polarization on the god question. “You are either with them or us. There is no in between. Choose a side.” This is designed to obscure and/or discourage neutrality on the issue. You can see this tendency in evidence when people dismiss pure agnostics as cowards unwilling to take a side.

On a personal note, I’m always disappointed in seeing people collapse a varied and diverse spectrum of possibilities into a simplistic binary. People do this with gender and sexual orientation, too and it’s very saddening. It draws lines right across the middle of people’s lives. It’s a very hurtful practice for those who do not live on the binary.

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~ by timberwraith on September 3, 2015.

5 Responses to “My Beliefs as a Pagan, Part 1: An Agnostic Ethic”

  1. I completely relate. 🙂 This is how I feel about the whole issue. As a result, I value all religions equally but have found pagan means allow me to tap into this god aspect that we are all trying to connect to. In the end, we’re all trying to communicate with the same thing, whatever we may think it is. If you’re connected, you’re connected. I don’t think there’s one way to do that! Sometimes I read a line from the Quran and tap into that power, sometimes it’s a Christian parable, sometimes it’s around a ritual fire at a pagan gathering. It is all beautiful to me. 🙂 I am glad to read that you hold very similar ethics concerning this issue. xo

  2. In case you were wondering who was responsible for all of today’s hits from Australia…

    In this piece I especially appreciate the personal ethics you bring to your agnosticism, as it’s the sort of thing that’s been tried with atheism, only for the effort to be abusively derided by a very loud and insistent minority. I don’t imagine there are dictionary agnostics anywhere near as passionate at declaring that agnosticism is only defined by a trite formula and that exploring the implications of agnosticism, how it might determine your outlook on life, and so on, is false agnosticism! (Or maybe there are compulsive dictionary agnostics, who you’ve heroically had to bar rant-filled commenting for the last three months… maybe not.)

    These days I’m tending to be way more comfortable with understanding and sympathetic religious folk than the hard-boiled asshole contingent of atheists, in spite of finding myself hard-boiled enough to remain incapable of any firm beliefs. I used to be something of a deist in my youth (i.e. the weak tea version of theism) but would probably be a pagan now if I were inclined to belief (but I’m not).

    • Hi Xanthë! Welcome to my (occasional) blog. I’m glad that you liked my post. The positive feedback is greatly appreciated. 🙂

      Yeah, as the years have passed, I’ve become aware that almost all communities & bodies of advocates for particular philosophies have their respective “asshole contingent”. No group seems to be “safe”, as it were. In one way, that’s kind of depressing but in another way it sort of makes me smile. I enjoy irony and the ways in which it reveals that we are all equal in our ability to fall victim to our own flaws. Human folly is the great equalizer. In a warped way, it illustrates our common humanity.

      We’re all trying to muddle through a path that isn’t really clear, even though we might pretend otherwise. Some convince themselves that their respective group is somehow superior to others, but when they collectively fuck up—and this is inevitable—I see that as the universe reminding us that we all live, breath, eat, and excrete in very much the same way. 😛

  3. ****COMMENT MOVED FROM ORIGINAL LOCATION BY MODERATOR****

    *grins* I found an open comments section. I would like to “borrow” a bit of an idea you posed and the phrase “agnostic Pagan”, please. I would like to use it in a post I’m writing. I ALWAYS ask before I do something like that. If you agree, would you like a site link inserted with the comment and/or to be named as the originator of that phrase. There is context and would be, in no way, disparaging.

    • Hi there. Welcome to my blog.

      Sure, you can use the phrase agnostic pagan. I didn’t invent it, though. Agnostic can be appended to any spiritually/cosmologically descriptive noun. For example, there are agnostic Christians, agnostic atheists, agnostic Buddhists, etc. Agnostic atheist is a very common phrase in atheist communities on the internet. There’s no need for a link to my blog for such a common phrase/word usage.

      The phrase agnostic ethic, however, is something I came up with on my own. A link would be nice for this particular phrase.

      Anyway, feel free to use both terms as you like.

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