I decided, in order to avoid plagiarism, I'd put this post together nearly exclusively with quotes. I hope you can forgive me. ;)
The English Oxford Dictionary defines Agnostic as follows:
""One who holds that the existence of anything beyond or behind material phenomena is unknown and, so far as can be judged, unknowable". In other words, we can guess, we can hope, we can believe or not believe, but whatever we believe or don't believe we don't know and we're not likely to.The New Columbia Encyclopedia says this of Agnosticism:
""Agnostic was the name demanded by Professor Huxley for those who disclaimed atheism, and believed with him in an 'unknown and unknowable' God"."
""...form of skepticism that hold that the existence of God cannot be logically proved or disproved".It is wisdom to know when to cut your losses.
"So an agnostic might believe in God, or might not believe in God. But regardless, what the agnostic also believes is that there is no way to know. Some on both sides of the theist/atheist fence find this unsettling. The agnostic says to the Atheist, "You might be right". But the agnostic also says to the Theist, "You might be right". Equivocation? Consider. It's hard to establish "right belief" when the question of who is "right" becomes something unknowable.
"Some may think of this as weakness. I look on it as a strength: the strength to admit something that is always excruciatingly hard. It is the strength to say, "I don't know" and then carry on." Steven Greenbaum, The Interfaith Alternative; Embracing Spiritual Diversity, pg. 50-51
"Real ignorance is not knowing what you don't know. When you think you know something you don't, it can lead to a kind of make-believe wisdom, an imaginary sense of knowledge that is powerless to free you from your confusion.
"We actually need intelligent doubt and skepticism; they protect us against mistaken views and propaganda. A healthy dose of doubt and skepticism will lead us to precise and clear questions". Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha, pg. 21
It's funny sometimes how accurately we can pin-point a memory of exactly when we learned a word.
Tolerance is one of those. Years ago, I think shortly before high school, when I first began playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, I remember reading how the various races views one another. Dwarves and Elves were listed as having tolerance towards each other. Not friendly, but tolerance. I think I knew that tolerance wasn't a good thing. Granted, it wasn't hatred, but it wasn't something we would want to strive to attain.
Fast forward decades later and tolerance is a word I have heard far too often in the wrong context through numerous churches and religious institutions; using like it is a good thing; like it should be the goal to strive to attain.
It never struck me that way... ever.
Tolerance to me is a half-assed effort. It is something that I am forced to settle with when my friendliness or my Love for others has simply failed.
"We think of tolerance as a good thing. We see it as positive. Beneficial. It isn't. Or rather, it's beneficial in the same way that not kicking people in the teeth is beneficial. Without doubt it is a good thing not to kick people in the teeth. But that hardly qualifies it as a worthy life goal. Tolerance, while better than mindless discrimination, should be seen for what it is: a patronizing, self-congratulatory form of prejudice and power.
""You're beneath me, but I'm a terrific person so, within reason, I'll tolerate your existence".
"Or, "You're wrong. Your religious beliefs show you have no idea of the truth about God. But I'm open-minded. I'll tolerate your right to believe those heathen, atheistic, blasphemous ideas that you embrace. Of course, I sit in the smug confidence that God won't let you into heaven because of your wrong-headed beliefs, while i will enjoy eternal bliss, but hey, I'm great. I'll tolerate you".
"Or, "You're wrong. Your religious beliefs show you have no idea of the truth about what you call God. But I'm open-minded. I'll tolerate those infantile, outmoded ideas that you embrace. Of course I know science. You're too naive to understand that 'God' can't possibly exist,and that your beliefs are nothing but childish myths. Any thinking person knows that you're nothing but worm food once you die, but if you want to cling to nonsensical beliefs I will cheerfully tolerate your inability to think".
"The bottom line is this. Tolerance becomes a great enabler. The concept of tolerance allows us to continue with the paradigm of "right belief" (I know the "truth" and you don't) and yet still feel good, even proud of ourselves (even thought I know you're "wrong", I will tolerate you).
"In this day, in this age, stopping at "tolerance" is a sin. For it to be the "comfort zone" where we live is inexcusable. We need to move beyond tolerance. Way beyond it.... We need to start respecting each other's beliefs and heritages, not simply tolerating them."Steven Greenbaum, The Interfaith Alternative; Embracing Spiritual Diversity, pg. 54-55
Compassion vs. Pity:
I had an experience a few years past.
I will change the individuals names, for I have no desire to embarrass any of them.
I had at one point privately approached Margaret and explained the financial troubles that had befallen our mutual friend, Debbie. It was my hope that, as a church elder, Margaret would have offered through the church some kind of financial aid or relief.
Margaret offered to pray for Debbie with me. Debbie was allowed to continue her tithing, whether she could afford it or not...and that was the extent of this church's help.
It bothers me to this day still, but it has only been recently that I could very specifically pin-point the why of it.
In a word, pity. Where the church should have shown compassion, they showed pity and chose to name it compassion.
One definition of compassion is "the sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it".
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines pity as the "sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy".
What's the difference between compassion and pity?
One wishes to alleviate suffering, distress, and unhappiness and does something about it. The other just sits back. I fear this happens far too often. In fact, I think this may very well be a blight of the modern day church.
Pity is easy to do. It costs nothing. It's self-serving because it allows one to believe they are a good person, but requires nothing of them.
Compassion is not so easy. It can cost dearly.
And isn't that a major problem? When we substitute pity for compassion and then add a mistaken understanding of tolerance into the equation, we are left with a crisis scenario that I think the modern day church is facing today. Factor many religious institutions' demonization of agnosticism into this and we end up with the self-serving, small minded, insular religionists we find today, so frightened of doubt within their belief must be a certainty.
I don't believe the ever shrinking world we live in today can afford these kinds of half-assed attempts of making a better world. In fact, they do not make for a better world but for a far worst one.