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Meditation 15
The School Project

We recently received a message from a group of students (in the Philippines, I believe) which asked for information for a school project. Below is the original message (with e-mail addresses deleted for privacy) and our response.

For other school projects, see Ask the Patriarch 22 & Ask the Patriarch 42

A discussion has been opened on this Meditation. To contribute your own thoughts to this exchange of views, please use the Contact form.

First: The Questions

Good day to you!

My classmates and I are making a paper about an agnostic's faith life and we believe that your web page is the perfect resource material for this paper. We would like to ask any representative from your group some questions regarding your faith. We would be waiting for your reply about the matter. You could send your answer at the following e-mail addresses: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or to the one provided above.

Our paper is due on September 6, 2000 so it would be good if you could send us your reply at least 2 days before the said date. Any help you could extend would be deeply appreciated. Thank you very much.

These are the questions:

  1. How long have you been an agnostic?
  2. How did you become one?
  3. Why do you find yourself an agnostic? What's in you that makes you say you're one?
  4. Define what makes someone an agnostic. What are their traits, beliefs, etc.?
  5. What aspect of the Catholic Church made you to be an agnostic?
  6. Do you still concern yourself with Theology / Church issues?
  7. If you do, what can you say about the Catholic Church's teachings on morality, especially on the use of artificial birth control?
  8. Do you still pray? If you do, can you describe your prayer-life?
  9. Have you had any experience with "theological" discussions in your school, office, area of business, etc.? What is your reaction? What have you learned from them?

The Response

I will do my best to respond to your questions:

Good day to you! My classmates and I are making a paper about an agnostic's faith life

Right away, we have a problem. An agnostic does not have a faith life. An agnostic does not have faith, therefore by definition, an agnostic cannot have a faith life. And the vast majority of agnostics don't miss having a faith life. We think it is unnecessary.

and we believe that your web page is the perfect resource material for this paper. We would like to ask any representative from your group some questions regarding your faith. We would be waiting for your reply about the matter.. Any help you could extend would be deeply appreciated. Thank you very much. These are the questions:

1. How long have you been an agnostic?

It's difficult to state an exact date because my agnosticism developed over a number of years, but 1965 - or 35 years ago - would be a reasonable estimate.

2. How did you become one?

I was initially brought up Church of England (also known as Anglican - or Episcopalian for those of you more familiar with American terminology.) On a church retreat, I began to entertain serious doubts about the teachings of the church. I started to investigate other varieties of Christianity and number of other religions. I came to the conclusion that the details of the differences between the various religions, sects, denominations were minuscule compared to the fundamental question of the existence of god.

I determined that no religion could prove to my satisfaction the existence of god. On the other hand, I am not an atheist because the nonexistence of god has not been proven to me either.

3. Why do you find yourself an agnostic? What's in you that makes you say you're one?

I am an agnostic because I am willing to say "I don't know" in response to questions about the existence of god. I am an agnostic because to me the existence of god cannot be proven, it can only be taken on faith. And I want proof.

4. Define what makes someone an agnostic. What are their traits, beliefs, etc.?

An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in god. Many agnostics come to realize that the existence of god is not a very important question. Agnostics want tangible evidence, not circular arguments nor believe just because their parents believed.

5. What aspect of the Catholic Church made you to be an agnostic?

The Catholic Church had no specific role in making me an agnostic. I never was a Catholic (except to the extent the Church of England considers itself to be a Catholic church - a position many Catholic clergy would probably disagree with.) However, many of the dogmatic positions of the current Catholic Church are totally at variance with the early Christianity it claims to be descended from. My personal investigation of the many Christian denominations convinces me I could never accept the teachings of the Catholic Church even if something convinced me that a god exists.

6. Do you still concern yourself with Theology / Church issues?

I maintain a full interest in all theologies. It's very important to recognize the background when any particular religion attempts to impose its particular moral values on those who don't follow its teachings.

7. If you do, what can you say about the Catholic Church's teachings on morality, especially on the use of artificial birth control?

I do not personally accept this morality - particular with respect to women's reproductive issues. In fact, the Catholic Church's teachings on this matter only date back to 1869 and Pope Pius IX. Along with his declaration of papal infallibility, and his approval of the doctrine of immaculate conception, he declared that human life began at conception. In my view, absolutely wrong on all three issues.

In fact, if we go back 2000 years - it was believed at the time when Christ was supposed to have been born that life began a full week AFTER birth - at circumcision. And this was the traditional Jewish belief - and was the Christian belief for hundreds of years after. As evidence, I point to the calendar. Why - if it is based on the birth of Christ - is the birth date set at 25 December? Because the calendar is not based on the birth of Christ - it is based on the date of circumcision - exactly one week later which is 1 January. And to quote the Catholic Encyclopedia on the issue of the Feast of Circumcision "He was, as St. Paul says, 'made under the law'". Under the law as it was at that time that's when he was made - or became accepted as part of the human race.

Now in my own personal view, life begins at birth. I have no problem with any form of birth control method. And I don't regard any of the methods in use as "artificial" other than abstinence - which is indeed abnormal for humans. And I believe abortion is a very personal decision for which the woman who bears the fetus has sole responsibility.

8. Do you still pray? If you do, can you describe your prayer-life

No I don't pray. I have no reason to pray. What would I pray to? Prayer presumes three things - the existence of a god (which I have no knowledge of); - god actually listens (a characteristic I have no evidence for in a being I have no evidence for); - and god can and may act on my prayer (a power I have no evidence for in a being I have no evidence for.)

9. Have you had any experience with "theological" discussions in your school,

I have had experience with compulsory religion classes in school. In my view, the overall purpose of education is to teach us to be able to think for ourselves. A well designed comparitive religion course can do this. However, the purpose of most religious education is to teach us not to think for ourselves, and instead accept the infallibility of religious texts and leaders.

... office, area of business, etc.? What is your reaction? What have you learned from them?

In my country, most workplaces have people from many different faiths and denominations. It is generally frowned on when any person tries to use the workplace to push their religious views on others. Generally, it is seen as a mark of insensitivity. (That's not to say it never happens.)