Agnosticism: Blessed Uncertainty

Agnostic comes from the Greek ágnōstos “unknown, unknowable”. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable“. They even include a section on the page explaining the difference between Agnostic and Atheist.

The word “agnostic”, despite how many use it, is not really about belief. It means admitting a lack of certainty, regardless of belief. Many famous Atheists from Carl Sagan to Neil DeGras Tyson are and have been self-avowed Agnostics. There is no contradiction there; knowledge and belief are different things, and if you “know” a thing, there would be no need to believe it.

This is why we can claim to be “free” in our searching for truth and meaning. If we are being honest we cannot claim absolute knowledge about very much. It is vital that we treat our experiences with the divine, or lack thereof, as personal – not universal. We are each free to explore, as long as we do not ignore that there are facts: things which have stood up to rigorous testing and observation. Even then, in most fields of study there is a lot more research to be done before we have any hope of declaring final truth.

So, Unitarian Universalism asks us to be agnostic, though we allow adherents to use a wide variety of labels for their personal faith. We can believe what is in our hearts, but we should admit that we do not have a complete understanding.

In fact, agnosticism, along with humanism, are essential in living our Principles. It is the agnostic mindset (admitting lack of absolute knowledge) that allows the “free” search for truth and meaning while our humanist teaching (that we must work towards the better world we aspire to according to the facts as we know them) is the thing to which we must be held “responsible”. The first part is about belief; the second asks us to ground our beliefs in the physical world where we can gauge our impact.

If your personal relationship with Jesus helps you to make positive choices, then we support your continued faith journey. Likewise for those who invoke Odin or Ra. We know that your experiences differ from our own. We know we cannot recreate all of the experiences that led us to where we are. Understanding that we each have a different relationship to the divine is essential to building a community where each of us is granted the worth and dignity we deserve.

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