Opinion surveys often make a statement and ask us to respond on a continuum, or scale, from strongly disagree on one extreme to strongly agree on the other, with neither agree nor disagree at the center.
Consider this statement: There is a God.
Believers would mark agree, atheists would check disagree, and agnostics would tick one of the I don’t know choices. We would all be responding to the same question based upon our opinion of the statement. Nothing more, but predicable.
How we define ourselves (believer, agnostic, or atheist) is one thing. How we define others needs to be understood in terms of how they see themselves. But people are complex. Beliefs and religions vary widely. Despite our best efforts to find common ground, we hold different meanings for many of the same words, especially the three in parenthesis above. As we strive for clarity, the water gets muddy.
One of the areas of confusion is seeing everyone on the same continuum. It is difficult for believers, especially Christians, to accept that atheists really, sincerely, deeply, and profoundly, do not believe in any god, much less theirs. Not believing is inconceivable to so many.
It’s difficult for me to accept that people believe the following.
At some point when there was allegedly nothing, God decided, I’m going to create a material universe with stars, galaxies, and planets. On one of them I’ll create animals and humans. Then I’ll drown most of the nasty bastards and start over with some incestuous drunkard. Yet, many do. I don’t know why or how. Even when I believed, I did not believe that.
We do not all belong on the believers’ continuum. Only they go there.
The following continuum is mistaken. In my opinion, it creates confusion and mental blocks.
Believer<………………………> Agnostic <………………………..>Atheist
Nope. This is biased in the same way the word atheist itself is biased. The focus is believing (theology, theism, or religion). The obvious confusion is that agnostics are halfway believers. Another is that atheists are somehow distant believers, albeit weak ones. Believers and atheists should have their own scales, like this:
Strong Believer<……………………………………………….>Weak Believer
Strong Atheist<………………………………………………….>Weak Atheist
Agnostics could probably be scaled according to degree of uncertainty, but why bother? They are merely saying that they don’t know if there is God, or that such a thing is unknowable. None of us “know” if there is a god, yet despite no evidence, many bet their life there is one. There is no continuum there. We don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t know anything that is unknowable.
Atheism is not the other side of the believer coin, even though it seems so. It is an incredibly simple conclusion drawn, often after years of effort. No proselytizing, no religion, no scripture to read or learn (as such, but many of us have read it all), and often no personal help to guide us.
There are other views and things can get complicated. For example, this one. Each group has their own bubble. Where they overlap, we creatively use both words. Funny, eh?
As difficult as it may be to comprehend, not everyone believes, not everyone knows, and not everyone cares. I would flip gnostic and agnostic on the knowledge scale above because gnostic relates to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge as in knowing. Whereas, agnostic is more, I’ve not the faintest idea, nor shall I ever.