Agnosticism [en]

A citation about agnosticism that I really agree with.

Right, I’ll post this post before I dive back into google, amazon and library sites. Bibliography research on the net for one’s dissertation can be quite as addictive as chatting, you know?

Agnosticism: I often hear people say they are “agnostic”, and on digging a bit, they come around to saying that they “vaguely believe in something, not quite sure what, but don’t belong to any religion”. That is not agnosticism. Some sort of deism, maybe, but definitely not agnosticism.

Here are a few paragraphs written by Stephen Batchelor, in his book Buddhism Without Beliefs. They aren’t the final word on what agnosticism is, but I what he says makes a lot of sense to me.

The force of the term “agnosticism” has been lost. It has come to mean: not to hold an opinion about the questions of life and death; to say “I don’t know” when you really mean “I don’t want to know.” When allied (and confused) with atheism, it has become part of the attitude that legitimizes an indulgent consumerism and the unreflective conformism dictated by mass media.

For T. H. Huxley, who coined the term in 1869, agnosticism was as demanding as any moral, philosophical, or religious creed. Rather than a creed, though, he saw it as a method realized through “the rigourous application of a single principle.” He expressed this principle positively as: “Follow your reason as far as it will take you,” and negatively as: “Do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.” This principle runs through the Western tradition: from Socrates, via the Reformation and the Enlightenment, to the axioms of modern science. Huxley called it the “agnostic faith.”


An agnostic Buddhist eschews atheism as much as theism, and is as reluctant to regard the universe as devoid of meaning as endowed with meaning. For to deny either God or meaning is simply the antithesis of affirming them. Yet such an agnostic stance is not based on disinterest. It is founded on a passionate recognition that I do not know. It confronts the enormity of having been born instead of reaching for the consolation of belief. It strips away, layer by layer, the views that conceal the mystery of being here—either by affirming it as something or denying it as nothing.

Such deep agnosticism is an attitude toward life refined through ongoing mindful awareness. It may lead to the realization that ultimately there is neither something nor nothing at the core of ourselves that we can put a finger on. Or it may be focused in an intense perplexity that vibrates through the body and leaves the mind that seeks certainty nowhere
to rest.

Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs, pp. 17-19

I’m reading his book following a class I went to last semester on “American Buddhism”. I’m not a Buddhist, nor do I think that Buddhist teachings have specially more value than any other. I’m hoping to write a bit more on Buddhism in the west shortly, though – as it is definitely
related to my dissertation topic.

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