Agnostics and Identity: Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right…
…Here I am, stuck in the middle with you. At least, if you consider yourself an agnostic. I’ve mentioned that how we describe ourselves owes as much to identity and which groups we feel comfortable with as to what we actually believe, and this is true for me right now. I feel that I have very little in common with either Christians or atheists at the moment, but even where I do find a point of agreement with either side, I have no interest in associating myself with either extreme. That’s partly because I don’t have that level of confidence in my conclusions and partly because I don’t feel any sense of belonging to either group.
That’s not to say that I think Christians and atheists don’t have anything to offer. I think a reasonable amount of sense is spoken by some on either side – yes, even Christians, although I said “some” for a reason. It’s just that when the subject’s so polarised and my opinions are still fairly unsettled, the positives of aligning myself with one side or other seem to be heavily outweighed by the negatives.
I recently wrote about Christians suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. But I can’t exactly criticise, because I’m guilty of something similar. When considering religion, my reasoning generally all seems to lead me in the same direction. Whether I approach the God issue from the angle of history, biology, cosmology or anything else, the obvious conclusion seems to be full-blown atheism. But whenever I get to that point, I always pull back from the brink.
I’m happy to follow my reasoning to a certain point, but in the end, I throw it out of the window in favour of something I feel more comfortable with, something familiar. I don’t want to sit on the fence forever, but nor do I particularly want to associate myself with either extreme right now. I certainly don’t want to do that if it isn’t necessary. As long as my beliefs and actions can be reconciled with my chosen identification, it looks like a lot of unnecessary hassle to switch to a different label for a slightly increased level of accuracy.
The truth is that it’s much easier for me to sit awkwardly on the edges of the church – cynical, detached, but still more or less there – than it would be to leave, with all the attendant social and family traumas that would cause. So I’m going to carry on living a lie – at least a partial one – as long as there’s any possible room for doubt. Given the subject matter, that realistically means that I’m likely to be a “Christian Agnostic” for life, or at least until I can muster some moral courage.
I just don’t want to have to deal with how my wife, parents, grandparents and especially my in-laws would react if I were to tell them that I’ve left the church completely and am now a certified atheist. I don’t want them to feel awkward about it, and I certainly don’t want them to try to convert me or change my mind. Family gatherings can be difficult enough without recurrent conversations about why I’m wrong, or whether I’ve considered this or that argument, or even awkward silences as people try not to say certain things in case they offend me. Given that secularism is generally a dirty word, I don’t see atheism going down too well.
So I’m a living example of identity being only loosely related to belief, as discussed previously. In my current situation, I find it politically expedient to continue to attend church and identify myself (if anyone asks) as agnostic or Christian Agnostic. It’s true enough, even if it doesn’t tell the whole story, and it ducks the sort of conversation I’d rather not be having right now.