Sunday, 5 July 2015

The Difference Between Atheists and Agnostics

Image credit: Jacky77
It is currently the Holy Month of Ramadan which, coming from a family of practicing/non-practicing Muslims, puts me in a slightly awkward position as being the only one not fasting.

When your family practice a particular religion, even if some are stricter than others, by default it means you do too.

Most people genuinely believe in the religious and cultural practices they have been brought up with, without question.

However, and I know a lot of British-Asian kids struggle with this too, sometimes people who have been brought up with a particular religion are left questioning some of the rules and the validity of the beliefs that have been imposed on them, especially if they’re living in a secular society where their religion and culture is in the minority.

I can understand remaining loyal to a religion you have been raised with: it gives people a sense of community, of cultural identity and they have a moral guide on how to live their life. It has also been shown that people who practice religions are less likely to suffer from things like depression, so I can see the benefits of having faith in God; I guess it’s good to believe in something.

I had been raised to observe Islam, which is the predominant religion amongst Bengali people, so certain things like fasting, praying and celebrating Eid I regularly did. Even though I didn’t follow the religion by the book, I guess I would have been classed as a non-practicing Muslim.

As I started to get older and more independent however, certain Islamic practices and beliefs, I just couldn’t reconcile with my own. I just felt like it was illogical to follow an age-old text to the letter, when times have changed. I’m also aware of how people who are dedicated to following a religion are vulnerable to being taken advantage of, whether it's by being indoctrinated into increasingly extremist beliefs, or by things like prosperity preaching, the latter being a problem in many religions not just Islam.

Having said that, corruption exists in every large institution so you can‘t let a few bad apples sully organised religions that, for the most part, just want to direct people in a positive way and ultimately, to God.

People just misinterpret religious texts a lot of the time, or take things too literally. Or there are too many hypocritical religious leaders who have a lot of influence; it's like the blind leading the blind.

So it got me thinking, if I'm not entirely dismissive of religions then I can’t be an atheist, someone who completely denies the existence of God and any other supernatural being.

I guess I’d say my views are more agnostic. I don’t think you can rule out a spiritual realm. There are things that science just can’t explain, such as emotions and feelings, karma, weird coincidences, deja-vu etc.

I also think that certain things are beyond our capabilities of understanding. Human beings are supposed to be the most evolved species, with our unique ability to think, learn and communicate, but who’s to say we don’t have our limitations too?

Science can even back that thought up, I mean the universe is so vast, some even say infinite – how can we possibly know for sure what else is out there? For all the advances in science, medicine and technology, some things may just be beyond our comprehension and understanding.

Agnosticism…I guess it’s quite a good belief system; it’s the ultimate form of fence-sitting and you keep an open mind. Also, when people curiously ask about your cultural background and what your religious beliefs are, it’s good to be able to summarise it.

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