YOUR QUESTIONS

Sr. Louise Zdunich

July 2, 2012

QuestionWhat is atheism? Agnosticism?

What is the difference between the two?

 


AnswerThe prefix "a" is used to express a variety of meanings, among them "no" and "against." Therefore, "a" before theist (belief in God), means no belief or against belief in any God. This is sometimes called weak or implicit atheism. Complete denial of the possibility of the existence of any God is then called a strong or explicit atheism.

The "a" before gnosticism means no belief in gnosticism, the second and third century Gnostics' claim of possessing all knowledge. Agnosticism claims not to know whether or not there is a God. Therefore, atheism's problem is one of belief or faith while agnosticism's problem is one of knowledge or intellect.

Atheism is a system of thought which is formally opposed to theism, that is, a belief in God. Some modern atheists are highly critical of the belief in God. They appear to do their best to stop others from believing by their preaching and writings. They seem to take on a missionary-like crusade against belief in God.

Therefore, it is really absence, the absence of a belief system or religion. But even atheists have faith when they trust another person or trust that science can solve every problem.

People become atheists for many different reasons. It can be a result of what one knows and how one understands and reasons, especially when relying exclusively on scientifically-proven fact.

Present-day society may also tend to influence people in this direction. In modern times, when humans can conquer and know almost anything, it becomes easier to do without a God than it would have for earlier societies. Often the God against whom atheists are protesting is not really the God in whom Christians believe.

Agnosticism is a philosophical theory of the limitations of human knowledge. It comes from a time when it was believed the human mind could not truly know anything. The word itself was first used by Huxley in 1869 to contrast this inability to know with the Gnostics' claim to all knowledge.

TOO RIGID

Both of these positions: the mind can know nothing and it can know everything are extreme. These positions leave no room for other ways of knowing which are called non-rational, not irrational, such as creativity and imagination or intuition and emotions.

Experience and evidence show us that these too are powerful forms of knowing. Even Einstein, the great thinker said that imagination is more important than knowledge, for imagination embraces everything there is to know while knowledge limits us to what is already known.

Where would we be without the awe-inspiring music, the magnificent art and the grandiose architecture that comes from the creativity of the great artists of all time?

Someone once said that you earn a living with knowledge, that is, with your intellectual learning. But what makes life worth living is the beauty that surrounds us in nature and in the great works of art from human inspiration and creativity. In other words, our quality of life depends as much, or more, on what feeds the heart and soul than on what feeds the body.

What is faith? Faith is one of the three theological virtues, along with hope and love. It is a gift of God given to us at Baptism and throughout our lives. It needs to be nourished and developed in one's early years so that a response to God is possible throughout life.

Faith goes beyond external observance. It is a vision, a vision of the possible. It animates and inspires: life and mission, works of charity, spirituality and prayer. It stimulates outreach to others in their need and union with Christ's suffering in one's own suffering. All of life is flavoured and made meaningful in faith.

GOD'S GIFT

Faith like love, hope and trust are part of who we are as human beings. We can't manufacture it, but we can develop the seed that God has put into each human person.

Gratitude is our response for having been given this gift of faith, for it is truly a gift. And we need to do all we can throughout life to develop and live it.

(Other questions? Email: zdunich@telus.net)