Agnostic or Ignostic?

October 5th, 2011   by   Andrew

Part of the series Myths and Dragons

About a year ago I read an article by Xenocrates on agnosticism and the consequences of using the word.

X is quite a good writer. The article is thorough and detailed. I don’t like like his initial premises about agnosticism, but I have been wrestling for a long while with his final words. I wrestle with them because, well, it strikes home at something important. His final conclusion is:

To me, the simple answer of “I really don’t know – and I really don’t care” is a lot more honest and a much more satisfying end to such a discussion.

X does an amazing job of laying out the case for the apathy of agnostics. Basically, by believing knowledge is limited by experience and then not making a leap for a faith or no faith, the agnostic is caught between responsibilities – honesty on one side and the fundamental beginnings of investigation on the other.

I didn’t like the conclusion. But it wasn’t really for rational reasons, I admit. I like the label “agnostic” and think it’s under-rated, even though I don’t even use it for myself much anymore. And, I don’t really argue for it much either.

I think I’ve found a way solve my problem with X’s conclusion. I think there is a difference between an “agnostic” and an “ignostic”.

There is a provincial election taking place on Oct 6th here in Ontario. I went to a local All-Candidates Meeting last night. In Ontario politics, the two major parties are the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. Both parties have long traditions of swapping power every few years, and presuming they are the only reasonable choice for getting the other party out of office when things get wonky.

There are a lot of presumptions in politics, especially by old established parties. And the result is many people think they have to vote red or blue for their vote to count.

That’s dangerous thinking.

The reds don’t always stay red. And the blues don’t always stay blue. They have borrowed from each other’s platform time and time again. That’s how politics goes sometimes; you use what’s available. Sometimes you even have to let the problem you’re facing be in charge – investigate the problem objectively to find the best course of action, regardless of where your party’s lines have been supposedly drawn.

Lines are incredibly stretchy, like definitions and words. And paths can be made by simply starting to walk in a different direction.

There were seven candidates at that meeting asking for my vote. Five of them sick and tired of the rule of blue and red.

The New Democratic Party grew out of the country’s work unions and the labour fights of long ago. They were frustrated with the blues and reds, and thought there was a better way to solve problems.

The Green Party is a relatively new national party. Its presence alone has changed how the reds and the blues and the NDP talk about the issues.

The People First Republic Party is a localized party. It came from a group of lobbyists sick  and tired of the red and blue attitude of presumption.  The group felt it had no choice but to shout louder at the giants and hammer at the clay feet.

The Family Coalition Party believe the family is the initial, essential building block of any society and feel no party represents their values.

The Libertarian candidate last night was trying to enjoy the meeting and it was apparent he didn’t think he was going to get elected. Each time he spoke he urged the theatre audience and television audience to get active in the political process instead of just presuming the government was there to solve your problems for you.

Seven candidates. All technically viable options, if people would get out and vote. And if in power, each of the candidates would likely borrow from the platforms and ideas of the others in order to do the job to the best of their ability or the best of their presumptions.

I have a problem with the idea that agnostics must be apathetic, even if they are fence-sitters. The usual parties presume you have to go one way or the other. They do so because they have been established for so long they forget they themselves grew out of a process of renewal. At some point, someone was so dissatisfied with the usual, presumption-filled way of things they felt compelled to find another path. And everything with a beginning has an end.

The usual parties forget they are temporary solutions at best.

I think there is an important difference between an “agnostic” and an “ignostic”.

The “ignostic” is a person that doesn’t know and doesn’t care. It’s root is more from “ignorant” than “agnostic”.

I think the “agnostic” is a person that doesn’t know, but does in fact care. They care so much that they can’t stand the old answers anymore. They are compelled to start looking at options. They are preparing themselves for another path. And they are trying to maintain the humility of knowing where they are starting from – the very limited conditions that are a part of personal experience.

I’ve been both, agnostic and ignostic.

The usual parties may presume we all have to leap in the usual ways, but the fact that I have a choice of seven names to vote for on October 6th tells me different. Sure, those candidates might borrow from each other or say the same things from time to time, but there are new ideas in there too.

The usual parties don’t have the best answers or the only answers. I think they presume too much.

What do you think?