I do a lot of Atlassian tool configuration for my job as a consultant at Adaptavist, and one of the most common things I hear about halfway through, or soon after, an engagement is that there’s a “bug.” Something isn’t working the way the customer expects it to, and therefore either the software is buggy, or something was misconfigured.
With a new blog, you have to have a first post. Years from now, you’ll forget what that first post was, but people will dive all the way back to the beginning of your archive to see where you began. With that in mind, I’ve decided to write about my process for starting this new project of Meta-Manage.
My “final” in this semester’s Religion 580 class was to write a single page defining religion. The first sentence should be our core definition, with the rest of the paper elaborating on that sentence.
I’m not certain I’m comfortable with what I came up with. If nothing else, it put me in mind of the same paper I wrote my freshman year, now six and a half years gone, when we were required to perform the same assignment for Religion 100. As I considered the subject, I felt that my definition had become incredibly pretentious, overly verbose, and had perhaps lost all sight of what religion was. After the years of critical study, commitment to pluralism, and learning about a great many of the world’s religions, I find myself a bit uncertain of what religion is. I look forward to reviewing that old paper someday soon and seeing if my freshman naiveté was in some ways more accurate than what my educated opinions have become.
Religion is both the irrational desire to reconnect with something to which we never felt connected in the first place, and the means by which we seek to transcend our mundane lives and contextualize the world in which we live. Its role in our lives is influenced by our upbringing, psychological moratorium and conclusion, socio-economic situation, political bend, and a number of other mundane factors too complex to chart out. But there seems to be something more to religion, something wholly indefinable that escapes rationality and reason. The very need to reconnect in the first place raises questions that are difficult to answer—from where does this need originate?, what does it signify?, is it common to everyone or limited to certain individuals?—and the existence of religion does not fit comfortably within clearly defined parameters or fields of study. There is an essence to at least some religious belief and action that is simply irrational, defying definition unless one resorts to suggestions of either spiritual influence, mental illness, or duplicity.
To this end, it seems that religion is the very real need to connect with something that escapes classification and definition, and which eludes cogent theorizing. Whether there is a deity or not, and regardless of the numerous mundane factors that might lead to one seeking deity or some other religious ritual, duty, or connection, there is certainly something in humanity that yearns to look outside what we know of our past, the fields of psychology and sociology, the studies of chemistry, biology, and physics, our jobs and the means they provide, and our political party to find something that transcends it all. Despite all we know of this world, the feeling remains with many that there is something greater out there that casts all the rest into question. To find that something, humanity turns to religion.
The image of Christians as puritanical zealots who fear all physical contact is both humourous and regrettable. It is humourous because of how unBiblical the concept of physical coldness is when viewed against examples like David and Jonathan, and regrettable because of how often its tenants are upheld or even encouraged by Christians.
Let’s pull back a bit and define physical contact for the sake of this conversation. For now, I would like to discuss it in the context of hugging: a simple physical embrace between two people. I put hugging on par with a Holy Kiss, elevating it somewhat above a handshake but not something that reaches the familiar level of an outright smooch. Its meaning changes depending on how fervent the hug is, its length and intensity, and the two people sharing the contact, but in general it’s fairly benign. I think that gives us a decent starting place for discussing physical contact between Christians in general.
Due to my experience, I can only define hugging in negative terms, which is to say that I cannot outright state what it is. Rather, I must state that which it is not, and allow the whitespace to highlight its shape and form. And while this may seem like an absurd concept, I suspect that I am not alone in this. I have met a number of people who seem to have misinterpreted either the aim or the execution of hugging and in so doing have perverted its definition.
In this sense, I think the correlation of a hug to the Holy Kiss is important. Hugging is not a sexual activity, nor a licentious one, but it is to be shared between two individuals who share a common understanding. Without that common understanding, its meaning and importance are lost.
- Hugging is not sexual, nor is it romantic. It is something shared between friends and family.
- Hugging is not greedy or self-serving, but an act of connection between two people, serving both.
- Hugging is not a universal greeting, appropriate in all situations.
- However, hugging is not reserved or rare–it ought to be practiced far more than we do now.
- Hugging is a gift, a balm, and a blessing. It is a way of saying to someone, “You are not alone.”
- Hugging is not a demand.
As I started to try and understand hugging for myself, at least enough to write this list, it reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13:
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails.
This passage is a bulwark against which we can test the love we see around us. If the “love” we are seeing does not match this, it is not love. If what we are experiencing is not these things, it is not love. Similarly, hugging is those things above, and many more that I can’t think of right now. If it becomes sexual, you’ve transitioned from hugging to groping or grinding. If it is greedy, you are no longer hugging, but grasping and clinging. If it is not a gift, it is a theft.
If people are calling something hugging that does not meet the above definitions (which I’ll be talking about tomorrow), their definition has become confused and mistaken. This has a serious impact on their life, relationships, and ability to connect with others, and is something that they must address and set aright.
You know what really grinds my gears? When people say they’re not sure whether they believe in God or not, so they’re agnostic.
The defining principle of gnosticism is communicated by its Greek root, “gnosis” which means “knowledge.” The concept is one of mystical knowledge, and that by gaining knowledge, we grow closer to the divine.
To contextualize this within Christianity, the community at Qumran represented Christian gnostics who felt that salvation was attained through knowledge of God. That what a person needed to do was learn as much as they could, come to really understand what and who God was, and that by gaining this knowledge a person could enter heaven. This was later declared a heresy, but its appeal is understandable because it creates a measurable and definable goal for salvation.
Agnosticism, conversely, is essentially the statement that mystical knowledge is impossible to attain. It is a reasoned viewpoint declaring that humans cannot know one way or the other about the divine, the afterlife, or anything pertaining to them, and therefore we must maintain a stance founded in doubt and skepticism.
Where atheism is the belief that no deity exists, agnosticism is the belief that we cannot know one way or the other.
It’s not a compromise
It seems like a lot of people got the impression that agnosticism is actually a belief that falls somewhere between theism and atheism and is the label for anyone who can’t make up their mind. If you believe in god, you’re a theist, if you don’t you’re an atheist, and if you can’t decide, you’re agnostic. That is simply not true.
Agnosticism is a commitment to skepticism and doubt. It is a commitment, not to science and reason necessarily, but to the recognition that humankind has limited faculties with which to comprehend the universe. If there is a spiritual plane about which we are unaware, one that can be neither measured nor interacted with, how can one believe? Equally, how can one disbelieve?
It’s a cop-out to say that because you don’t know, you’re agnostic. That’s not the point. The point is that you can’t know, and therefore you’re agnostic.
Stop perverting our language
If you don’t know, just say you don’t know. It’s important to use words appropriately and accurately, and by not doing so, you not only water-down definitions and confuse the issues, you also denigrate true agnostics. How can anyone take an agnostic seriously when the prevailing definition is “someone who hasn’t bothered to think this through and make up their mind?”
St. Paul admonishes Christians to study and learn about God so they can always give an accounting of their beliefs if called upon to do so. I’m not going to change how I treat you one way or the other based on your beliefs, and that goes for politics as well as religion or any other ideological issues. What I do care about is that you can give thoughtful reasons for why you believe what you do, and it frustrates me when someone can’t.
So don’t cop-out and call yourself agnostic when you’re not. Take the time to think things through and stop perverting our language.