1. You learn about how similar most religions are.
There are several religions that claim to be the “true” religion and the only one at that. But all religions share so much in common. They give guidance on how to live, memorialize different milestones in life, provide traditions for celebration and for grief. But at the end of the day, no one has ever found solid evidence that ‘one’ of them is ‘right’.
They can start to look like the Big Deal on “Let’s Make A Deal”. A bunch of different doors that look very very similar, with a prize that’s only behind one. But you realize that some people are raised to believe the prize is behind Door One, and some Door Two. And some people, maybe because of where they were born, may have only heard of Door Three and not know the others even exist. And when you realize how shitty these odds are, with a prize that’s seemingly more important than a brand new Cadillac, it no longer seems fair that it’s all a game of chance.
Being agnostic, to me at least, is choosing not to play. It’s deciding that for me, none of the doors are the ‘right’ one, but that they each may hold a prize of sorts behind them in their own way. It’s different from atheism, in that I believe there is something bigger than us – I just think we haven’t figured it out yet, or that maybe it’s beyond our understanding completely.
2. You start to question EVERYTHING.
When you question the source of all “the rules”, you begin to question each rule itself. Like why is it “bad” to have sex before marriage? And really why is it only bad for women? What about marriage itself? The idea of promising to the higher power of your choosing to stay together forever (if you are a heteronormative couple in most cases) is appealing to the parts of us that are human, that are afraid of getting dumped, of left, of hurt.
But marriage based on love is only a recent concept when you think about it. It was about alliances and business deals for centuries before that. A way to keep the system in place. Guilt and shame are two powerful forces when it comes to motivating people, and very much at play in the traditional stigmas around divorce or sex outside of marriage. Don’t believe me? Read Anna Karenina and let’s chat 1,000 pages of Russian literature later…
But just because I question everything, doesn’t mean I purport to have any of the answers, or that there are any ‘answers’ to begin with. I think love is real, and some people have happy life-long marriages, and that’s a beautiful thing. People also fall out of love and get divorced, and are happier for it, and that’s okay too. From my agnostic point of view, marriage is not the only way to have a validated loving relationship, and certainly not a guarantee that a relationship will last forever.
3. You develop your own value system.
You literally have that moment where you wonder, “What if everyone was good just because it was the right thing to do?” Not because anyone told them to. Not because they were afraid of going to hell, or because they wanted to get into heaven. What if they did it just because? And what would that look like to you specifically? As abstract as it sounds, you start to look to your own intuition and conscience for what ‘good’ is. And becoming agnostic sometimes means your new value system may be at odds with your former religion. Most of the time honesty and not hurting anyone will be the baselines for what you end up deciding.
4. You truly value the ‘good’ in other people.
We’ve all met that one person who follows all “the rules”, but spends most of their time singling out everyone who doesn’t. But not doing anything ‘bad’ isn’t necessarily what makes a ‘good’ person. You start to recognize the active ways in which people are good to each other every day of their own volition. Love. Service. Understanding. Volunteering. Friendship. Seriously just smiling at a stranger. It’s really that simple.
5. You have to deal with uncertainty around death.
This goes back to questioning everything and can be one of the toughest questions to face. Death is scary and uncertain but inevitably will happen to all of us. For me, I guess I’ll find out when I get there, but until then, I’m just gonna live my life the best I can.
6. The ‘here and now’ holds more importance.
With that uncertainty about death, comes a brand new importance for life. Religion can tend to highlight the rewards of an afterlife, especially for the poor or suffering. If that becomes too heavy of or even the only focus, it can overshadow or ignore the things that can be done to improve life for people right now, and that’s important. It’s definitely easier said than done, but something I want to work on getting better at.
7. You decide how you want to make your life meaningful.
At the end of the day, the questions may never end, but you ultimately get to decide what to do with them. I love art. The idea that people have been living and dying and creating for years, trying to ask and answer their own questions, questions that have been asked a million times by other people, finding a small piece of truth, and capturing whatever that is in their own way is absolutely amazing. There are limitless ways you can say life is beautiful. It’s just about finding the way that makes the most sense to you.