As you've probably figured out by now, one of my favourite pastimes is debate. From the philosophical to the linguistic, from the political to the mundane, any and all topics are worthy of debate, in my eyes. One topic that never gets old for...well...anyone, is religion. And lack of religion. And which versions of which religions are more or less valid. And so on, and so on, and so on. There is no end to the number of possible religious topics, and the internet gives us more than enough podiums from which to rant. One particular debate annoys me, however, on both a linguistic and ideological level.
See, I'm a pedant. And a writer. And a self-taught linguist. I take great interest in words, and how to most efficiently apply them. I'm also, however, vehemently opposed to forcing labels and ideologies onto others. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to define themselves, to take on or reject any label they so desire, and to leave open the option of changing their minds. And so, when the word "agnostic" is used without any additional suffix or context, my brain tends to split off into two diametrically opposed camps. On the one hand, "agnostic" is, by definition, a knowledge claim, not a belief claim. One can be an agnostic-atheist, an agnostic-Christian, an agnostic-Hindu, or any other possible designation. All it means is that one claims no knowledge of whether a literal deity exists or not - it says nothing about what they believe. On the other, I personally self-identify as "agnostic". I don't add atheist or theist or Cthuluist or Flying Spaghetti-ist to that - just regular, lonely ol' agnostic. So I fully understand where others are coming from with that. Yes, technically, if you do not believe in a specific deity/deities, you are an atheist. This is an unavoidable linguistic fact. But, if we are to be honest, words are much more than just cold definitions. Words carry connotations. They give flight to ideals. Stating that one is a theist, or an atheist, carries with it much more than a dictionary definition. It implies an ideology - an ideology not everyone wants to be associated with.
I've often been told that I "can't" be just an agnostic. That I "have to" admit to being either a theist or an atheist. That there is no logical way I can claim to be neither. The pedant half of me agrees - the strictest definitions of these terms demands that everyone be either a theist or an atheist. But the adamant free-thinker in me bucks this idea unabashedly. Sure, we all have our vague beliefs about such concepts, but what is so wrong with sticking with the clearest truth to some of us, which is "I don't know"? Why bother applying terms that we don't feel at all passionate or confident about? Why limit ourselves to a dichotomy that does not adequately sum up our views on the matter? What if I think a higher power is possible, but reject outright the current concepts presented? What if I think a higher power is unlikely, but that a more evolved, unknown species may have influenced our own? What if I think creation is reasonable, but that the proposed creators are not? There are countless ideas one may have on these topics that do not neatly fit into the "theist" or "atheist" models - so why should anyone be required to apply one term or the other to themselves?
Language has a single purpose: to communicate ideas. While creating strict definitions for words is necessary in a functional sense (that is, we all have to come to some sort of agreement on what words mean, otherwise, they lose their purpose), when it comes to vaguer ideologies, abstract concepts, and an expression of hard to define ideas, those strict definitions become a detriment. They force us to apply inadequate labels on ourselves, and limit our own ideas to the words currently available. This is, really, in direct opposition to the purpose of language - it prevents us from communicating our ideas, rather than arming us to do so.
And so, I propose a new definition for the label "agnostic". I propose that, if one chooses to use this label alone, free from any context, we should presume that this is a person that does not feel the terms "atheist" or "theist" sufficiently define their thoughts on the matter. That they have chosen to end the conversation at "I don't know". That they reject the connotations of other terms. That an agnostic is one that does not feel inclined to express vague beliefs, or feels belief is too abstract a concept to cling to. I propose that we loosen the definitions of "middle ground" labels, to communicate the idea that not all ideas can be communicated with a single word.