agnostic

agnostic

Read highlights of Krista's interview with Alain de Botton, and experience his philosophy in Twitter-form.

Recently I spoke to a class of college students — by way of Skype — in southern Minnesota. We talked about how religion is portrayed through news media. As often in my experience, this was a critical discussion about the narrow and often inflammatory way religion comes up, and usually in the context of politics.

In a recent Pew poll, 16 percent of Americans identified themselves as "unaffiliated" — atheist, agnostic, or most prominently "nothing in particular." Greg Epstein, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard, described himself that way until he discovered the tradition of humanism. He is passionate about articulating an atheist identity that is not driven by a stance against religion but by positive ethical beliefs and actions.

In 1965, a young Harvard professor became the best-selling voice of secularism in America with his book The Secular City. He sees the old thinking in the "new atheism" of figures like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. The either/or debates between religion and atheism, he says, obscure the truly interesting interplay between faith and other forms of knowledge that is unfolding today.

Poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht says that as a scholar she always noticed the "shadow history" of doubt out of the corner of her eye. She shows how non-belief, skepticism, and doubt have paralleled and at times shaped the world's great religious and secular belief systems. She suggests that only in modern time has doubt been narrowly equated with a complete rejection of faith, or a broader sense of mystery.

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