by Nick Lingerfelt
Kiera Aycock, a pansexual student at the University of Memphis, identifies as an agnostic because, to her, agnosticism is about admitting there are things she will never know.
Aycock grew up in the Bible Belt, specifically in Mississippi. The “fire and brimstone” rhetoric she heard from Christians drove her away from the religion.
“I’ve seen some really terrible and unfair things in life, and I’d like to believe that if there was a god, he would be kinder than that,” Aycock said.
Religious “nones,” a shorthand used to refer to people who identify as atheists or agnostics as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” compose about 23 percent of the United States adult population, according to a 2014 study done by Pew Research Center. This number has increased since 2007 when the center previously had done a similar study and found 16 percent of Americans were “nones.”
Preston Rogers, a member of the Memphis Freethought Alliance, a “freethought” organization for non- religious people, said at the root of agnosticism lies the belief there is unknown or unknowable knowledge.
“Humans almost certainly will never learn all there is to know in the universe, even if all of it is knowable,” Rogers said. “It is akin to approaching infinity, which one draws ever near yet will never reach.”
Steve Haynes, a professor of religious studies at Rhodes College, said there are two ways people define agnosticism.
“One is it’s not possible to know anything with absolute certainty, and the other way is when people get overwhelmed with the options out there or they don’t feel like any particular answer to the meaning of life is sufficiently reliable,” Haynes said.
Haynes said the first way of viewing agnosticism is self-defeating because if one cannot know anything for certain, then one also cannot know if they cannot know anything for certain. He said “seekers,” or people who do not think any particular answer to the meaning of life is sufficient, are eclectic in their spirituality because they dabble in many types of religious activities, like going to church.
“They’re seeking after something that’s true for them,” Haynes said. “I think somebody could be agnostic and yet be very engaged in a spiritual search, or you could be an agnostic and basically be an atheist and not bother.”
The total number of “nones” in the world is expected to rise from 1.17 billion now to 1.20 billion in 2060, but this growth is projected to occur at the same time other religious groups, and the entire global population, are growing faster, according a 2015 study on world religions done by the Pew Research Center. It also predicts ”nones” will compose about 13 percent of the world’s population in 2060, a decrease from about 16 percent now. The study suggests this is due to “nones” being, on average, older and having fewer children than people who are affiliated with a religion.
While Aycock may be on the fence about believing in a god, she said she knows she does not like religion.
“I recently saw a bumper sticker that said, ‘Less religion, more God,’ and I like that sentiment,” Aycock said. “Different religious groups of all faiths have spread so much hate and misinformation. I think people can have a truly wonderful relationship with God without ever having bought into religion.”