Agnostic Imagination

I’m an agnostic. I don’t believe in anything. I don’t believe in science. I don’t believe in art. I don’t believe in religion. I particularly don’t believe in newspapers or TV or anything that’s reported on the news.

Robert Anton Wilson famously said that belief is the death of intelligence. Once you believe something you stop asking questions. You think you already know. Questions are quests for the mind. When you stop questing, you are no longer truly alive.

That goes whether you believe in something, or militantly disbelieve. Both are aspects of belief. If you say, “there is no God” you have closed the door on the possibility of ever knowing if there is one or not. You’ve already made up your mind. You’ve stopped asking questions.

As an agnostic, on the other hand, you don’t know, and you don’t pretend to know. Nothing is certain, therefore you can play. You can pretend. You can play with belief. You can use your imagination as an experimental tool.

Einstein famously came up with his theory of relativity by imaginative means. He imagined a train travelling at the speed of light and saw, from this perspective, that everything else was relative, even time.

Einstein began his experiment, firstly, by not believing. He didn’t believe in the standard Newtonian model. He was an agnostic. Had he believed he would never have bothered to question or find out.

He said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Earlier, in the 15th Century, Copernicus came up with the idea that the earth went round the sun rather than the other was round.

In those days the model of the Universe was based upon the belief that the earth was at the centre of everything. By refusing to accept that belief, by taking an agnostic view, Copernicus was able to come up with a much more intellectually satisfying model of how the solar system works. We’ve been imagining that ever since.

Even more startling, not long after, in the mid 16th Century, an Italian Dominican Friar by the name of Giordano Bruno lay on his back one starry night and imagined that the stars were distant suns surrounded by their own planets.

Imagine that. What an extraordinary leap of the imagination. People hadn’t even begun to accept the Copernican model, let alone imagine the Universe as this vast, infinite space.

Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for his agnosticism. He refused to accept the prevalent belief system at the time. He questioned the belief in eternal damnation, in the divinity of Christ, in the virginity of Mary, and in the transubstantiation of the host in the Eucharist.

At the same time he suggested that the Universe itself might be alive, and the soul might be reborn in another body by reincarnation.

Both Giordana Bruno and Kepler had read the newly discovered works of Hermes Trisemegestus, dating from around the first century AD, which some say helped to kick start the Renaissance.

So it took something ancient, something outside the accepted view of the world, to start making people curious again.

The word “renaissance” means rebirth. It’s a new renaissance we need now as our dangerously out-of-control political and economic system is driving the world off a cliff edge into ecological disaster.

Just as Church dogma in the 15th and 16th centuries restricted imagination, so our new TV dogma does the same.

We need to start questioning again. We need to become agnostics.

Read more here.


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