Every month in PULP, the alt-monthly publication for which I serve as an editor, I run a Q & A column called “Faith 2.0.” The idea is that people can submit questions about faith, religion and theology, and I’ll at least make an attempt to produce an answer.
Following are the questions and my responses for the November issue:
What’s the difference between an atheist and an agnostic?
Though they’re often grouped together, sometimes collectively called “skeptics,” there is a distinct difference. The word “agnostic” comes from the Greek, a gnostos, which means “to not have knowledge of God.” In early Greek culture, believers were called Gnostics, and proclaimed to have knowledge of God’s existence; so agnostics identified themselves as separate from this group. Today, the term “agnostic” refers to people who are generally unclear about their beliefs, or are skeptical – but not entirely certain – about the existence of a divine being. The term “atheist,” also from the Greek “a theos” meaning “no God”, suggests one who is firm in their belief in the non-existence of God.
Why do some churches have crosses, while others have crucifixes?
The Catholic Church traditionally has used the symbol of Jesus on the cross to remind people of the stories of the “suffering Christ,” as this is central to Catholic teaching. The Protestant movement, begun by Martin Luther in 1517, sought to distinguish itself from the Catholic Church in many ways, including removing images of God from worship, which they considered a violation of the Mosaic Commandment against “graven images.” Also, with their emphasis on the resurrected Christ, Protestants represented this difference with an empty cross.