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The Great Scholarship Religion Quandary

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There comes a point when ambiguity becomes annoying.

For most people who know me, they are aware that my religious affiliation is agnostic. I believe there is a god, a higher power, and I believe that it is our responsibility as human beings to be good people, to be good to each other and ourselves. I am against organized religion; I think that whatever higher power is out there, I doubt he/she/it/they really cares what we classify ourselves as, as long as we try to be good to each other.

My friends, acquaintances, and peers accept this. I’m more than happy to talk about it. It isn’t a taboo subject to me, and I’m not offended when I’m asked about it. It’s never been an object of contention.

But thanks to Scholarships.Com, it has become one.

Like most college students, I’m broke as a joke. I am relying on online scholarship sites to find some obscure scholarships (like ones for left-handers!). I went through the usual questions marked with a big red unfriendly “REQUIRED” — age, college rank, major, GPA, ACT/SAT scores, and then I came to…. RELIGION.

Okay. It’s required that I enter my religion. Now what?

Well, naturally I scan down the list for “agnostic.” Not seeing it… oh. There it is: in the grab bag response of “heathen” religions. To be exact, the choice that included agnosticism was labeled:

AGNOSTIC/ATHEIST/NONRELIGIOUS

Excuse me? Because I refuse to claim one specific organized religion, I’m lumped in with atheists? I don’t have a problem with atheists – they have their beliefs, I have mine, and that’s fine. But the problem is this: atheists do not believe in a god. I believe in a god. They are two completely separate things, and yet, at the same time, I’m being forced to categorize myself with them?

I could just mark “Christian” and make it easier. I grew up in a Christian home and I guess if I had to pick the organized religion closest to my own personal mish-mash of beliefs, it would be that. But I’m not a Christian. And I shouldn’t have to “round up” to the closest religion just to avoid calling myself what I am, calling it what it is.

I’m agnostic. I am not atheist. I am not nonreligious; but yet I must classify myself as such in order to classify myself what I am.

And what’s more, I’m required to answer it! I cannot skip to the next question. So I have to suck it up and sit in the classification drawer with the atheists and nonreligious people, even though it’s not what I am.

Is it accurate? Nowhere near!

Is this fair? Of course not!

So in order to continue on to the next browser window, I am forced to answer inaccurately. I’m a bright girl and can get scholarships on merit of my academic and extracurricular performance, not my religion (or according to Scholarships.Com, my lack thereof). The problem is, it should never be an issue of contention. Just as an atheist would resent being categorized with someone who believes in a god (me), I resent being lumped in with someone whose fundamental beliefs are the polar opposite of mine.

* Sighs *

I guess there’s always grandma’s inheritance.

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About Chelsea Smith

  • Howard

    Chelsea, you’re overly sensitive about your
    religious beliefs. As a Baptist, I have no problem with your being an agnostic, although I am truly sorry. A member of a religious body supports that body in some manner, as in time, attendance, and/or financially. As an agnostic, you don’t join others of similar beliefs to build meeting places, schools and hospitals. I do not criticize your failure but point out that you are, indeed, in a pool of people that includes atheists and nonreligious. You do criticize, and the Lord knows we are an imperfect bunch. Sometimes I do take offense when a member of that pool attempts to take control of facilities and programs built by a religious organization.

  • http://ruvysroost.blospot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Chelsea,

    If I remember right, agnostic indicates someone who doesn’t know if there is a G-d or not, and an atheist is someone who states flat out that there isn’t one. An agnostic is someone who doesn’t want to prove why he doesn’t believe in G-d, so he shrugs his shoulders and begs out of the question.

    If you believe in G-d, then why do you call yourself agnostic?

    I’m not questioning your beliefs or condemning them, or anything like that, but wondering about the label.

  • http://alienboy.wordpress.com/ Christopher Rose

    I support Chelsea on this; as an ethical, even spiritual, person who remains totally unpersuaded that gods have in fact ever existed except as metaphors, I resent being lumped in with faithists at all. Might as well have a category for astrology.

  • http://alienboy.wordpress.com/ Christopher Rose

    Oh yeah, the book you chose rankles a bit. I seriously dislike the word atheist. It’s a religious word that seeks to define me within its own arcane terminolgy.

    I’m a person, a member of the human race apparently; if people choose to belong to whatever personal belief system they want to or were raised in, that’s fine by me, but I dislike it intensely when one of these groups then seeks to label me. You’re faithists, I’m not, end of story.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    My feelings are very straightforward on this: there is absolutely no legitimate reason to ask about one’s religion on an application. None!

    Can you imaqine a category for sexual orientation? This too is nobody’s business.

    Political party affiliation? Shouldn’t be an issue at all.

    It’s time that people’s right to privacy is recognized and respected. Chelsea should not have been put into this situation, nor should anyone else.

  • Anon

    As someone already mentioned, you’re most certainly NOT an agnostic. An agnostic would never state “I believe there is a god…”. You appear to be a deist in the mold of Jefferson.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    When I joined the navy at the tender age of 17 I had to fill out all this kind of stuff.

    I filled out all the paper work prior to my folks signing the papers and I had put down none for religious preference…

    my mother looked at me and said…I remember it very clearly…you were born a fucking catholic…you were raised a fucking catholic and you’re gonna die a fucking catholic…

    I looked at the recruiter and said…

    wait for it…

    could you change that to fucking catholic???

    my mom was pretty calm about it 8 weeks later when I got back from boot camp!

    From my limited study into these things…I don’t think agnostic is the word you’re looking for…as an agnostic just doesn’t know if there’s a god or not…you seem pretty sure there is one…you sound more like a heretic to me…

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    As far as the question of whether or not this question should be on an application for a scholarship or not and all these commenters freaking out about it…if it’s my money and I’m offerring a scholarship to someone I think I can ask you any damn question I want! I mean, it is MY money…no?

  • http://somethingaboutchelsea.blogspot.com Chelsea Snyder

    I don’t have a problem answering the question anymore than I have a problem talking about my beliefs and ethics. It’s just the fact that the answer I have to use is so broad and overly general, and inaccurate, that I have a problem.

    I claim myself as an agnostic because I don’t claim any one particular god, or gods. I think there IS a higher power, something overseeing everything. I do NOT believe in predestination or fate. I do not think religious affiliation matters and I don’t believe in organized religion — one of the many great concepts that we human beings dick up.

    I don’t know where I stand on religions because I’m 21 and still questioning a lot of things about them. So until then, I’ll remain a skeptic and an agnostic.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Actually, Chelsea, your self-definition would make you a deist and a skeptic, rather than an agnostic. Essentially, the deist believes in a higher power. You have a specific belief in a higher power, but no real specific beliefs on details except for certain things you do not believe in, like predestination. Don’t worry, life and time will supply answers – and plenty more questions.

    I don’t see where that helps on your scholarship application though. Deist is not likely to be on the app. If I were you, I would go eenie meenie minie moe…

  • ss

    A short list of other major religions crammed together, and their most important commandments:

    MusloJudeoChristoAmericanism:
    “Yea and if against your brother thou hast not a legal leg to stand on, just smite him and take what ye will. And lo, If says anyone anything, invent a reason based on good intentions, after the fact, or else status as the real victim here.”

    CathloJudeaoMohamadism:
    ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!’

    Hindlims:
    “Christ it’s HOT. I mean HOT! Let’s start a fire. You, knobby knees, where you goin’- hey someboby through him on the fire”

    Manism:
    “Just cover your face. And your legs. And you ovariesandyourarmsandyourvagina. But show me your tits. C’mon.”
    *Manism was originally invented by women.

    Buddhacrackism:
    If you’ve seen Menace to Society and Before Sunset you know where this one’s going.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    LOL, ss

  • http://somethingaboutchelsea.blogspot.com Chelsea Snyder

    What, no cracks on Scientology?

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    You don’t know the history of Scientology. I do.

  • ss

    Nah, that’s like making fun of the Special Olympics.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    ss, I now have an image of Tom Cruise wearing a trucker hat that says “WORLD CHAMPION” that just made my day.

    I may need to consult Photoshop on this matter.

  • http://somethingaboutchelsea.blogspot.com Chelsea Snyder

    Matt, Matt, Matt … you’re glib.

  • ss

    It finally occurred to me Tom Cruise might just be retarded.
    That means I might be…
    Uh-ohh

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Quiet, please. L. Ron is turning over in his cryogenic chamber on the spaceship heading toward planet TOMKAT.

  • http://somethingaboutchelsea.blogspot.com Chelsea Snyder

    ss, ss….you don’t know the history of mental retardation. I do.

  • ss

    I was being crass and stupid Chelsea. Sorry.

  • ss

    BTW, I’m not an expert on the Unitarians, but as I (probably mis)understand it, at least one branch has no central dogma, or even really one theology. That may well mean they also have no scholarship programs (hippie church!), but you could click on it and check.
    Or, if you don’t mind being a little unethical, you could check different major religions, find out which ones offer the best scholarships, then become a member of that church.
    If you believe in God but not dogma what difference does it make which building you sit in for a couple hours a week or who you donate the cans of soup through.
    If they give the scholarship to someone who literally joined the church a week before they applied, it was probably about to go to waste anyway.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Victor, Matt,

    Is L Ron related to Enron? I know they had a lot of “n” somethings in Scien…

    OOPS!! I better rap this up quick! I can hear the Scientology thought police tramping up the staircase now. Damn, I didn’t know their triangulation was that good or that quiii….

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    It’s quite reasonable for Chelsea to define herself as agnostic. The literal roots of the word translate to “non-knowledge.” The exact nature of this lack of knowledge is not clearly defined.

    Some are agnostic on simply the personal level. Their statement of belief might be: “I don’t know whether or not any gods exist.”

    Some assert that everyone is universally agnostic, whether aware of it or not: “It is impossible for anyone to know whether or not any gods exist.”

    Rather than be agnostic about the existence of the divine, some are agnostic about the nature of divinity, as Chelsea is: “There is a god of some kind, but the exact nature and will of that being is not known to me (or perhaps, not knowable to anyone).”

    Agnostic and atheist are somewhat overlapping categories, from what I’ve read. The definitions are not simple if you listen to atheists debate amongst themselves. Add in the nontheists and the henotheists, and you’ve got almost as many possible variations as the number of Protestant Christian denominations.

    For the purposes of a broad-spectrum multi-purpose scholarship application, the agnostic/atheist/nonreligious all have one thing in common. They are not among the intended recipients of many scholarships endowed by religious organizations. That is probably why they all share a single category on the application form.

    If any agnostics every get organized and sectarian enough to endow a scholarship, and offer it to agnostics but not to atheists, they might persuade Scholarships.com to create a separate category for agnostics.

  • Nancy

    Just out of curiousity, what categories DID they have, and was “none of the above” an option?

  • http://somethingaboutchelsea.blogspot.com Chelsea Snyder

    Nancy, just to answer your question, I went back to the site, and these are the options offered under religion:

    Agnostic/Atheist/Secular/Nonreligious
    Baha’i
    Baptist
    Buddhism
    Catholic
    Christian Science
    Christianity
    Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
    Church of the Brethren
    Confucianism
    Disciples of Christ
    Episcopal
    Evangelical
    Greek Orthodox
    Hinduism
    Islam/Muslim
    Jainism
    Jesuit
    Judaism/Jewish
    Lutheran
    Methodist
    Paganism
    Presbyterian
    Protestant
    Reformed Church in America
    Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America
    Shinto
    Sikhism
    Taoism
    Unitarian
    Zoroastrism

    “None of the above” is not an option.

  • Bliffle

    It’s amazing to me, all this categorical hair-splitting over matters that we know almost nothing about, dominated by sheer speculation, plagued by fraudulent history, deluded by insane practitioners and prophets, and misled by bogus historical texts. And then we seem to have very little hope of discovering anything important about these fabulous creatures we call “god”. What a waste of time!

  • http://jpsgoddamnblog.blogspot.com JP

    I tend to agree here that the definition of agnostic is not usually linked with a diest argument. Several of the options listed in #26 are choices agnostics sometimes make in order to find a community of like folks–Baha’i, Buddhist, Unitarian, Pagan, etc.

    The list itself is a little strange–I notice it lists Catholic, but it also lists Jesuit, which is merely one order within the Roman Catholic church. (an influential one, sure, but why not list the Dominicans? Benedictines? Carmelites? etc. You get my point.

    Bliffle, I am with you to a point–I think there are far too many flavors, so to speak. There’s monotheism, polytheism, atheism, deism, etc. But then within each there are untold numbers of divisions, most of which eventually end up warring with the other for supremacy. Ultimately the problem to me is that regardless of what we believe, the ultimate unknowable truth does not change; and so we spend countless time and energy and resources fighting over who’s right, while oblivious to the fact that we’re all a single human community. God, whatever its name is, probably just shakes its head….

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Interesting, Chelsea. I see quite a number of possibilities to get pissed off at this list at comment #25. Someone who is Russian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, a member of the Church of G-d, a Coptic Christian, or Ethiopian Orthodox has more of a beef than you do. They are stuck with a catch-all “Christian” box.

  • Hummm….

    Chelsea… you seem to be very confused on the traditional meaning and/or denotation of the word agnostic.

    From Dictionary.com “agnostic”

    1. a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
    b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.

    This first definition is partaining to religous views. Since you said you believe there IS a god then you are a “theist”. You may take a secular stance to your theism though. To be secular is just to be with out religion.

    On top of that agnosticism is more of a method, rather than a religous stance. It is to say “I don’t know.” Atheists and theists can both be agnostically prone. An atheist might make the conclusion that there is no evidence for a need for a god, based on the evidence pointing toward an entirely natural universe, one with out supernateral intervention. However, they will have an agnostic approach, in that, if evidence arose that would prove a supernatural being exists, then they would except the evidence and change there minds.

    2.One who is doubtful or noncommittal about something.

    The second dictionary.com definition is a purely secular meaning. It means that one chooses to not make any decisions upon the case in question. Agnostic does not always relate to religion.

    You seem to have a very negative view of atheism. If so, that view is ignorant and poorly founded.

    I would also like to say that your problem with the “whole pick a religion” thing is quite ridiculous. One of the damn reasons for picking a religion is often to benefit the person applying. They just find scholarships by relativity to you. Many religous organizations give scholarships to people of their faith, and that site is only trying to find ones that you might qualify to recieve. Your basically recieving free money, so get over it.

  • Lana

    theist=believe
    atheist=do not believe

    gnostic=know
    agnostic=do not know

    In terms of a deity, I think the definitions are self explanatory.

    There are several scholarships that are based on a person’s religious beliefs. As an atheist I am happy to give my “religion” (though I don’t consider it in those terms) to have an opportunity for more money.

  • Gideon

    There is a name for your form of spiritual practice
    Monotheism is not adhering to any idols and that is
    important to the one who canot be known is seems obvious the the one who cannot be nown would have an issue with idltery.
    I have a strong feeling to be in Jerusalem for Easter 08 only a few days left can anyone help? [Personal contact information deleted]
    g

  • M

    So much talk going on here. I have the same beliefs and quite simply I’m a theistic agnostic. I don’t know the details but I believe in a higher power. There we go nice and simple!

  • Angie

    As science continues to disprove events and so called miracles in the bible, more and more people will open their eyes to what they have been forced to believe growing up. They will begin to really listen to what science has already proven and compare it to the far fetched stories written in the bible. It is then, that society will be free from the worst emotional scam ever created by mankind.

  • Noelle

    Actually, being Agnostic means that you think the existence of a god is unknowable to humankind. Since you DO think there is a god but just don’t believe in organized religion, then that would make you a Deist, not Agnostic. Your ideology is similar to Agnostic Theism and Free Thinking, but it’s definitely closer to Deism, if anything.

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