What is it about?

Many nonbelievers, when they are given the opportunity, prefer to self-identify as agnostics rather than atheists. Do agnostics differ from atheists simply in being unsure on whether God does not exist or more deeply, in their personality, thinking, and existential stance? We studied agnostics, atheists, and believers (Christians). Compared to atheists, agnostics were similarly analytic in their thinking--unlike believers--, but also more open-minded. They were in addition more inclined to be interested in others and more spiritual, approaching thus believers. Being open-minded, neurotic, prosocial, and spiritual were each distinct characteristics of agnostics, suggesting possibly a variety of motives for being agnostic.

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Why is it important?

This study indicates the importance for practitioners, scholars, educators, and religious personnel of considering agnosticism as a distinct from atheism psychological category. People may self-identify as agnostics, for instance, because they do not dare to “come out” as atheists or because they are anxious and uncertain about the big existential questions (neurotic agnosticism). Or they may be open-minded rationalists, thus finding good in both unbelief and faith. Or, finally, they may be unwilling to “throw the baby out” (spiritual and prosocial values) with the “bad water” (religion).

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This page is a summary of: Being agnostic, not atheist: Personality, cognitive, and ideological differences., Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, March 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/rel0000461.
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