The Intersection Between Religion and Values: The Agnostic’s Creed – Sam Henschel

Chances are, if you ask me about my spiritual background or why I am agnostic, I will tell you that I just don’t care. It really isn’t deep, it doesn’t have a long-winded story of why I am no longer religious after attending Catholic school for ten years, and it has nothing to do with my family values– I truthfully, wholeheartedly, do not possess the time and energy to devote to practicing religion.

Last week, though, I was asked a question that made me think about this– “what are your personal values?”. I never think deeply about my personal values, so I came up blank. Often times, it is easy to intertwine what we believe with our religious identities. It’s what we are taught from a young age, it is the core of our religious identity, and it’s easier to adopt values you were taught rather than creating some of your own. This made me think– what are my values? Not being religious, it’s hard to tell. I don’t acknowledge the Ten Commandments, the Bible, or any religious teaching. I don’t live by a specific doctrine showing me how to live my life, and I find it hard to connect to one when I see dissonance between religious values and those who practice it. I’m the type of person that constantly needs to feel “complete”– I need to look like I have it all together, even when I don’t. I need to look and feel principled, just, and well–rounded. Without a concrete set of values, though, I’ve found myself struggling to be seen in my own consciousness as the type of person I so passionately strive to be. 

Religion is value-laden, and I find myself missing that part of it more than any other. I miss being able to know if I am doing good through my actions and words by reading an excerpt from scripture. I reminisce about important lessons taught about humility and kindness in the homily during mass, asking myself if I was living my life the way God wanted me to. I only have three strong personal values I feel connected to (be a kind human, get out of your comfort zone sometimes, and hold people accountable, including yourself), but nothing to truly “guide” my life down one path or another. While I consider these values important, they never seemed like enough– they never appeared to be complete. Without the guidance that values provide, it’s easy to feel lost, and hard to immediately change it. 

Something I’ve learned over the course of my spiritual transition is that devotion to values doesn’t have to be religious, and that’s the beauty of it. It is also one of the things that took me years to learn after “converting” to an agnostic. If you’re anything like me, and you’re still soul searching, just know you aren’t alone– and know that some of your most important personal values might be right in front of you. My biggest piece of advice to you is to live your truth, live your personal creed– even if you don’t know what it is yet. Live it unapologetically, live it with pride, and you’ll soon be able to see the things you’ve been searching for all along. And don’t forget to be kind and to hold people accountable for their actions.