Being an atheist or agnostic depends primarily on how open minded the person is and the strength of their conviction. The technical definition of atheism is the belief that God does not exist and agnosticism is defined as the belief that it is impossible to know if there is a God. Atheism and and agnosticism are fundamentally different based on these definitions despite the fact that most people believe they are interchangeable.
The differences between atheism and agnosticism not only reflect the person’s attitude toward God as a higher being but also influence the moral choices of the described person and how that person conducts their life based on those moral choices. This is not to say that atheists and agnostics are any less moral than the average church-going person but without a belief in God there is no accountability for how one lives their life and the potential to impact their afterlife.
Most atheist’s tend to think of themselves as more enlightened and open-minded than the people who believe in God. Because of the strength of their belief that there is no God, they are just balancing the opposite end of the spectrum. It almost seems that the modern era atheism is just another form of religion in itself; a religion without a God to answer to. An atheist who tries to shut down a debate with a believer in God by accusing the believer of being unenlightened is just being closed-minded. It seems that atheist’s would be more self absorbed and self centered because they do not believe in an afterlife and would not have to concern themselves with the moral choices they make in life. This is probably why atheist’s are usually more supportive of causes such as abortion, drug use, and euthanasia.
An agnostic who does not try to argue the case for or against God seems to be more open minded and enlightened than any atheist who simply believes that there is no God. The agnostic seems to be more receptive to differing ideas and have the potential to go either way in the debate.
Recent studies have shown that more and more people describe themselves as being in either of these categories for some reason or another and unfortunately this may have a detrimental effect on the spiritual health of the society as a whole. Why more people are self-described atheists or agnostic’s is not known but probably can be attributed to rapid growth of science, technology, and mass media. With advances in technology less and less things seem miraculous and because of the media more people watch science explain away miracles.
An unfortunate consequence of the fine line between atheism and agnosticism is that many atheist’s purposely describe themselves as agnostic either because they themselves do not know the difference between the two or they are trying to hide their true beliefs. This is not fair to true agnostic’s because it tends to muddy the debate and ends up making the agnostic’s look like atheist’s.
Someone once said that if somebody believes in God and there isn’t one then there is no harm done, but if somebody doesn’t believe in God and there is one then they’re damned. For the most part, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with having faith. Why take the chance that God doesn’t exist?