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Who Are Agnostics and How They Live in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan?

According to experts, agnosticism does not mean the denial of God or gods, but means that it’s impossible to know it. Agnostics say they are often confused with atheists.


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*This publication was prepared as a series of CABAR.asia articles dedicated to raising awareness on religious diversity in Central Asian countries. The authors do not seek to promote any religion.

There are no official data about how many agnostics live in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Population census and surveys usually take into account only atheists or don’t differentiate between these concepts. In Kyrgyzstan, the State Commission for Religious Affairs in 2016 held a survey of religious affiliation of people during the social research “The impact of religious factor on the socio-political situation in the Kyrgyz Republic”. 98.4 per cent said they counted themselves religious, 0.7 per cent didn’t count themselves religious, and 0.4 per cent didn’t answer.

The Open Doors human rights Christian organisation (USA) reported that by early 2019 578 thousand Kazakhstanis deemed themselves agnostics or 3.1 per cent of the total population of the country. 

Yulia (Kazakhstan), 22 years old:

I consider myself an agnostic since I was a teenager. By the time I was 12, I started thinking seriously about my origin and the origin of my family. A few years later, I first came across the term “agnosticism”.

I have always understood that life on the planet didn’t emerge by itself. I’ve read a lot, studied a lot, communicated with people who told me various views on the origin of life. I believed in a little bit of everything, but I’ve found something I can totally agree with in every religion.

After I read the bible, I knew none of existing religions fits the way I think and feel. Then a good friend of mine told me about agnosticism.

Finally, I’ve come to understand that I don’t have to choose any certain god to explain my origin. What I don’t like about religions is that every confession tries to grab the biggest piece of the pie. Religious people always prove something to each other, argue, quarrel because they believe in various gods. I think it’s all very strange.

I believe life appeared on earth thanks to the supreme forces, but I still don’t know what “God” looks like. These powers could be abstract, or related to alien creatures, another life, another civilisation. That’s why I consider myself an agnostic, not atheist, as many would think.

I’ve never felt pressure from anyone. Representatives of various religions tried to persuade me that I would come to one certain thing with time. But what I constantly see is that many people don’t differentiate between atheists and agnostics and think I’m “just a non-believing person”. However, it’s not true, I am also a believer.

Photo: CABAR.asia

The term “agnosticism” is thought to become generally used in 1869 due to Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist and geologist, supporter of Charles Darwin. He was searching for a word to define his own vision of the world, and he invented the term “agnostic”.

According to the “Great Russian Encyclopaedia”, agnosticism is often interpreted as the view that the existence of God (or gods) or “world unseen” is unknown and sometimes it is unjustifiably confused with atheism.

According to Kazakhstan-based theologian Dauren Toimataev, an agnostic doesn’t deny the existence of the divine, yet is not ready to recognise it as the unconditional and specific reality as few evidences exist. For agnostics, the question of what is God always remains open.

“In terms of philosophy, agnosticism is directly related to scepticism, which means the reasoning of ideas  that a man constantly learns the world around, their knowledge expands, but there’ll always be some unsolved questions that a man won’t be able to answer despite all their knowledge and skills. Agnosticism doesn’t mean the denial of the existence of supreme power, it only claims it’s impossible to know if God really exists,” Toimataev said.  

The expert divides agnostics and atheists into three key groups:

  1. Atheist gnostic – they don’t believe in any god and know he doesn’t exist.
  2. Agnostic theist – they believe in God, but don’t know for sure if he exists.
  3. Theist gnostic – they believe in God and know for sure he exists.

Daniil Orlov, Kyrgyzstan:

Photo courtesy of Daniil Orlov

I came to agnosticism by way of logic. I was interested in exact sciences and came to the conclusion that neither the God of Abraham, nor gods, not even the intelligent design is necessary to make the model of the Universe full.

I don’t need any extra urges in the form of hell, fire of hell, or something of a kind, to be decent. Of course, there is the Cartesian idea of the Almighty God, which follows no logical laws, but this is another story. All other ideas are cut off by Occam’s razor.

Intolerance based on agnosticism is widely spread just like intolerance on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and for any other reason. However, I haven’t seen any cases of intolerance towards me as I am engaged in IT industry.

Photo courtesy of Kadyr Malikov

According to Kyrgyzstan-based theologian Kadyr Malikov, Islam considers agnostics as non-believers, yet provides every person with a choice: to believe or not.

“There’s no coercion in Islam. Every person is free to choose their own path and will be liable for it after death.. […] Given the modern society, we live with various views of life and faith. This is quite natural today,” Malikov said.

Dastan (Kazakhstan), 18 years old:

Agnosticism, as I understand it, means freedom. Freedom from dogmas and imposed values. I think atheists and agnostics have very much in common, however, they differ a lot. Atheists strongly deny the existence of something supreme, but I presume that God exists in one way or another.

I came to agnosticism not so long ago. When I was preparing for the TOEFL, I read lots of scientific articles on various topics. Biology, chemistry, economy, psychology – all these subjects had one thing in common – the lack of absolute truth. Every research that seemed to be the accepted truth is undermined by another study, which, in turn, loses its relevance on the new study appears. It happens all the time.

The archpriest of Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan eparchy, Aleksei Syromyatnikov, said not all those who call themselves agnostics follow the principles of agnosticism.

“First of all, an agnostic is the one who admits that God exists and is incomprehensible. However, they think that religions don’t have full truth about the knowledge of God. For them it means they find no sense in praying. That is, the real agnostic will never pray. When I say this to agnostics, some of them tell me they do pray inside their soul, mind. Then why do they believe he listens to their tacit prayers? In these cases, I always ask them why they think that God hears them. You don’t know it for sure. That is, you are not agnostics,” Syromyatnikov said.

Aleksandr Suvorov. Photo: seminaria.kz

The archpriest of Astana and Almaty eparchy, Aleksandr Suvorov, noted that agnostics are people who don’t know yet their attitude towards God.

“Everyone believes in whatever they want to believe. Every person, even atheists, can turn into a religious man, just like a religious man can become an atheist. Agnostics are people who don’t have their concept of God, they cannot clearly define him. Every person can have occasions in their life that can let them know god. There are many agnostics who don’t know they are agnostics, but just follow the principles of determinism,” Suvorov said.


This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia»

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