Rodolfo Vázquez (Buenos Aires, 1956) has been around God many times. At the age of 16, he went from indifference to the Catholic faith. A passionate encounter that lasted until the age of 30. Then came the anger and indignation of a militant atheism. To gradually settle in the “serenity of the agnostic”, without resignation or rancor. That long process has now been collected in Not miss god (Trotta), an essay traversed by his own personal itinerary and the readings —from Spinoza to Camus or Tierno Galván— that have accompanied him during all these years of travel. Doctor of Philosophy from the UNAM and emeritus professor at ITAM, it is the first book in which Vázquez moves from his areas of specialization —justice, equality, constitutionalism, bioethics— to make a personal cash cut and treat a topic that he considers “ idle ”: a praise of agnosticism.
QUESTION. There are some misunderstandings with the concept of agnosticism.
ANSWER. The agnostic is not some kind of indifferent or doubting character between the believer and the non-believer. But there is this idea that he does not end up being a good atheist or that he hesitates on the way to the believer. The agnostic fully assumes his relationship in the world and the religious. It is not indifferent to the religious, but it has a worldly meaning and that is why there is no room for immortality. Death is the end. Or as Singer said, “death is the Messiah.” And you are not expecting that any institution or any enlightened one will appropriate the sense of the absolute. It is a very personal experience. Neither the priest, nor Moses, nor Buddha, nor Muhammad, nor Confucius have to tell you which is the path of the absolute.
Q. In the book you distinguish three types.
R. Agnosticism is not a unique concept. There is a playful or serene approach, like that of Enrique Tierno Galván or José Gaos. On the other hand, we have a tragic agnosticism, which questions the suffering, the injustice during your stay in the world. This is the case of Max Horkheimer and Albert Camus, whose metaphysics of rebellion is extraordinary. And there is a third agnosticism that I don’t know what to describe it. It is that of Ronald Dworkin and Octavio Paz, where the concepts of the sublime, the luminous, the poetic predominate. The idea is to show all three and that if something defines them, it is to place oneself in this world without the need for a transcendence. Agnosticism can speak of the absolute, the sacred, the luminous without the need for all of this to have a sense of transcendence or immortality. As Tierno Galván says, you install yourself perfectly in finitude, in worldliness, and from there you perceive the absolute without having to give it any other meaning.
P. You, in any case, identify more with a serene agnosticism.
R. Not necessarily. You are also in this world when you show solidarity with the victims and the innocent. Both in the playful and serene as in the possibility that you have empathy and solidarity with the victims of injustice. It is essential to know that in this world there are moments of insertion of these situations of suffering where it is not necessary to wait for the redemption to come from a kind of transcendent utopia, but to redeem yourself in the victims themselves. This seems to me essential to assume you as an agnostic in this world with all the pleasure and pain that it entails. As that passage from Dostoevsky says in The Karamazov brothers that Camus liked so much: “As long as there is an innocent, injustice is not eliminated from this world.”
Q. Why do you value agnosticism more than atheism?
R. Because the atheist has to existentially assume himself against God, he has to postulate God to deny him. It is Nietzsche, or Sartre, in that fight against the divine. Tierno Galván says that atheism is a kind of imperfect secularization. While agnosticism is a perfect secularization in the sense of fullness of the human against nihilism. Agnosticism would be like a kind of commission of possibility even for possible dialogue between believers and non-believers. Assuming yourself as an agnostic is true humanism. You better assume your fullness as a human being.
Q. The Pope’s blessing last year broke all-time audience records. The pandemic seems to have reactivated religious sentiment, a kind of return of faith in response to collective pain.
R. The agnostic would not be at odds with the idea that religion can be a consolation. It is understandable that in times of calamity there may be peaks, focused situations, but all temporary that do not mean a return to the sacred. It seems to me that there is a sediment of secularization already well established that is accompanying us from the Renaissance to the present day.
Q. Do you think the secularization process is it unstoppable?
R. The decisions have been secularized. You begin to have control of your body to such a degree that you make decisions regarding abortion or to join people of the same sex and do not transfer them to a transcendent vision. That process seems to me that it has been penetrating, for a long time. And each time it deepens. For example, with surrogate motherhood, with putting your uterus in trade. For those who are steeped in secularization it is total mastery of your body. Bioethics has also become secularized.
P. Religion still has a lot of weight in Latin America, with phenomena such as the growth of evangelical churches. That is not a sign of secularization.
R. Just as there may be a rebound in evangelical churches, the feminist movement seems to me to be a totally secular movement. And much more transversal throughout all of Latin America. Evangelical churches are very located in Brazil, some places in Mexico. Feminism, on the other hand, is the great secular movement of the 20th century. It is a movement that has put equality above any other value.
P. There have also been reactionary phenomena such as Trump or the extreme right in Europe.
R. This brings us to populism. But it is very encouraging from a liberal agnostic perspective to see that the institutions that have been created have worked. Secular constructions such as the division of powers or an independent judiciary are counterweights to these populist views. Trump I don’t think he’s going to have a successful comeback. I don’t think we are entering a populist world. We have a fairly homogeneous and irreversible secularization with two pillars: human rights and science.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.