APATHETIC AGNOSTIC (UCTAA) TIMELINE
1965 While attending the Royal Military College of Canada, John Tyrrell first used the phrases “I don’t know and I don’t care” and ‘Apathetic Agnosticism’ to describe his religious beliefs.
1996 John Tyrrell founded The Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic (UCTAA) with the creation of a single, sparse page on his personal site. At the time, the webpage included only the three Articles of Faith and a disclaimer.
1996 Later this year, the page expanded to include a Meditations section and a commentary on the Articles of Faith. The page was also placed on its own website.
1997 A church membership option was made available.
1998 A clerical hierarchy was established, with degrees and ordination being offered from the International University of Nescience.
2000 There was an increase in interest in the Apathetic Agnosticism movement, with members wishing to become more active. This led to a number of new initiatives, including a Clergy Resource site, private message boards for members, and an outcropping of regional sites. Tyrrell purchased the domain names uctaa.org and ApatheticAgnostic.com.
2003 (January) The Church was legally incorporated in the United States. The incorporation subsequently lapsed.
Little is known about the life of John Tyrrell, the founder of the Apathetic Agnosticism movement. He was raised in an Anglican family in Ontario. He matriculated at The Royal Military College of Canada where he received his BA in Economics and Politics and later obtained his MBA from Queen’s College. From 1963-1994, Tyrrell served as a Logistics Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces (Tyrell 2012).
It took Tyrrell several years to arrive at the concept of apathetic agnosticism. After thoroughly considering several religions, he came to the realization that none of them successfully addressed the issue of any god’s existence. He felt strongly that “without being able to address that issue realistically, the whole belief structure collapses – regardless of which religion” (“History” n.d.).
When John Tyrrell first created the UCTAA page, it was simply a humorous exposition of his personal beliefs and he had no
aspirations of it taking off. Today, it is estimated that UCTAA has over 10,000 members in over 40 countries, but no accurate membership records exist (“History” n.d.). Tyrrell is responsible for the bulk of the website’s maintenance. He personally responds to questions from the public, which he then posts on the site in a section called “Ask the Patriarch.”
The term Apatheism (a portmanteau of Apathy and Theism or Apathy and Atheism) was coined by American author and activist, Jonathon Rauch. He defines it is “a disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people’s” (Rauch 2003). Rauch sees the rise in apatheism in America as a major civilizational advance and applauds the relaxed attitude that many Americans have adopted towards religion. In contrast with Apathetic Agnosticism, many apatheists do in fact believe in a god and do attend religious services. Although most agnostics are apatheists, not all apatheists are necessarily agnostic (Rauch 2003).
The key difference between agnosticism and apathetic agnosticism is that while both claim to not know if a god exists, agnostics may find the question to be quite important. Apathetic agnosticism stresses that agnosticism is an adequate end point in the search for religious belief. By understanding that the ultimate truth is inexplicable, “we can free ourselves from a fruitless search and indeed, no longer care about answering the question” (Tyrrell n.d.).
The Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic (UCTAA) holds three fundamental “Articles of Faith:”
1. The existence of a Supreme Being is unknown and unknowable.
2. If there is a Supreme Being, then that being appears to act as if apathetic to events in our universe.
3. We are apathetic to the existence or nonexistence of a Supreme Being (“Faith” 2006).
The organization’s website states that “If you understand and accept these Articles of Faith… then you are an Apathetic Agnostic, whether or not you can be bothered to actually join the Church” (“Faith” 2006).
Agreement with the Articles of Faith is the only requirement for affiliation with the Church, and even that is a loose rule. There is
commentary on the website, but disciples are encouraged to interpret the articles as they see fit. According to the founder, the first article is based on the belief that faith is not the same as empirical knowledge, and thus there is no evidence for or against the existence of a Supreme Being. The only certain position on the matter is that we do not know. The second article proposes that if there is a Supreme Being, it is indifferent to our existence. This is contingent on the understanding that all events in our Universe are explainable regardless of the existence or nonexistence of a Supreme Being. The final article maintains that, based on the first two, there is no reason to trouble oneself with pondering the existence of a Supreme Being.
The aims of the church are as follows:
1. “We could be bigger than Scientology… if only we weren’t so darned apathetic.”
2. “To disseminate the concept of Apathetic Agnosticism as widely as possible. Being apathetic on the question of a Supreme Being’s existence does not imply being apathetic about the concept.”
These aims reflect that the church, while maintaining tangible beliefs and goals, does not take itself too seriously (“Aim” n.d.).
There is very little ritual associated with the UCTAA. The Apathetic Agnostic Tabernacle Choir practices on Thursdays in showers across the world. Otherwise, the main action associated with the church is the dissemination of knowledge relating to apathetic agnosticism.
Preceding the creation of the website in 1996, John Tyrrell was the single member of the Universal Church Triumphant of the
Apathetic Agnostic. In 1997, a membership option was made available, and in 1998 a clerical hierarchy was established. This is a very informal hierarchy as it is not mandatory that lower clergy take command from their superiors (“Organization” n.d.).
Presently, the Patriarch of the Church is John Tyrrell, the founder. There are several membership options offered, including:
- Basic affiliation: simply accepting the Articles of Faith, whether or not you apply to be a member of the congregation.
- Choir membership: an application is offered to join the Apathetic Agnostic Tabernacle Choir which takes place every Thursday evening in the shower.
- Congregation membership: provides a Bachelor’s Degree from the International University of Nescience and access to the website’s message boards. Degrees can be obtained in several disciplines including Apathy, Ignorance, Nescience, Agnostic Studies, and Spiritual Re-Engineering.
- Ordination: receive a Masters Degree and ordination as Minister, Pastor, Rabbi, Priest, or Priestess.
The role of the ordained clergy is to “help make information about the church and its teachings available to interested individuals” (“Ordination” n.d.). This can range from including a link to the UCTAA site on one’s personal webpage, creating a mirror website, or conducting an outreach program. Ministers are able to ordain clergy and conduct appropriate ceremonies, including legal marriage ceremonies in areas where their ordination is recognized by law. Ordained clergy are also allowed access to the Church’s Clergy Resource Site (Ordination n.d.).
As the Church is unincorporated, there have been concerns about legal liability. The potential for liability falls solely on John Tyrrell, the founder. While the organization strongly discourages monetary donations, the website does accept pro bono advice and representation from willing lawyers. This advice is accepted primarily in order to secure official recognition as a religion so that ordained clergy are able to perform legally binding marriages.
The UCTAA does not solicit or accept donations as a general rule. The founder of the website maintains the organization primarily out of pocket. This structure, along with the apathy of the adherents, has allowed the Church to remain predominately non-controversial (“Needs” n.d.)
“ Aim.” n.d. The Church of the Apathetic Agnostic. Accessed from http://uctaa.net/ourchurch/aims.html on 12 April 2013.
“ Faith.” 1996. The Church of the Apathetic Agnostic. Accessed from http://uctaa.net/ourchurch/faith.html on 9 April 2013.
“ History.” n.d. The Church of the Apathetic Agnostic. Accessed from http://uctaa.net/ourchurch/history.html on 12 April 2013.
“ Needs.” n.d. The Church of the Apathetic Agnostic. Accessed from http://uctaa.net/ourchurch/needs.html on 12 April 2013.
“ Ordination” n.d. The Church of the Apathetic Agnostic. Accessed from http://uctaa.net/join/ordain.html on 14 April 2013
“ Organization.” n.d. The Church of the Apathetic Agnostic. Accessed from http://uctaa.net/ourchurch/organization.html on 14 April 2013.
Rauch, Jonathon. 2003. “Let it Be: Three Cheers for Apatheism.” The Atlantic. Accessed from http://www.jonathanrauch.com/jrauch_articles/apatheism_beyond_religion/ on 13 April 2013.
Tyrrell, John. 2012. “2012 Edition of the John Tyrrell Web Site.” Accessed from http://www.johntyrrell.com/about.html on 13 April 2013.
15 April 2013