October 17, 2013

Faithless: Confessions of a (Former) Closeted Agnostic.

I’m not alone in that people sometimes make assumptions about me that aren’t true.

When many people hear that I am a yogi/yoga instructor, they often smile and say, “You’re one of those spiritual types!” I usually just smile and don’t respond. However, the truth is: I am not spiritual. At all.

Rather, I am a secular agnostic.

It’s hard for me to admit this. Unlike some, I don’t consider my agnosticism a badge of honor or “proof” that I value reason and science about spirituality. The truth is, I am a little ashamed of it at times. I arrived at this place after years of fruitlessly trying to find a faith that I could believe in but to no avail.

Growing up in the Bible Belt, religion was all around me. Though nominally Catholic, my father was/is a lifelong Buddhist father and there is Jewish ancestry on both my parent’s sides. However, my family rarely went to church, and we never set foot inside a temple.

To their credit, neither parent ever forced religion on me and encouraged me to explore many faiths.

My grandmother, who was a devout Presbyterian her entire life, took me to a few services at the church she attended but I can remember feeling very bewildered by it all.

Even as a very young child, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that there was a God who could and did see all. It all just seemed a little to fantastic to me. Granted, I had no problems believing in Santa Claus, but I just could not believe there was a God.

Over the years, though, I tried. I thought it was just about finding the right fit for me. I tried to keep an open mind. During my freshman year in high school, I attended a few interfaith meetings and even participated in a few Ash Wednesday services for two years, but nothing felt right. I then turned to Eastern religions/philosophies but none of it stuck either.

Years later, when I was working for a retired biology professor, who also was one of the most knowledgeable people I had ever met about the history of the Catholic Church and also a die-hard atheist, I lamented to him my sincere sadness that I could not find a faith that I believed in.

He theorized that I may lack the cluster of neurons that is often found in the brains of deeply religious/faithful people.

While learning that there may be a physical reason for my lack of faith was somewhat comforting, it still did little to take away the sadness.

The truth is, I envy and probably always will envy those who have an unshakeable belief in a higher power. I wish I were one of those people, but in the words of Bob Dylan (himself a great dabbler in many religions), “it ain’t me, babe.”

Still, since then, I have learned to accept it. I have even begun to share my secret with others, even though I sincerely feared judgement or ridicule for lack of faith.

After receiving the initial news, people usually ask one or all of the following questions:

Why do I call myself agnostic and not atheist? If I am open to the possibility that there may be a God, then how do I envision God’s role in my life?

In answer to the first one, I call myself agnostic, because that is what I am. I cannot say for certain that there isn’t a God, because I do not know.

As far as the second goes, that is a bit more complex. One of my favorite ever depictions of God comes from a Twilight Zone episode where a scientist accidentally creates life in a petri dish, which eventually evolves into tiny humans.

When the humans go to war with each other and beg the scientist/God to intervene, he does not. As he explains, it was never his intention to create life in the first place much less get involved in the lives of his unplanned creations. Like the writers of that episode, I have no problem believing that there may be a god who watches us, but I don’t think that Gods necessarily intervene or are interested in our day-to-day lives.

Rather, I believe that whether there is a God or not, it is ultimately up to each one of us to determine how to live our lives. Treating people the way I want to be treated, living my life to the fullest, and hopefully leaving this world a bit better than I entered it is my goal, rather than being reincarnated or entering into a heavenly afterlife once I die.

If I am being 100 percent honest, the idea of having only one life to live is far more appealing to me than having several or an eternal life.

In fact, I am not being sarcastic when I say that the latter sounds like a sort of hell to me. There are some people I can’t imagine spending an hour with, much less eternity. While another person’s greatest fear is that there may be nothing after we die, it is actually a huge comfort to me.

Perhaps at some point, I will find and embrace a faith that works for me. I don’t know. I am open to the possibility. In the meantime, I am interested in living the life I have to the fullest and learning more about the many mysteries of life and the universe.

Whether or not the universe was put here by a higher power with a purpose or merely the result of chance, there is no denying that the universe is a beautiful, mysterious place capable of evoking awe even in the heart of this agnostic.

Perhaps the universe is all the “God” I need.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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