Atheism Christianity Hopeful Agnosticism Religion Spirituality

Hopeful Agnostic, Part 1

I used to be a Christian. I’m not one, any more.

Somewhere back in my 30s, I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed the things that Christians are supposed to believe. It wasn’t an easy thing to admit. I had been a Christian for, well, my entire life, if you exclude the drooling years at the front end. I had tried hard to hold on, but eventually I ran out of faith. The cognitive dissonance, and the resulting anxiety, were just too great.

For a while now, I have been calling myself a Hopeful Agnostic. I thought that the term was an original idea till I Googled it. It made me realize I should define it for myself before someone does it for me.

To be fair, there are different kinds of Christians. Within some definitions, I might still be one. Just not mine. I grew up in an Evangelical family. Being Christian meant believing that the Bible was the all-but-dictated word of God, with no errors, and no mistakes. It meant believing in a literal heaven, hell, and Satan. It meant believing in a historical, miracle-working, God-in-the-flesh, save-you-from-your-sins Jesus. And it meant believing that you needed to be, and had been, saved.

There were a lot of reasons my faith came to an end. I never had any spiritual experiences that weren’t easily chalked up to emotion, psychology, and coincidence. I was never able to reconcile God’s justice with the teaching that all humans older than babies are so fundamentally naughty in the course of our short earthly lives that we deserve unending, conscious torment from then on; or reconcile God’s mercy and power with God’s weirdly arbitrary and ineffective plan for salvation. (“Sorry you’re going to Hell, Jimmy, but there wasn’t a sales rep in your area for 1600 years.”) And the more I dug into the text and the evidence around it, the more I realized how shaky it all was. There just wasn’t enough evidence in any domain to justify the near-certainty that this kind of Christianity demands.

The issue of certainty is why I haven’t yet joined some other religion, or become an atheist. OK – I haven’t tried any other religions on a practical, experiential level, but my knowledge of them from books and people who follow them gives me the impression that they all make claims that have to be taken on more faith than I have.

Sometimes I drift into a kind of soft atheism. Not the hard atheism in which you actively believe that there isn’t a divine or supernatural reality out there, but the kind where you more or less assume there isn’t and act accordingly. In many ways this is an easy way to live. It is certainly simple. But it also feels meaningless, and leaves me empty and sad.

I am not quite sure why this is. On the one hand, I’m sure that some of it is the result of having been raised to think that meaning comes from Deity. The Christian narrative did add a lot of meaning and significance to my life. On the other hand, the spiritual or religious instinct appears to be nearly universal in human culture throughout history. So maybe it’s not just my upbringing. Maybe we, as a species, are wired for it.

What I can say is that staying open to the possibility of God seems to be good for me. I am a better person when I act as though there might actually be some sort of supernatural, divine Being out there who cares about humans and helps them, in some way, become better versions of themselves.

Of course I can’t prove this. But who cares? It’s certainly possible, and if it helps me be happier, and treat others better, then it’s good. It’s not a religion. It doesn’t need to explain pesky problems like human suffering, and so on. It’s just enough to allow for the possibility that there might be more to the universe, and to us, than physics and chemistry.

There’s more to say. I am still trying to figure out what it might look to be both philosophically agnostic and actively spiritual. I have sketched out some tentative principles, but I’ll save those for another time.