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The Crowd of Unknowing

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 23, 2010

A while back I wrote a brief summary of my life story for Crystal’s blog which I’m re-posting here. There was a word limit, so I condensed a lot. You earn extra points if you can pick where my title above comes from 😉

My Agnostic Journey

It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while… But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.
~ Yann Martell, Life of Pi

I used to agree, so how did a born-again Christian become agnostic?

After university I became bored with a church culture inherited from 19th century Europe. I read about rave churches, picked up the newly published Post Evangelical and tried to do church from within my own culture. These days we call this “emergent”. I love techno, extreme metal and folk music. We support contextualisation for other cultures, why not our own, right?

Skipping ahead a few years, divorced and drifting, I decided to return to a more conservative faith. I prayed, “God, I don’t understand why, but I’m gonna try and do things your way,” specifically praying for a Christian girlfriend.


Shortly afterwards, I met a Christian woman and considered this an answer. Long story short, I fell in love but she’d been lying all along. It ended with my suicidal despair after discovering her multiple betrayals. I raged at divine betrayal too; I was angry at God for years.

I know that compared with the suffering others go through, mine seems incredibly trivial. But we can only experience our own suffering, and for me it was shattering. My departure from churchianity was caused by three archetypal problems: Why prayer isn’t answered, the problem of evil, and the hypocrisy of Christians. Ironically, I’ve always been an intellectual and spent many hours wrestling with these arguments. Conclusion: It would have been so easy to make a couple of small changes in my life without violating anyone’s freedom or requiring miracles. God failed and a twenty year faith died. Or did it?

I’m not sure I could honestly claim to be an atheist after God let me down. For a few years I simply ignored God. I still find nihilism compelling, if I were convinced there were no God I think I’d become totally self-indulgent, and for a while I was.

When I came to think about spiritual things again, I found myself not knowing if God is there or not. I’d become agnostic. Agnosticism is about knowledge, and is a solid belief, rather than an in-between state. I’m an open agnostic, but it seems the majority are atheists in practice. I’m not satisfied with standing back and assuming God isn’t there, I’m still searching. There are even Christian agnostics, though I don’t count myself among their number. I’ve written that all believers are un-knowers.

What’s it like being agnostic in day to day life? I never pray, lost the habit. After reading through the entire Bible every year- even the boring bits- I never pick it up. Occasionally I’d like to find a local group of similar souls, but this is hard. And I’m SO over meetings. Wiccans have a concept of the solitary practitioner, perhaps Christians need to recover that practice, based on the desert fathers?

Do I feel guilt? Well, one of the really good things I took from Christianity is the concept of grace, something that seems to be lacking in most public Christian proclamations.

My gateway to God was always the mind; reading Antony Flew’s biography and a book on the Mystics inspired me recently. My girlfriend gave me the three volume Integrative Theology, I love that stuff. At this point I’m closer to believing in a g0d than for some time, but it’s an expansive g0d, a beautiful Mind behind the universe. If I do return to Christianity, it will be on my terms. I cannot believe in a God who condemns gay people, treats women as second-class or tortures people eternally.

I’m agnostic but I’m genuinely seeking truth. I find the search wonderfully fresh and am surprised at the progress I’ve made. I don’t know if God is there, and maybe I never will. I do know that love is more important than belief. I think I’m OK with that.


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Paul Collier | Facing the Unknown

26 Responses to “The Crowd of Unknowing”

  1. FatCatOnTheHill (Karen) said

    [quote]Agnosticism is about knowledge, and is a solid belief, rather than an in-between state. I’m an open agnostic, but it seems the majority are atheists in practice. I’m not satisfied with standing back and assuming God isn’t there, I’m still searching[/quote]

    I agree with you that many agnostics seem to be atheists. Your term “open agnostic” is one that I can identify with. Let’s keep searching, there is so much to discover. Merry Christmas Jonathan !

    • I agree Karen. It’s really nice to meet another agnostic who would like to find g0d. I don’t know if we will, but it’s surely more fun than just assuming there isn’t one 🙂

  2. Lydia said

    I love this post, Jonathan!

    I think I could identify as an Open Agnostic as well. Although I do still pray every once in a great while. Some habits run miles deeper than belief. 🙂

    • Oh, i probably pray at times too. But it’s rare these days.

      I like being an open agnostic, because “strong” agnosticism is de facto atheist. I’m still coming across enough evidence that there *might* be a god that I don’t want to give up.

  3. Brian Sage said

    Thanks for that Jonathan. Quite a journey. Keep going, don’t give up. I’m sure you’ll get all your deepest wishes fulfilled – and more. Just consider, you wouldn’t be where you are now if you’d settled into some sort of comfortable halfway house and convinced yourself that this was good enough. Consider Lot? (“Lot” means a veil) He settled for the first green valley he came to. Abraham continued on – like you are – and when he got to the top of that mountain – probably totally stuffed – he was told to look East, to look West, to look North and to look South. “All that you can see is yours, including what stupid Lot thought he had! That’s yours too!”

    Keep going and don’t settle for anything less than the real. You’ll know when you are starting to hit it.
    In the meantime have a good Xmas and don’t go getting religious again by following other people. You follow your own star! Uncover Jonathan! He’s perfect!

    I think there are plenty of others around who are now ready to clamber onto this highway and keep going. Never mind about devising definitions for the various states. As soon as we do that we create another “religion” and that stops progress. Just help each other to keep on going! What we are after is “life”.

    • “don’t settle for anything less than the real”

      That very much sums up my search, Brian. I’m very open to encountering a spiritual reality or g0d. I just want it to be real, and not my imagination. Let’s keep seeking life.

  4. Venga said

    Hi Spritzophrenia ,

    Greeting from across the miles………..

    Thanks for the great explanation on this. Whatever believe you have will always be respected.
    Thanks for all the great & interesting articles you have.

    Thanks too for posting the Kirtan.

    Merry Christmas Spritzophrenia. Have a great holiday!


  5. Anne said

    Jonathan, Just wanted to say that I hope you have a happy Christmas. I’m behind on reading (and will catch up) so maybe you talked about your thoughts on this holiday… but it does offer a time, for me, to touch base with people who mean something in my life, and you are one of those people. Life has been too hectic lately (and I’m actually down with a nasty cold this week!) but it always gives me cheer to see your posts come through to my email. I’m so grateful for your writing and look forward to more in the New Year.

    • Hi Anne, I’ve been wondering how you are. Are you still on Twitter? Is your website still going?
      I’m so glad to know I make a difference in someone’s life. I hope to get more new readers in the New Year, but at least I know that I make a difference to a few people.



      • Anne said

        Jonathan, Thought I’d signed up to receive comments by email from this post but must not have done it correctly. Decided to come and look today. Thanks for your response! Yes, I still have the blog but haven’t been as active (am getting a few new readers and will be posting soon). Same with Twitter; still there but not often. Am finding that I need to be offline more than online to address my needs, but am hoping to get into a better daily routine online, one main reason being that I’d like to keep up with your wonderful prolific writing (and comment more often)! Your blog and the comments inspire me, keep me believing there are others who think like I do. Happy New Year.

  6. Billy Dees said

    Great post. I seldom discount anyone’s beliefs unless they are just off the charts crazy. Whether suggesting the existence of a deity, flying saucers, or Santa Claus my position from the practical is simply that there is not enough conclusive evidence for it. That does not mean I “disbelieve”. As it is said anything is possible. There are some things which are beyond the reach of the practical. Simply put I separate what can be accepted as a given from what is simply held as just possible. I try not to use the terms “believing” or “disbelieving” when I am discussing a certain topic. I prefer what is most likely until real evidence is presented.

  7. Tammy said

    “it’s an expansive g0d, a beautiful Mind behind the universe.”

    I like that.

    • Thanks Tammy. When I think about what god might really be like, it’s exhilarating. The real god encompasses a man in the sky, but is so much more than that. If god exists 🙂

      • Tammy said

        which is why I like physics, although I hardly understand it, and sci fi. I just read The Grand Design by Hawkings. That sort of thing makes sense to me, in light of this sort of god.

    • Brian Sage said

      I go along with that too Tammy. That’s heading towards the real. And I think we’ll discover that “mind” is actually within us and we haven’t realized. But also the “universe” that this mind is behind is within us too and is nothing like the crappy universe and creepy god thing we have now. That world is stuffed and we need to let it all go and move on. There are glimpses of the real popping up all over the place now. It’s on its way!

      • Tammy said

        I get a picture of a meeting at the peak of the mountain soon … I think Einstein talked about that, with the idea that the scientists and the theologians will eventually meet each other at the top of the same mountain.

        • Brian Sage said

          I think the scientists and theologians – and lots of others too – will all meet at the top of the same common mountain, but not with, or because of their respective academic disciplines. Science and theology will never uncover the real. It’s impossible. That is not where the spirit is. We start all over again – as little children – on the same level playing field.

  8. It felt good reading your post Jonathan. I’m an atheist and I too am seeking truth about things. And like many, I don’t want to get to a point where I stay satisfied with all that I know. I wish it stays as an enthralling journey till my final moment.

    First, I’d like to point out that most people don’t live a lie when it comes to believing; they believe because they genuinely do so. Sometimes, when what they learn/experience contradict what they believe, they either think-and-question or just neglect the new experience. Most people, lost in the trivialities of daily life, don’t like ‘change’ when it comes to these sort of things. Change is difficult.

    If you look at the belief dynamics of a particular person, I guess there would some kind of a correlation with age, strong till a certain point. The childhood-teenage-early adulthood part would be strong credulity turning into skepticism/obtstinateness. What happens in adulthood is what makes up life and I think this is sensitively dependent on how much skeptical the person is at some critical age. Not taking anything away from innate tilt towards matters regarding god, whether people end up religious, atheistic, agnostic, theistic, or whatever, is largely influenced by belief dynamics till that critical age.

    What drives these dynamics are a culmination of ethical matters, self-and-consciousness matters, curiosity at the way things work, a constant input from parents & peers, besides other things. As children, we learn that causality is a fundamental phenomena and this pushes us to the point were we get satisfied with causal explanations, which aren’t necessarily true. As Peter Atkins said, “We are the children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all there is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe. Yet when we look around and see beauty, when we look within and experience consciousness, and when we participate in the delights of life, we know in our hearts that the heart of the Universe is richer by far. But that is sentiment, and is not what we should know in our minds.”

    We both, meaning atheists and agnostics, seek true knowledge behind things. We aren’t different, it’s just the labels. Purpose is the same.

  9. Lisa said

    Where to start? I feel similarly about much of what you mentioned. I no longer pray, and have read the Bible cover to cover a few times, memorized much of it, and thought a lot about it. I no longer read it, nor do I believe that it is an inspired, inerrant work of God. I’m not finished sorting that out, though.

    I also tried some progressive churches, but didn’t find anything that I was comfortable with. I did enjoy a Catholic mass once in awhile, and I think I’d still like it from time to time. It’s more reverent than what I enjoyed before (Evangelical).

    I really enjoy the idea of a solitary practitioner, and I guess that’s where I find myself. I don’t find the need for instruction from a pastor, nor do I agree that the position of pastor is a good one. I think it’s irrelevant and a contemporary construct. I think if more people were at one with themselves and their faith and beliefs, we may be more of a peaceful world. Then again, what do I know? Perhaps we’d be just as violent and have just as many extremists.

    I enjoy the questions, the seeking and the grayness of it all.

    I also enjoy the mood music. 🙂 It’s great to listen to while writing a comment.

    • Lisa, thanks for your comment.

      It saddens me that so many evangelicals don’t have other options to try, either in worship style, or in theology. Too many think that the churches they’ve seen is all there is. Eg, my girlfriend was telling me she rejected christianity when 14 because it was too patriarchal. She never knew there were Christian feminists, and it would have made a big difference to her.

      I was fortunate in seeking and finding various expressions.

      I am not sure if it’s the “style” of pastor that is the problem. After all, having someone wise to guide us is useful. Unfortunately it seems many are autocratic, bigoted and ill-educated. A pastor who is more of a non-judgemental “therapist” might work?

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