Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Virtue of Agnosticism

"Mystical Sunrise"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

I am writing a new book under the working title of A Faithful Agnostic. In point of fact this is how I see myself at this stage on my own spiritual journey - I am a follower of Jesus, a person of faith and yet I cherish the fact that I am a certified, card carrying agnostic. Some may think it odd for an ordained priest to call himself an agnostic - I actually think agnosticism is a noble virtue to be embraced on any spiritual journey.

That word “agnostic” usually carries some pretty negative baggage with it in religious circles. Agnostics are viewed as people who do not “enjoy” the certainties of faith and need to be shown the true way. It’s true that agnostics are people who are unable or unwilling to affirm who "God" is with any degree of certainty, but I’m not at all sure that agnostics need to be shown the “true way,” maybe the opposite is true. 

It seems to me that rather than figuring out how to convert an agnostic, perhaps people of faith might look upon an "agnostic mind" as a model of where faith should lead. Any spiritual path should always lead to deeper mystery, a mystery that cannot be explained or named or pushed into pre –conceived categories.

I think about something Jesus once said as he placed a small child upon his knee and told his disciples: The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

As I see it, Jesus was teaching his disciples to have the “mind of a child” when walking in his "Way." Always be filled with wonder, see the world with new eyes every day, don’t ever try to figure “God” out because God is a mystery that can only be experienced and never explained.

Jesus’ teaching is very similar the Buddhist concept of a “Beginner’s Mind” - the more one grows in wisdom the more one develops an uncluttered mind, free of pre-conceived explanations and clear-cut ideas, always open and ready to embrace the world as it happens in every moment as if you are seeing it for the first time.

Saint Augustine once said: 

Anything you think you understand about God is not God.

In similar fashion, the celebrated Christian mystic, John of the Cross, said:

The higher one ascends on the ladder of the spiritual journey, the less one understands.

So, whenever I think I have it all figured out (or even sort of figured out) I am probably stuck in a rut and I need to remind myself that the greatest faith to which I can ever hope to aspire is to say:

I don’t know

Over the next few months as I write my new book I am hoping to get as much “feedback” as possible from people who read this blog so that I might reflect on what you say and hopefully include some of your comments in the book.

Please join me on this journey of faithful agnosticism.


  1. My only problem with calling myself an agnostic is that usually that means "I don't care." I've often told people that we are all agnostics because we aren't gnostics(and that's technically what the word means). But personally, lately I've found myself saying,"I don't know", distrustibg easy answets, and trusting in the mystery, whatever that looks like.

    1. Yes I truly identrify with what you say--thanks

  2. I think it does not serve us to label ourselves agnostic or not; to leave it that we are Children of God waking up to the majesty, mystery, and glory of creation is quite enough... let us not spend too much time measuring our own widths and heights.

    1. Matthew you make a good point..actually when I say that I think of myself as an agnostic I mean that I don't limit possibilities or as you say I try to be awake to the majesty , mystery and glory of creation thanks for the input.

  3. If you're working under the assumption that you're a child of any god you're not an agnostic anyway.

  4. Your comments are interesting and very thought provoking. My one critique is that by claiming to be an agnostic you imply that God does not reveal certain aspects of who he is for people to know. I'm not sure if that is an accurate way to understand wonder, mystery, and awe for God. Our wonder and awe is at God's mystery but also his revelation. God is knowable but cannot be completely known. Unless I misunderstand agnosticism it presupposes we cannot know anything about God. It's certainty is in the unknowableness of understanding God. I value the fact you and others like you continue to search, that is the key to a growing spiritual life, but I'm not sure that is properly agnosticism. -

    1. Dominick- you raise a good point. When I say I am an agnostic I don't use the word in its "traditional" sense. Rather I have an "agnostic mind'- a mind that is unwilling to arrive at closure or certainty when it comes to language about God.

      In this sense, Saint Augustine(and many theologians since him) are "agnostic." It was Augustine who said: "Anything you think you understand about God is not God."

      Thanks for the insightful comment.