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How to be an agnostic

How To Be An Agnostic by Mark Vernon. (272 pages).

I really appreciate books written in a humble tone – exploring faith, and acknowledging the integrity of a variety of approaches; where the author gives his/her own perspective – and acknowledges that there are other ways of looking at things. And that s/he might be wrong. This is one of those books. [Francis Collins’ book, the Language of God, is another]

Mark Vernon was an Anglican priest. He describes his loss of faith and his enthusiastic embracing of atheism. Then he had a nervous breakdown. He has found agnosticism his way forward.

This is a book for people, like me, who are repelled by fundamentalism, be it religious or atheistic; who are repelled by those whose certainty (or insecurity) allows for no alternative viewpoint but see theirs as the only truth to ram down the throats of others.

Mark Vernon says that “the agnosticism that stirs me is not a sterile kind of uncertainty, which sits on the fence, or worse, can’t be bothered to articulate what it breezily doubts. The position I want to flesh out is engaged. It senses that what we don’t know is as thrilling as what we do know”.

For someone like me who affirms the apophatic way (finds the negative way positive!), I find Mark Vernon’s humble approach refreshing. Here is someone who has studied theology, science, and philosophy – and holds those three disciplines together.

Sometimes I found the book slower going – but maybe you will find those the very parts that you find gripping, and you might find the parts that I enjoyed, slow going. In any case, I highly recommend this book.

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4 thoughts on “How to be an agnostic”

  1. I think that we both have had experiences that likely shook our faith and raised questions against it verging on agnosticism. we are not alone.

    A side note to fundamentalism. There is a new TV series in the US called GCB. It is situated in the fictional wealthy suburb of Dallas, TX, called Hillside Park and members of the Hillside Park United Memorial Church. It is rife with stereotypes, which are hilarious (I have watched all three episodes that have been broadcast so far.) It has garnered much criticism from the fundamentalist crowd in the US because it hits way too close to home for comfort. There are two wealthy Dallas suburbs collectively called the Park Cities, Highland Park and University Park, where the largest and wealthiest churches in each city are United Methodist churches. My first US seminary that I attended sit smack in the middle of these cities, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Adjacent to the seminary is the world’s wealthiest United Methodist parish, Highland Park UMC. I have know folks just like the characters in this prime time evening telenovela. The whole thing is a hoot. I hope that it survives the ratings cleaver.

  2. I have a lot of respect for the position of agnosticism. From a solely rational perspective, it’s the most honest position, I think. Since both theism and atheism are based on faith, but to be an agnostic requires no faith at all. Just a questioning mind-set. Which, in the long run, may actually allow scope for God to work! To sneak in, perhaps, and astonish someone with a personal experience, which might just tip the balance, even if not “explainable” through logic.

    I so recall the nun my senior year of high school, who must have (wrongly) assumed I was on the verge of atheism. Simply because I refused to accept or be convinced by the “proofs” for the existence of God. Well… they still don’t convince me! Even though the REALITY of God does. I say “Reality” – not “existence” – of God. Because “existence” doesn’t really seem to be an “attribute” of God (as it is for us). Though I CAN say – from my own experience as well as from Scripture – God reveals, astonishes, invades, draws and withdraws, discloses. But mostly I too find, as Bosco put it “the apophatic way (… the negative way)” to be the way that God has “shown/shone” Holy Mystery within my life. (And perhaps that’s why agnosticism has such a pull for certain people. It may indeed be “God’s Way” – for them. The “way” of questions.)

    I guess what bothers me about fundamentalism is the anxiety underlying it. The need to nail things down and hang on for dear life, which to me reveals an underlying psychological terror. The fear of questioning or giving scope within one’s life to allow for the SURPRISES of a REAL relationship with a God who simply cannot be pinned down, penned up, anticipated, described – whatever it is that fundamentalists and scholastic dogmatists try “to ram down the throats of others” (as Bosco so aptly has described it). But sadly, they ram it down their own throats as well!

    (Bosco knows my real name. But my “identity” – hidden in God – is a work in progress. Link above.)

    1. Thanks, TheraP. In Thomas Aquinas his “proofs” for God are set within an apophatic framework. The neglect of the apophatic, especially in Western Christianity, is, I’m convinced, a great loss to us [incidentally, notice it turning up in Physics…]. As to existence not being able to be predicated of God – I’m working on a sermon on that (and concerned what will be “heard” – who knows some of these thoughts may grow into a blog post). Blessings.

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