Giving birth to the agnostic within!

Being born is hard, the baby has to let go of a world that felt so secure, so safe, so warm , so comforting, once he didn’t even have to breathe for himself…and then the baby has to endure being pushed out, almost crushed in the process, out into a hostile, big environment with no safety of the womb. Here, the baby’s needs are not on tap, he will have to call out for his needs to be met and hope that someone will respond. It is frightening and scary in a world with no walls to touch.

Being born is risky, the baby could die, and there may be complications and physical abnormalities. For us to allow a hidden part of us to be born, to be revealed can be very risky, we could lose face, family, friends, church… but the greatest risk is ultimately you could lose your soul. To be born again involves letting go, letting go of old truths and beliefs, assurances and insurances, letting go of a way of life…

Many of us are afraid to be born again, to allow god to be born anew in us as it is frightening to risk letting go of the world we have constructed, even if that world does not content us or is uncomfortable, we end up living by the belief – ‘better the devil you know!’

So this Christmas maybe the best gift you can give to yourself is to allow the agnostic to be born in you afresh, to encourage it to thrive and develop. What both Christmas and Easter have in common is flesh, powerlessness, weakness and letting go. So let go and be born again!


Babies are not concerned with what is right or wrong, they are not interested in truth, belief or dogma, they are not interested in theology or any other ‘ology’ or ‘ism’, or any kind of thinking. The only truth they know is whether they can trust their dependant. They live in this moment, right here- right now and trust their senses and their feelings. What they are concerned about is whether they are held and touched, fed and loved, warmth and nurture and tenderness and compassion.

No words – just flesh and body.

Ultimately the only thing the baby is interested in at this moment is survival

Rowan Williams in his Radio Times message writes the following….

The Clutching hand of the baby is, for most of us, something we can’t resist. The Christmas story outrageously suggests that putting our hand into the clutch of a baby may be the most important thing we can ever do as human beings – a real letting go of aggression and fear and wanting to make an impression, and whatever else is going on in us that keeps us tied up in our struggle and violence.


Capturing and sitting with wonder is a worthy pursuit, to find god, beauty and the sacred in all living things is a beautiful and life giving thing. This is natural to children; they are seeing things for the first time, experiencing life fresh. As adults, it becomes harder, but as some of the mystics of old have told us – we can find all that we need to know about the sacred in a leaf. If we can see the wonder and beauty of a leaf then we will surely find wonder and beauty in the rest of creation, including ourselves and others.

This brings us back to our senses. Are we able to see it? Can you hear the wonder? Are you able to taste it? Can you feel it? Can you touch it and allow yourself to be touched? Can you smell the aroma of the mystery? Are we open to it or closed down?

I was introduced to the term of religious agnosticism my Mark Vernon at Greenbelt last year, he has a book published next year called, ‘How to be agnostic’. Below Mark writes about wonder in the following way.

A practice of wonder
This can be associated with many of the scientists of the modern world, particularly Robert Hooke, who could look down a microscope, at a common fly, and exclaim, ‘The burnished and resplendent fly!’ Coleridge’s thought is helpful here too: following Aristotle, he noted that philosophy begins in wonder, a wonder that stems from ignorance, and that it ends with wonder too, though now the wonder has become ‘the parent of adoration.’ It’s the joy of not knowing, the thrill of sensing that which lies beyond you. For the great Victorian agnostics, like T.H. Huxley who invented the word, the metaphor of climbing mountains was a common one for this practice too. It’s not that you conquer a mountain when you reach its summit, but rather that you gain a respect for it. And should the clouds clear for a moment, and the world opens up before you, the amazement stems from appreciating something of your own smallness before the glory of the vista. That is the pleasure, and consolation, of the agnostic way of life.

New Agnosticism – Part 2

Some key values of a New Agnosticism

1. Embracing the freedom of not-knowing / uncertainty
2. Life long learning – there is always more to learn.
3. Listening to self, body, others and the whole of creation.
4. Being integrated with body and relearning the beauty and need of touch
5. Embracing sensuality (reject non-sense) – reconnecting with feelings and our six senses and learn to trust our emotional intelligence.
6. Enjoy and embrace playing (eros) creation and make room for wonder.
7. Move from dryness to moistness
8. Accepting and celebrating the joy and sacredness of sex
9. Live a life of thankfulness, grace and gratitude
10. Embrace holistic humanity, honoring the feminine and masculine
11. Move from asceticism to aestheticism
12. Move from belief and dogma to be-attitudes
13. Respect and embrace wisdom and the knowledge that comes through it
14. Respect both being and doing
15. Move from separation to inclusion
16. Live justly even though it may not bring peace.
17. Question everything / accept everyone
18. Learn to love self, others and all creation – be who you are!

Being an agnostic can be lonely, being a religious agnostic can be isolating, as yet there is no agnostic church. Perhaps it is time for the new agnostics to gather together, to create community or an agnostic church.

My son expects me to know everything, he said to me the other night, “you always say you don’t know”

In reality – I don’t always say I don’t know – but as a little boy he expects me the bigger person to know everything and is surprised and sometimes annoyed that I don’t.
But I am glad he has noticed this ability to say, I don’t know, as I hope to model a not-knowing way of being to him. It can however be seen as lazy response, a sitting on the fence – but sitting on the fence is eventually quite painful. I see not-knowing as being responsible. It is a considered response to life’s choices and life’s circumstances. I believe it is an authentic response which offers freedom and liberation.

Being agnostic is natural – why fight it!

New Agnosticism – Part 1

What new Agnosticism has in common with the agnosticism of old is embracing the freedom of not knowing, loss, letting go and uncertainty. New Agnosticism isn’t just concerned with thinking and belief but with a way of being for the whole of life. The modern world is filled with experts and masters who instruct us how to live on issues such as diet, fashion, religion, health, finance, therapy, praying, preaching, storytelling, theology, singing, dancing, sex, joy, happiness, love and spirituality. These experts are fascinated with positivity, success and power. Our bookshops, TV, internet, government, churches and celebrities are populated with people telling us how to live our lives, what we need and what would be best for us. In this age where people are desperate to ‘get it right’ Agnosticism says it is Ok to get it wrong, to make mistakes, and to totally screw things up. Not knowing is heretical and questions the known truths and accepted ways of being.

The only mistake you can make is to not learn from your mistakes – Thomas Merton

New Agnosticism isn’t against listening to people who have wisdom and who have experience, in fact they are eager to learn from such people who have gone before them; ancient wisdom has often being ignored and lost. New Agnostics just don’t need or want to make the wise into their preachers, masters, leaders and gurus.

New Agnostics are eager to explore their inner self and re-learn how to trust themselves and seek to trust the other and accompany them on their journey. They have learnt to trust themselves and trust others, love themselves and love others, listen to themselves and others and believe in themselves and others. And so they seek to love themselves, the other, the mystery and creation.

A new Agnosticism involves letting go of dualistic male centered theologies and rational centered thinking and embracing creation centered, contemplative , mystical theology, sensual spirituality and emotional intelligence.

The false economy of waiting

Children naturally live in the now
They are generally impatient and find it hard to wait
They want it now – they live in the present moment
But, parents like to teach them the importance of waiting
To practice delayed gratification
Not to be so emotional
And to calm down

Parents however, often live in the future
Trying to be mature, sensible and responsible
We must insure ourselves and save
Build your pension funds
Make sure you have security in the future

The materialistic parent encourages us to:
Consume now and put off the waiting –
Debt is good for you
Buy stuff you don’t need to occupy your mind and to entertain yourself
Buy products that will make you happier, make you cool or more loveable
Retail therapy will help you deal with your present difficult situation!

And Jesus, well he tells us to become like children!

Many of us either live in the past or the future and few of us risk being in the present.
Are you living in the past? Still longing for the good ole days,
Are you living for the future? And hoping ‘Things can only get better’

Or, are you able to be like the child and be right here, right now…
And risk the joy, sadness, anger, gladness, anxiety, love, pain, contentment, discontentment, happiness, embarrassment, frustration or some other feeling that arises in each moment.
Dare you risk being fully present in this moment….
and this moment…
this moment….
this moment…!

The best present you can give others this Christmas is to be fully present.

Rituals to help us re-member the mystery

For the past 10 years rituals have become increasingly important to me and my family. We celebrate several throughout the year and are always seeking to create new ones, helping us to be grounded in the cycle of life. Below I have described some of the advent rituals that we do.

Each evening we do the following:
1. We light the advent candles
2. We say an Advent liturgy together, the third week is written below and the response includes actions

God our life and our breath.
We witness your coming
In the humility of service,
The poor and marginalized,
The new born child,
In the heart of each person we meet,
And in the beauty of all creation.

We watch, wait and witness the mystery of your conception in us,
(The response)
We are waiting
We are watching
We are witnessing

3. We read a chapter from the Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
4. Advent Calendar – One of us receives a present from the advent calendar and reads out the meditation for the day. (10 years ago I created two big stars with 24 hooks on in which we hang small gifts and a meditation)

Other rituals used throughout the season include:
Winter Solstice – We mark this event with friends. We celebrate the start of a new solar year with fire, lanterns, yule log, eating, drinking and singing around the Christmas tree
Love Lists – An idea I picked up last year from Richard Louv in ‘The web of life’. This is a simple idea where we write love lists for each other which is a list of 5-10 things that we love and have appreciated about the other during the last year. We read them out to each other on Christmas Eve.

Does Jesus believe in God?

Does Jesus believe in your god, my god or our god?
Which version of God does he believe in or follow?
He didn’t seem to believe in the god of the Pharisees
He didn’t believe in the god of the Old Testament
He doesn’t believe in a patriarchal god or a dualistic god
He didn’t believe in a top-down god
He didn’t believe in a god out there
He didn’t believe in a distant or separate god
Would he believe in the God that many people worship today?

He appeared not to be interested in the finer aspects of the law
But moved people from an exterior code of conduct
To an internal consciousness and responsibility
He dumped dogma
He moved us from the be-liefs to the be-attitudes
He didn’t promote a god who is set apart
But a god who can be with me, in me, part of me
Be at-one with me

An Agnostic pilgrimage – On a road to nowhere!!

Many speak of the spiritual exploration as a journey – where the destination is unimportant, but the journey to the destination fosters growth. I often think this is the same as when we look forward to something like a holiday (Christmas springs to mind) – the build up, the planning and the anticipation can be more fulfilling then the actual encounter.

T.S Elliot thinks so…

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.

Are we on a road to nowhere or are we now here?