There’s a rich literature being written today by some highly intelligent, sensitive men and women who might best be described as agnostic stoics. Unlike some of their atheistic counterparts, whose one-sided attacks on religion suggest that they “doth protest too much”, this group doesn’t protest at all. They don’t attack faith in God.
Indeed, they often see salient religious doctrines, like belief in the Incarnation, Original Sin and Resurrection, as helpful myths that can be invaluable for our self-understanding, akin to the great myths of the ancient world. They are warm to spirituality and are sometimes better apologists for depth of soul and the place of mystery in our lives than their explicitly religious counterparts. It’s just that, in the end, they bracket belief in God.
At an intellectual level, you see this in people like the late American psychologist James Hillman and many of his followers (though some of those followers have, unlike their master, taken a more belligerent and negative attitude towards faith in God and religion). You see this too in a good number of contemporary novelists who write from a fairly deliberate agnostic perspective. And you see this in wonderful biographical books, like Nina Riggs’s The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying.
What these authors all have in common is this: they look at life’s deepest questions and face them with courage and sensitivity, but only from an agnostic and stoic perspective.
How do you make sense of things if there’s no God? How do you face the finality of death if there’s no afterlife? How do you ground love as an absolute if there’s no Absolute upon which to ground it?
How can the precious events of our lives have lasting meaning if there’s no personal immortality? How do we face the shortcomings of our lives and own mortality if this life is all there is? They face these questions honestly and courageously without an explicit belief in God, come to peace with them, find meaning for themselves, and garner the insight and courage they need to live with answers that don’t include faith in God and belief in an afterlife.
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