Embracing Doubt

Apparently children look at the world with wide-eyed curiosity and ask us questions that we ourselves are too unquestioning to even see, let alone ask. And in many ways I would argue that most children are far more enlightened/ intelligent/ wise/ open-minded than most adults (this is certainly not an original proposition!).

However, when I look back at my attitudes about faith as a child, I was quite the reverse of open-minded. I was a hard-line atheist, refusing to attend church services even when I was still in primary school and actually being pretty keen to denounce other people’s beliefs. Interestingly, my six year old son is similarly resolute in his beliefs, though he comes from a different standpoint, stating, “Well of course there was the Big Bang, but who do you think made it happen? Obviously it was God!” 

I am comfortable with him holding his own strong beliefs, but cringe at his disparaging tone towards my agnosticism. I cringe even more to know that my tone was just as overbearing and dogmatic when I was of a similar age. 

My atheism saw me all through my twenties and most of my thirties. In the latter decade I wavered from it slightly, warming up to some more spiritual ideas (I’m happy to chat about these but don’t think my own beliefs are especially relevant to share here!) but finding it a bit uncomfortable to consider moving on from such a strongly-held stance. However, I had come to feel very passionate about any individual’s rights to their own beliefs so long as they were rooted in respect for others and doing no harm. I saw friends and family members rediscover a faith that brought them great comfort, or evolve from one belief to another. I began to doubt.

Without even naming it at first, I discovered agnosticism and it fit me like a glove. For a good few years after that I worked on disentangling myself from my atheism…

It was so exciting to come together with two other agnostic celebrants to create Agnostic Scotland. Sitting together over many meetings to hone our explanation of our shared beliefs and values, I felt a certainty rise up in me. A certainty that doubt is a deeply respectful stance to take. 

When I had the ‘opportunity’ to appear on TV to represent Agnostic Scotland (reader, I was petrified) the interviewer asked me, “So, are you just confused?”. I realised that there is a misconception that doubt is the same as confusion. But I don’t feel remotely confused in my agnosticism; I believe anything is possible in this vast universe and I love the mystery of that! I also feel released of the risk that someone misconstrues that I look down on them for their faith or for their atheism. 

If you Google “embracing doubt”, nearly all of the pages that come up encourage you to let go of doubt and trust yourself. It’s curious, isn’t it? What about if we trusted ourselves enough to stand in doubt with conviction? To allow doubt to be foundation of our belief system?

I am not trying to convert anyone here; if you have a strong faith or belief system then that is just as valid as my agnosticism. But for the millions of us who may feel a little lost because we don’t fit one camp or the other, because we aren’t certain what exists and what doesn’t and what the meaning of life may be, there’s a community right here for you.

You may be completely agnostic, or you may have a faith but remain open to the possibility that your own beliefs might not be the only answer to life’s greatest questions. You may be resolutely atheist in your own beliefs, but have a genuine appreciation of many faiths of the world and welcome the diversity these bring to our societies. An Agnostic community is a great place for people of mixed beliefs to come together in shared space and in moments of ceremony.

Agnosticism is an active and sure stance of open-mindedness. It is a creative, curious, wide-eyed wonder of a belief system and it can be wholehearted, unabashed doubt. 

PS – today is our one-year anniversary… happy birthday, Agnostic Scotland!

I am, because we are.

I remember first hearing about the philosophy of Ubuntu and feeling like almost everything I’d wanted to say about community, humanity, and our interconnectedness as people was represented in this one simple (and yet profound) concept:

I am, because we are.

Image by Anke Sundermeier from Pixabay

The term Ubuntu comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages and roughly translates as “humanity towards others”*.

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

I do not need to feel threatened by your success, or proud that I am “beating you” at whatever game (chess, politics, careers) we might be playing. All of this is a construct. In reality, when any member of our society suffers, we all suffer. We are all weakened and lessened. We are all less “good”.

I am, because we all are.

Ubuntu helps me remember that I am not alone, or independent of others. I only exist as myself because of my interactions and relationships with others. Sometimes we are guilty, as a society, of labelling people as “in receipt of support”. In fact, we all rely on the support of others at times, and we collectively rely upon the giftedness of every person in our communities.

…we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye… we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.

Barack Obama (speaking of the concept of Ubuntu at Nelson Mandela’s memorial)

Ubuntu is, I believe, an inherently (inclusive) feminist concept too; we need to lift others up in order to mutually and collectively benefit from the gifts and offerings of all our fellow humans. We need to notice and check our privilege, because it might be getting in the way of someone else’s progress. We need to be community-minded and collaborative.

At Agnostic Scotland, we have already begun to bring people together at our Community Connection Gatherings. As we grow, we look forward to providing more of these opportunities to connect and explore our common humanity together. We endorse no single faith or belief system, but delight in the diversity that exists within humankind. We exist, probably because other belief bodies exist, and we do so with an open-hearted appreciation for what others believe and create.

I am, because we are.

You are, because we are.

We are, because we ALL are.