Agnostic Advent (Reflections of a Faithless Christmas)

     I walked away from Christian faith shortly before Easter of this year.  During that time I talked to my friends and my therapist about the changes in my thinking and the posture of my heart. I wrote on this blog. I did all these things to process and allow myself  the breathing room to navigate this major shift in my life.

After all, Christianity has been a dominant force in my life. Gradually moving away from that and simultaneously trying to forge a different way forward were all uncharted territory for me.

As Christmas approaches these same thoughts are resurfacing.

The difference now is that I’ve had a few months to get a better footing on what my own thinking and beliefs have evolved to.

So far it’s looked like a commitment to the label Agnostic and the surrender to uncertainty that it entails.

It’s also looks like developing a personal life ethic which so far amounts to a devotion to self care, honesty, responsibility, compassion, inner healing, fitness, mindfulness and the pursuit of equanimity.

Regarding spirituality I’m finding the appeal of Omnism and especially the Vedic principle of Dharma.

All of this reflection brings me to Advent.

My adoration and devotion to Christ in years prior always seemed to find it’s primary resonance and peak around this time of year.

Christmas songs and their evocation of a God become man for the entire world as an ineffable gift created this whole other level of expectation, longing, joy and hope inside me.

It was the best time of year as far as I was concerned. I would go to Midnight mass and sing carols and smell incense. I didn’t care that I wasn’t Orthodox or Catholic that wasn’t the point lol. It was my desire to place myself in environments that reflected the grandeur of what my belief was doing inside me in relation to all that Advent meant.

With Advent this year I feel a quietness where there was once excitement.

I do not yet know what this absence of faith will mean for me.

I attempt to process it even as I type this.

Those same songs of the unmatched gift of God to humanity by becoming humanity no longer stir me.

They no longer stir me because I don’t know if there is a God.  Much less the idea of God that Christians espouse that says that God became human.

It’s a beautiful thought., but I can’t celebrate that thought anymore in clear conscience.

There is literally a rewiring of the neural pathways of my brain that associated the  beauty, awe and worship this time of year around these beliefs. I wonder what they will be replaced with?

What’s going to happen in my mind and heart when I hear Pentatonix, or Mannheim Steam Roller, Donny Hathoway, Whitney Houston,  Mariah Carey, or the Trans-Siberian Orchestra?

What’s going to happen in my mind when I taste egg nog, or smell fresh pine, or watch A Wonderful Life for the fifty-leventh time?

These things brought added joy to me because I knew behind them was the idea of the greatest gift and story ever told. What happens when the idea of  that gift disappears?

I don’t know.

This will be my first truly secular Christmas and I’m preparing myself for that.

One thing gives me consolation.

It’s that in walking away from discipleship to the man Jesus (and with it the beliefs, systems, traditions and institutions surrounding him) I’ve found and am continuing to find myself.

Prior to this, my worship of the Christian God and the Christian message meant forsaking my personhood and or allowing my personhood to be subsumed in the idea of this man Jesus.

Now, it’s just me. and I’m finding ever deepening beauty in the solitude of my own existence and autonomy in life.

In the moments and passing days I come to terms with my own “being” and try to take hold of those things that are invisible yet tangible. Things like, love, hope, mind, and consciousness.

I may not be certain  there is a God but there is peace for me in the aforementioned invisible things.

I also believe in humanity.

I believe in our capacity for innovation and evolution. I believe in the power for us to consciously move towards better tomorrows and a better world.

As advent approaches I wonder this time around if our stories behind God becoming man point to something deeper.

I wonder if humanity is searching for God within ourselves when we celebrate such things year after year.

If so, maybe reaching for such heights so deep within will change everything.

2 thoughts on “Agnostic Advent (Reflections of a Faithless Christmas)

  1. Hello Danny.

    We’ve met in person. I miss you at our shabboses.

    I’d say this is out of sorts for most of my reading, but then again I penned a short story about Paul appearing in Dante’s hell. So much for the mote of iconoclasm in your eye…

    While I’ve never been gay, I would say that I’ve had shifts before in my faith. Back in college. I read a lot. When I was 14 my old man gifted me with a copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh and explained that it was older than the Bible. He read me ethnographies of the pygmies in the Belgian Congo. I collected tribal masks and grew to study mythos at large. Dad explained to me evolution was probably fact, Job was probably a parable, but that the Bible was very true.

    I’m certainly not a polytheist, but I huff when I hear a Jew or Christian mindlessly dump on pagan thought, when pagan thought is no simple bargain at all. There’s Stoicism and its mystical Spiritus Mundi, the myth of Indra’s Net found in Ecclesiastes 3:11, the Eleusinian Mysteries of Attica and its petal-strewn paths to Orphic resurrection. Or the entrancing elegance of the Kabbalah, echoed in the womb metaphors of Yeshua.

    Collective monomyth utterly destroyed my faith, but then it steeled it more resiliently than blind faith ever could have. I can’t really relate how it did. Not with all my little words. Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitchik and AJ Heschel helped.

    My kindred philosopher is Friedrich Nietzsche. I quoted him at Pesach once. It didn’t go over well. “A man who has a why to exist can endure any how” was the riff. An avid Bible student and classical mythographer by heart, his world-shattering nihilism was basically my own shadow had I come to different conclusions “de rerum natura.” Fearing the fires of Hell is a phantom fear for dolts. To G-d I would exclaim, “Hoshieini! Deliver me from these fires of meaninglessness!” Those are the most terrifying flames I can imagine. The livid embers of nil. Small wonder that the only anguished moment of history grave enough to outweigh hell itself was not the imagery roaring furnaces, but as the existential terror of crying out in earnest “My G-d, My G-d, why hast thou forsaken me!?” The type of question Judah asks, but not Joseph.

    I hope your graceful disintegration hums along on schedule, and that in burning the candle on both ends between Fear and Desire you slip into condoling and buttery Nirvana. But in all that, I truly hope G-d reveals himself to you. And me. I’ve never spoken in tongues. The Spirit has never “led” me to do this or that. I’ve never been privy to a theophany and I sure haven’t ever witnessed a miracle in my life. But every day I wake up and choose to believe. So there isn’t really anything I can say. One either believes or one doesn’t. I hope I am there, that I stay there, and I hope you get back there, if in fact you left.

    There is a Spanish word for longing or desire. Anhelar. It’s rooted in exhalation. The H is silent.

    The psychology of faith fascinates me. I believe it stems from a few things. Man in his brief loitering feels awe at the transcendence that begins where his fingertips end, and he feels a mystique not only to understand – but to be understood by – the transcendent, the mystery, and the eternal. Which is something blind forces can never do. A universe devoid of encounter with the transcendent absolute – and being understood by it – seems like a sadistic cry-it-out training session with an orrery for a crib chandelier. Be it so, then we are most to be pitied.

    Yet I also suspect that Man pinpoints deep delights in life; intimacy, grandeur, irony, desire, amusement, giddy, friendship, satisfaction (however fleeting) and instantly rues their ephemeralities. Special moments. Lavish tastes. Shared warmth. Awe. He abhors that they will not only end, but that they will slip into oblivion as though they never were. Lost, like tears in the rain. And so he seeks to tether them to something eternal and absolute like a vintner hoping to preserve and augment delectable flavors in a virile wine. And therefore seek an eternal absolute. And to that eternal absolute he seeks also to tether himself.

    As a kid I always imagined that far-flung bliss as hearing every song ever played harmoniously at once, every locker room joke, ever stolen kiss ever filched, every sports triumph, every heroic last stand, growing and compounding through limitless sensory bandwidth, a silver cord that goes on forever.

    At the end of all of this I can’t really tell you why I believe. So much in us screams for individuation, higher life, and beyondness. Maybe it’s that. Perhaps I’d rather impale myself on His soaring lie than settle for any drabber truth. It leaves me a bit gun-shy in writing it all off. You always struck me as a very thoughtful and sensitive person. I hope your becoming never ends and that you find your walled garden. Hopefully a literal one.


    PS. Global warming is still a crock. Ta-ta!

    PPS. I’m very bad at davening and general prayer, but I shall try to remember to slip your name in time and again.


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