Nightmares, Agnosticism, and Esoteric Christianity

On Christmas Eve my partner and I watched an old favorite of mine: Donnie Darko. The film is a trippy, incoherent and yet strangely cathartic philosophical exploration of reality. Running through the film is Donnie’s struggles with belief in God. The film captures well the unreality and alienation that accompanies such deep exploration: little makes sense in this world, and we are surrounded by delusions and nightmares.

The scenes that struck me the most powerfully were the discussions Donnie has with his therapist about his struggles with belief in God.

Thurman: Do you feel alone right now?

Donnie: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I’d like to believe I’m not, but I just… I’ve just never seen any proof, so I… I just don’t debate it anymore, you know? It’s like I could spend my whole life debating it over and over again, weighing the pros and cons. And in the end, I still wouldn’t have any proof. So I just… I just don’t debate it anymore. It’s absurd.

Thurman: The search for God is absurd?

Donnie: It is if everyone dies alone.

Thurman: Does that scare you?

Donnie: I don’t want to be alone.

Later in the film, near the climax, Dr. Thurman tells Donnie,

Donnie, an atheist is someone who denies altogether the existence of God. You’re an agnostic. An agnostic is someone who believes that there can be no proof of the existence of God, but does not deny a possibility that God exists.

Those last words struck a profound cord in me. I’ve lived the past year in a state of existential confusion. I emerged from my extreme bout of depression a deeply altered person: old answers that once seemed obvious were no longer obvious anymore. My faith was not so crystal clear; the edges are not so defined anymore.

This experience – the blurring of the edges of internal reality – is a sort of nightmare, not unlike the film Donnie Darko, where wormholes open, reality bends, and strange existential beasts in stupid bunny suits roam the moonless night.

Now, I’m having to confront a certain reality: I am somewhere between faith and agnosticism. Certainly, a Christian agnosticism (with a good dollop of Eastern mysticism) – Christianity is my spiritual center, ground zero for the formation of my worldview. I will never believe with cold certainty that there is no God, and I also experience a mystical force in our world. I am, like all humanity, hard-wired for for transcendence.

For the past year I’ve been calling myself an Esoteric Christian. I hope to do a post exploring this term in greater depth, and when people ask me what it means I jokingly tell them, “it means I’m a Christian who’s into weird shit.” An Esoteric Christian, in my view, is one who has chosen Christianity as the vehicle for enlightenment, is Christ-centric but open-minded, who finds truths throughout the religious and scientific realms, but continually returns to the central archetype and person of Christ as a spiritual center. I am also comfortable with admitting that, at the end of the day, I am agnostic. I simply don’t know.

Is Christ the archetype of the great truth teller and self-sacrificer? Or is he truly the son of God? Or is he a mysterious amalgam of both, residing within and without our collective subconscious? I don’t know. An esoteric faith is one that allows doubt and mysticism to coincide, and listens more to the heartbeat of God in all things than to the strident decrees of dogmatism.

If that seems vague and undefined to you – perhaps even incoherent – you’d be right. It’s very blurry, and still forming. That’s my point. Don’t look to me for clear paths and dogmatic truths. I will give you none. I’m too honest for that. All I offer instead is a travelogue of the journey I’m on.

This sort of agnosticism/faith/mysticism/Jungian archetypalism is very, very far from where I began my faith journey, but it’s the forest I find myself in, and I can only do my best to be fully present to it. The new mantra for this season of my life are the words of another great religious explorer, Soren Kierkegaard:

“Life is not a problem to be a solved but a reality to be experienced.”

7 Comments

  1. This post makes way to much sense to me it is scary. It’s like you’ve written my life right now down on a page. Although you seem to have processed it and I am still processing it and feel like it is breaking me apart and like I am drowning. I feel like I am letting go of my faith and everything I have ever known in order to actually gain a much deeper understanding and truth of the very faith I need to relinquish. All that is left is Christ and that is terrifying and hurts like hell. And yet who even is that Christ? It is so comforting to know that living in this space is ok and other people have come through it.

    It was a mix of a lot of things and different people entering my life and also actually starting to listen to people. It is an incredible life changer. To listen. And I started watching this Bible series by an agnostic (I think-he is reluctant to explain his exact faith position which I like) clinical psychologist called Jordan B Peterson on YouTube sent to me by my friend who isn’t a Christian (and interestingly now wants to explore going to church). The ideas and revelation in this series alone have kind of broken my faith in the best way possible. I felt it coming but dear God I never thought it would hurt this much. All I have are questions and the unshakeable image of Christ at the centre. I simultaneously started reading a book called how to survive a shipwreck by Jonathan Martin which rocked me again and it feels like my life has become that formless void in Genesis-basically chaos.

    And yet as he writes in that book-sometimes the spirit brings order into chaos and other times it brings chaos into our false order. I think I’m experiencing the latter. I was just interested in you talking about the heartbeat of God because in the midst of all this going on recently someone who doesn’t know me told me they felt God wanted to say to me to not worry because I know the heartbeat of God. And with that one sentence I felt such profound peace. All my theological beliefs are crashing down but all I seem to want to do is lay on Jesus and listen to his heartbeat. I was at the beach the other day and cried an ocean and felt like life was just too much and it might be easier to just walk away from it all. Something stopped me. I got into my car and a song called ‘It’s Alright’ by Fractures (you can tell I am a musician and writer with all these links I would love you to listen to lol) came on and spoke to my aching soul.

    Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable about your journey. I hope I can get to a place that I have come out the other side of this shipwreck and can call home home again

    By the way I think you would really love the Bible secure series-it explores christianity in exactly the way you are talking about

    1. Grace, thank you so much for sharing your story here. You hit on something that I want more people to talk about: paradigm shifts are unbelievably painful. I don’t really have any answers in regards to getting through that pain, other than to listen, and assure everyone going through it that they are not alone. As I’ve gone through my own quiet suffering, I’ve realized that, no matter the pain, this is what I’m here for: to experience this life fully, even if that means paradigm shifts. The truth is always noble, and always worth it, and the pursuit of it fundamentally alters me into a better person.

      You mentioned Jordan Peterson. I watched his interview about faith with Joe Rogan, and I found it incredibly helpful in sorting out my understanding of my own faith. Another person you might find helpful is Carrie Poppy and her TED talk on faith and the paranormal. And have you read Finding God in the Waves by Mike McHargue? That book was a life saver for me.

      I pray that you will continue to work through the paradigm shifts with integrity and clarity, and that you will get through unscathed. I’m confident that you can.

      And I will definitely check out the music you recommended.

      1. Thank you! Knowing I am not alone is enough to be honest.
        I haven’t checked out her TED talk or read the book so I will definitely use those. Thanks for the recommendations! Every little thing helps as Tesco would say

  2. I adore “Donnie Darko” but it might be because it started my crush on Jake. I must admit that your deep search for meaning is also revealing my own possibilities . Either I’m similarly diverse in my religious perception,or I have a close kinship with Donnie.I believe that doubt is only natural as a religion teacher once told me. It comes to all intelligent people many times throughout life. So,I never questioned my acceptance of agnosticism as simply intelligent thinking.While I classify myself as a Gay Christian ,I don’t think classification is really important. The most important thing about Jesus was love,and that’s important in all our lives.So,I live my life believing that it is important to try to love everyone. That’s as Christian as it gets,and others should keep those “classifications” pretty simple, or they tear apart the whole point of the gift.

  3. As I understand esoteric Christianity, the scriptures contain a message that is far deeper, hidden, and mysterious than most are able to understand (both Hebrew and Christian scriptures). I don’t pretend to know it’s depths but I keep digging. Your journey sounds to be more post-Christianity, having moved beyond a surface level interpretation of the message. I think that’s positive movement in your spirituality. Christ means “anointed.” Jesus was an anointed one. I consider him the (or a) son of God because a son (theoretically) is the image of his father. The New Testament says Jesus revealed the Father God to us. Previous claims about what God was like were not accurate since the New Testament describes God as love. Jesus revealed a God of patience, kindness, tolerance, and unconditional love. Concerning Christ again – St. Paul said to the Corinthians: “Don’t you know that Christ is within you?” Is Jesus within us? No. Christ is. Other NT verses declare that God is within us. We all have been made in the image of God. We all have an anointed one within us. My goal is to give birth to that anointed one so that I can return to the image of God as a “son” (daughter) – revealing the truth about the One who lives in and through me. As I seek to know the Inconceivable, and the anointed one, I look inward now… in meditation. Keep trusting your heart, something Special lives there and your posts reflect that.

  4. Very good and extremely honest. What you define as esoteric Christianity as a minister I define as healthy spirituality. It’s a happy medium between blind obedience and as you stated cold atheism. There is a song you need to listen to from a Swedish play called du maste finnas the English version is titled you have to be there I believe it describes beautifully what you are talking about.

    For me one thing for me has kept me from this place of doubt. My faith in God is defined by Love because love exists and God is love God exists. That’s just my journey and I just want you to know how deeply I love you as my friend and how deeply I respect your journey.

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