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.”