Sceptical Mysticism

You often hear about believers who have a crisis of faith, but what of the sceptics among us who have a crisis of doubt? For years we sceptics have decisively refuted the metaphysical claims of the great religions and scoffed at the pretentions of newfangled spiritual fashions. But then our doubt is suddenly shaken by an unbidden mystical experience. The power of this direct cognition of ultimate reality, beyond word or image, is undeniable. But does it prove the existence of God?

If you remain sceptical you find yourself in a difficult state. You now seriously doubt your doubt and yet have no abiding faith to replace it. How do you proceed? You can no longer be atheistic because you’ve communed with the divine. You can’t be religious because the existence of God is still very much in question. Nor can you be agnostic because you’re far from neutral on the subject. You must become a sceptical mystic. As you cut your own singular path to the great whatever, you must now treat your own experiences with the relentless scepticism you once reserved for the claims of others.

I am One with a God I do not believe in.” – Andrew Boyd

This is an interesting dilemma and one I wrestled with myself for some time. Until I realised it was nonsense.

This ability to doubt our experience and assumptions is a powerful tool and can be used to break through into a realisation of the true nature of reality. But the idea of whether or not God exists is entirely beside the point. As long as you’re thinking about it, you’re not living it. As long as you’re naming it, you’re not living it.

Reality isn't black & white
Reality isn’t black & white

Thinking, naming, labeling, doubting, are all useful. But Reality simply is. What you think about it, is just that – what you think about it. You can call Reality God, if you like. Or you could just call it Reality, or Life. Whatever you call it, you still don’t know what ‘it’ is.

Reality/God/Life is fundamentally mysterious. Faith is about embracing that mystery. Faith isn’t about believing a particular story about life or God. It’s about living in a way that aligns your actions with what Reality or Life requires of you in this moment. To put it in religious terms: to align your will with the will of God.

One of the many misunderstandings of atheists or sceptics is that faith is the same as certainty. It’s often assumed that someone who believes in God, or has faith, is certain of what to do, how to live and why they are alive. But since Reality, or God, is the ultimate mystery, certainty is impossible. Therefore faith is the opposite of certainty. You cannot have faith without doubt.

To embrace the mystery means to embrace doubt. To live with the mystery means knowing that you never really know, not for certain. I wouldn’t advise doing that without some sort of faith.

I’ve tried to live without faith. My doubt became so excoriating (and still does when I’m not careful) that I couldn’t function. My self-doubt is so pernicious it’s a wonder I’m still here. Eventually I realised that I needed faith. I need my life to mean something larger than my small, fragile self – whether that’s defined in religious terms or not.

The sceptics argue that life has no meaning.

My question is: how do you know?


3 thoughts on “Sceptical Mysticism

  1. BTW, I thought the whole post, including the long quote, was quite thought-provoking, and right on point. Embracing the mystery involves embracing doubt, because mystery is something unknown.


    1. Thanks for your thoughts Joanne. We are very lucky to be here – or perhaps not. Perhaps the universe was meant to give rise to beings who could ponder these things and write blog posts about it! We’ll never know 😉


  2. We are the meaning-givers. Meaning is a human construct. Being is more to the point; it is what the Universe is about. Simply to be is meaning enough for any living creature and is quite good luck indeed!


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