Monday 18 February 2013



HOW TO BE AN AGNOSTIC by Mark Vernon  (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) 

One of the choices for April onwards for the group that meets in Wychwood Library on the first Sunday of the month is this recent book. The blurb describes it thus: 

The authentic spiritual quest is marked not by certainties but by questions and doubt. How To Be An Agnostic explores the wonder of science, the ups and downs of being 'spiritual but not religious', the insights of ancient philosophy, and God the biggest question. 

Mark Vernon was an Anglican priest, left a conviction atheist, and now finds himself to be a committed, searching agnostic. Part personal story, part spiritual search, this journey through physics and philosophy concludes that the contemporary lust for certainty is demeaning of our humanity. We live in a time of spiritual crisis, but the key to wisdom – as Socrates, the great theologians and the best scientists know – is embracing the limits of our knowledge. 

This much expanded edition was previously published as After Atheism: Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life (2008) and includes new chapters looking at mindfulness meditation, pic'n'mix religion, quantum spirituality, the probability of God and why Stephen Hawking is wrong about nothing.

It's not a book that requires reading from beginning to end and there are a number of discrete chapters, including one called 'Socrates or Buddha'. In it Vernon suggests that some of us 'have a desire for more than biology and psychology can describe.  But we also find it difficult to put our trust in the religious discourses which might address our restlessness.'
He argues that Socrates, the lover of wisdom, offers us the way forward in the shape of just that: ‘philo-sophy’ (Greek: ‘love of wisdom’).  Socrates was a ‘lover of limits, of being thrown onto the unknown’, ‘a man with a religious imagination’. ‘Plato’s Socrates,’ he says, ‘embraced ordinary human searching and doubt and fashioned it into a flourishing way of life. It was a disciplined desire to reach out for more…  It was a developed sense that what lies beyond us powers our humanity – the longing to understand, to discover, to become enlightened.’

In Mark Vernon's brand of agnosticism, 'we are individuals who think that God is not a silly question, as the conviction atheist must have concluded, but rather one that our experience demands we keep asking.' 


Meanwhile on Sunday, March 3rd, we meet at Wychwood Library to hear Brian Mountford discussing his recent book, Christian Atheist: Belonging without Believing. 

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