A client used the term Hopeful Agnostic recently. I would love to quote the client’s name but, of course, confidentiality forbids. I thank the client for this encouraging, while at the same time realistic, expression. There are a lot of HAs about. I am one. In my opinion Hope is the forgotten virtue. We could all do with paying a lot more attention to it.
What does an HA hope for? Well, that’s the beauty of it – whatever they want, really. The term applies to life beyond our existing, limited mortal span on earth. Most people believe that, even as we are, we have spirit. Rather fewer believe that we have a spirit. I expect even fewer believe that whatever spirit we have, whether nebulous or tangible, survives our existence here. Hope allows us to dream, invent and progressively fashion for ourselves.
The spirit we see in other people is sometimes described – by Terrific Mentors at any rate – as GUSTO. It is the determination to put into life, and thus to get out of life, everything we can. It makes no assumptions, or even hopes, about another life elsewhere. It says “go for it with a will”. If you are fortunate and persistent enough to do this you will be happily exhausted at the end of each day. And at the end of life. There is no better feeling.
When people talk about “a spirit” they often mean something that exists both within and apart from us. Asked to define it they will probably do so in terms of being vivacious, energetic, ‘full of life’, enthusiastic, interested, seeking, learning, making the most of what we have. A boss once described a colleague of ours as having ‘infectious enthusiasm’. It was an excellent way of putting it. You cannot help but like those whose joie de vivre affects you.
There’s more to a spirit than quest. To be always looking for answers is a great gift. To be able to appreciate the answers we get is an even greater one. My primary school was in the Malvern Hills in England. Next to the school was a church. Edward Elgar, the composer, was buried in the churchyard, a mere six years before I went to school there. His music was written in, and largely about, the Malvern Hills. As I walked the countryside I could hear pieces like Enigma Variations as vividly as though I had an orchestra playing in my ears.
It took me some years to learn that I have an unusual gift, probably from my mother who was a concert pianist. I can hear an orchestra, every detail of every instrument, play a piece of music I know without any artificial aids at all. It’s as though I have a built-in stereo system. I still go to concerts and enjoy listening to orchestras like the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. But if there isn’t one handy and I don’t have my mobile with its music I can still hear my favorite pieces. There’s something of a spirit in that, don’t you think?
Does such a spirit survive life on this planet? There is no evidence that it does which is why those who think so need a strong Faith. Such faith is a marvellous gift but it is not given to everyone. I’m sure you’ll agree that it would not be right to declare a faith you don’t have. Many of us who are seeking but have not found such a faith must presumably therefore be in the Hopeful Agnostic group. Can you be comfortable in such a creed limbo?
I find the answer is “Very”. First, you are still seeking, always a good guarantee that there is an end to the tunnel even if you cannot see the light. Second, you can live your life with all the disciplines and standards of those who have found a faith. ‘Nothing wrong with doing right’ I believe. Third, if you look closely at your fellow humans you may see a glimpse of the faith you so long for. Not because they have it but because they (perhaps) are it. No harm in seeing your God in the eyes of your neighbour. Even true believers do that.
So I think my client’s phrase, Hopeful Agnostic, is something to rejoice about. At the risk of embellishing it too much may I add one word to it?
Perhaps we should rechristen it
Happy Hopeful Agnostic?