UnGodly God People and Closet Agnostics

3 Chips On God
Interfaith Now
Published in
7 min readDec 7, 2021
Image from Shutterstock, custom animation

Many theists are kind, compassionate people who live up to their religious beliefs and embody that which they preach. They appear genuine in their intentions and convictions. Their hallelujas don’t sound so phony.

Then there are the other, more questionable kinds. Of which there are aplenty as well, unfortunately.

Of course the most notorious type of aberrant theist is one that has been present for centuries — the extremist who twists religion for their own convenience and commits unspeakable acts of horror in God’s name. This refers not only to the terrorists we have seen in recent times, but to kings, tribes, and empires from centuries before, who would engage in holy wars or witch-hunts to persecute those who wouldn’t conform. (My blog and I would have been burned at the stake.)

We are also familiar with the religious leader or priest who takes advantage of their respected position to abuse those who look upto them, either intimately or monetarily.

Another type we all know about is the superficial or showy theist, the one who acts devoted on the surface, who may perform loud and exaggerated rituals in the temple, or make a big show of donating money or volunteering, but is known to be arrogant or selfish by those surrounding them. I’ve personally seen numerous “devout” people in my community act pious publicly, then treat their household help (common in my ancestral country) with callousness and even cruelty. Bollywood movies are filled with depictions of these real-life villains.

These are some of the more commonly known religious divergents. However, there are other kinds of theists I have noticed who are not so extreme or contradictory in their behavior, but still cause me to immaturely snort whenever I encounter them.

The Self-Improvement Theist

There is no doubt that saving one’s own soul or increasing one’s own happiness is a very important reason to pursue spiritual knowledge. Oftentimes that is how the quest begins. One experiences episodes of depression or disillusionment, and is driven to either buy a mid-life Ferrari, or search for the meaning of life and a reason for all the suffering that is being endured. Other times a spiritual awakening can result from a loved one’s death or a mass tragedy that occurs in the world. The search for self-fulfillment is a common start to many spiritual journeys.

While self-help is indeed a valid first step towards enlightenment, if a true awakening has taken place, the seeker soon enough comes to realize that the self and ego are a temporary, illusory blip in the universe. They begin to see past their own souls to the many suffering and kindred souls that surround them. They start to see themselves in others, understanding that everyone shares the same dreams, hopes, and fears. They realize that their friends could be strangers in a next life, and vice-versa. They may feel a growing attachment towards no one, yet everyone at the same time. The candle of compassion and love is lit.

This is what happens when a seeker is truly moving along the path to enlightenment. But I believe there are those who start up the path, and then never get past the barrier of their own ego and happiness. They are simply pursuing a spiritual path to earn cosmic brownie points for themselves. When this person describes practices like meditating, it is always in the context of helping their own peace of mind and to improve their own focus. They will rarely talk about meditating for greater spiritual awakening in general.

This is not to say that the person isn’t kind or generous at all. Rarely is anything black or white. They may have been reasonably nice souls already, before turning to spirituality. But their spiritual journey has not nudged them further along in this regard. They may become better at focusing and breathing and beating shamanic drums (SNORT! I actually have a weird friend that does this.) They may become more mindful of the moment and their actions. But their progress is more along the lines of self-improvement of their worldly avatar and ego, rather than increased wisdom or compassion coming from their soul.

The Closet Agnostic

This particular type of theist is the one that confuses me the most. Some of my friends who fall into this category have tried to explain their thinking, but I still don’t get it. I try not to snort. But here is what puzzles me: people who claim to be 110% sure that there is a God, or who claim to have had a mystical, holy experience, and yet return to their daily grind in the same way as before.

For example, many devout theists claim that they are able to reach a state of ultimate bliss during their meditations, one where they feel they have gone through something akin to an out-of-body experience. They ecstatically describe a celestial-like plane where they were able to experience a sublime tingling, or blinding love, or flying doves, or some such extraordinary occurrence. After going through these experiences, they often claim to have not even a sliver of doubt about the existence of God. Yet if you look at their everyday reality, aside from obvious religious rituals such as meditation or prayer or attending church, their time consists of the same old anxiety, petty worries, and material goals which plague the rest of us. They continue to deal with car repairs, dog poop, bills, work, dishes, and their own fluctuating moods and levels of happiness.

What I don’t understand is that if one has truly seen or connected with a magnificent energy that transcends our current lifeform, or if one is utterly convinced of there being a higher power, wouldn’t that reflect in a person’s everyday actions? I’m an agnostic, so I don’t claim to have experienced any such wonders. But I have always felt that if I WERE to come into contact with proof of God, or the supernatural, it would change me forever. I could never be the same. I would never be able to slide back to my mundane routine and goals. I would be compelled to find a way to return again and again to the blissful state that I now know exists.

I have a hard time buying that true believers — who claim to have no doubt at all of a God — can act the way they do. I mean think about it — if God were to come to Earth tomorrow, and give us a miraculous display of proof that he exists — perhaps by simply speaking to us or giving us calorie-free dessert — do you think any of us would really return to running the everyday rat race? I wouldn’t. I’d know that there IS something better or more permanent after this life. I’d be more interested in learning about it, and readying my soul for eternity, than going back to spending years on a job treadmill to pay my 30 year mortgage.

To test my theory, I probed one of my most religious, hallelujah-type friends as to the source behind his often contradictory actions. He is quite devout in nature — he prays before every meal, meditates, fasts, attends the temple weekly, celebrates all the religious festivals, and generously gives of his time to others. He has even talked about becoming a monk. However, he also has many vices that seem to negate much of that. When I questioned him on the inconsistencies, we argued for hours.

At first, he adamantly refused to admit to any hypocrisy despite my gentle prodding. Then, when I channeled my inner Bill Maher and aggressively pointed out some of his highly questionable habits, he eventually confessed that he did have some doubts — deep down inside — which could cause his actions to waver at times. He finally agreed that if he truly and completely believed in a God, he would have already renounced everything by now and become a monk, because he would know that there was a salvation he could truly strive for.

His confession was not a total shock to me, even though I was a bit surprised that I finally got it out of him. Even Mother Theresa had doubts and SHE lived such a pious life. If someone truly had ZERO doubts, one would expect them to model a rather saintly life, not one which includes cheating on taxes and the occasional hangover.

I only conducted that one test case, because it was exhausting to fully extract an honest answer. And it may have weakened our friendship. But it only strengthened my suspicion that many avowed theists are actually closet agnostics, whether they acknowledge it or not. At the risk of getting hate mail and death threats, I’d bet that a MAJORITY of theists have tiny kernels of doubts, buried somewhere deep inside.

It’s actually disappointing for me to think this, because I would have loved to believe otherwise. It would give me hope that perhaps there is some otherworldly experience certain people have had, and that maybe I just haven’t had mine yet. But to-date, I haven’t been able to tell the difference between atheists, theists, or agnostics in terms of personality, ethics, and behavior. Atheists constantly tell us that morality is not just the domain of those who believe in a God, and from my experiences over the past 50 years, I have found this to be absolutely true.

So I remain an agnostic, not yet convinced by the theists I see around me that they have any special insights or access to a wisdom or energy that I don’t. But I promise you this — if I ever become convinced of a superior being or state, you’ll see matching evidence of it in my actions. I’ll be the one at the ashram, renouncing all of my worldly possessions — my iStuff, and my McThings, but most especially, my dishes and bills!



3 Chips On God
Interfaith Now

by Preeti Gupta, age 49, female. Curious, skeptical, open-minded spiritual agnostic. Financial planner by profession, writer by passion.