New review of Where’s Sailor Jack? : ‘‘…romantic, poignant, and extremely funny, exactly what I want from a family saga.’ – Stephen Carver, Blot the Skrip and Jar It

Archives: dylan

Seven Types of Wishful Thinking

I’ve just finished that fine philosopher John Gray’s book, Seven Types of Atheism. As a counter to the modern orthodoxy of a woolly humanism, it is superb. The view that things can only get better as progress occurs by using a scientific approach ignores that humans are animals no better or worse than their provenance permits and that science is morally neutral. His argument is that humanism has taken over from Christianity, making the same mistake in thinking there can be immutable laws to life. The convolutions of a Rawlesian view of justice demonstrate how arbitrary and inadequate humanist laws are, as was the Jewish law. Having previously dismissed the existence of the Christian God as incompatible with the random and cruel world that exists, he then turns on the Christian notion of personhood as a soul with free will, arguing that brain science has effectively demonstrated a total absence of free will, indeed that there is no source of personhood. If we accept this, we could use our manifold instincts to live our natural lives in whatever circumstances we encounter, invoking animistic spirits if that’s how we feel. No meaning can be attached to events, to history, to our lives. The whole concept of salvation from our natures is not only flawed, but rendered unnecessary. Concepts of immortality are not grounded in any experience.
Much of what Gray says is how I feel. But I’m a cradle Anglican who, while making no exclusive claims for faith bringing salvation, finds that the imagery of the Christian message is deeply satisfying. Buddhism may be more cerebral, Christianity more visceral. I prefer Dylan to Leonard Cohen. Story can take you beyond logic and beyond history. The beauty of the King James Bible, the uplift in my spirit(s) from singing Victorian hymns, the joyful memories of the teenage Church Youth Club, will remain in that recurrent assembly of neuronal connections in the brain that I call me. That vastly more connections occur that I am not aware of as I live an instinctual life doesn’t negate this sense of personhood. That it will only exist until death or dementia take it away does create a feeling of sadness, a feeling more intensely suffered with the death of a loved one.
I don’t think that the notion of one God is incoherent. I’ve argued this on these pages before. As a Physicist who can’t accept infinite regress as an explanation, who understands enough of the Maths to be staggered at its ability to tell us so much about the physical world but nothing about how sensations feel, and which as Gödel has shown can never contain a full explanation, I can only keep my head together by taking the infinite and the spiritual out of the physical system, perhaps occasionally meeting on edges.
I’ve nothing against animism. My lovely old dog died last year and we put his ashes under an old oak tree on the Common, his favourite walk. A few weeks ago, there was a deer grazing under the tree who stood looking at me before eventually slowly disappearing into the bushes behind. It was comforting but proved nothing conclusive. I’ve had surprising occurrences which invoked memories from my deceased Mother and Father, a natural explanation of which would involve statistically impossibly large coincidences. They’ve led me to conclude that they or I projected the event or someone up there is taking the michael. I did have one moment when the world unaccountably stood still in my youth. I fancifully pretend it was a point where the edges met, and my resurrection body was taken ready for my spirit to play on at death. That would be a result, a youthful body and a mature soul.
One time, the dog ran off as I let him off the lead, down a busy road to some food he’d spotted a few minutes before. Worried, I chased after him, only to trip over a flagstone and crash over, cutting knees, arms and hands. He’d just reached the food. He heard me fall, looked round, looked again at the food and trotted straight back to see how I was. I’ll give full personhood to animals.
I’ll do my best and fail to live a life that follows natural instincts as informed by the occasional neuronal connection I’ll call conscience urging me to treat others as myself. That won’t earn me salvation. But what I want to be saved from is eternal death.
I know, I want never gets.

New Year musings


By the time you reach 70, the New Year isn’t just an occasion for looking back over the last year but over your whole life. The Christmas card intake is reconciled with the Christmas Address Labels file, notified mortalities too easily deleted and unexplained absences placed under investigation. My mind has thus turned quickly from Christmas to Easter. When Jesus was up there on the cross, did he say “It is finished” as John had it, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” as Matthew and Mark report, or “Into thy hands, I commend my spirit”, Luke’s version? How did he view his life in that literally excruciating pain? As success, failure or journey to the next place on the itinerary?

To promote my book I’ve joined Facebook. Gawking at the timelines of friends from long ago, I can see lots of smiling faces with happy family lives. I can also read some grumpy words from less satisfied souls. Nearly all the evidence in both camps is of careers petering out rather than as outright wins or losses. But there’s enough there to suggest that success in the private sphere matters more than the public.

And have I made the most of myself? I married late at last to gain a happy home and family as a smiler. I occasionally grump that I didn’t quite make the highest echelon in anything. I was a good footballer who couldn’t turn pro. I just missed an Oxford first and went into business rather than nuclear research. I peaked as CFO of a major company very young, but then career flat-lined. In later life I’ve written a novel which was appreciated by those I would have expected to like it but with little traction elsewhere.

Jesus could well have said all that the apostles have quoted.The words show mood shifts but aren’t contradictory. My novel argues that what you become in life is with you from birth. For me, Jesus was wholly man throughout his life, and from his death wholly God at the start. He looked down from the failure of the cross to glimpse the success of his life.

I should have achieved more. There was too much indecision, too much procrastination. But I do have a great family, and have had some wonderful friends, human, canine and feline, from a long and fortunate life. I did eventually finish the novel that was in me, even if it didn’t grab most. I thank God for it all.

As his Bobship wrote: “My love she speaks softly. She knows there’s no success like failure. And that failure’s no success at all.”