I wanted to be a vicar, but I didn’t have the matins

My mother would have liked me to be a vicar.
I have always quite liked the idea of being a vicar too. I imagine myself as something akin to Alastair Sim in Folly to be Wise and Peter Sellers in Heavens Above!
In the act of being a vicar, my world would change into something monochrome and warm, a memory of Sunday afternoon films. The reality would be different, but that is why I avoid reality so often. I place my Ealing lens on.
I remember talking to a dean who told me of the ghastly flocks of his past, the venal and the bigoted, the snobs and the surreptitiously fundamental. Maybe I could make the short jump to Unitarian minister one day. They don’t have to believe in a god, but they do need to possess empathy and a sense of altruism. At the last Unitarian service I attended, the readings included an excerpt of Dennis Potter’s final TV interview and a “hymn” about human imagination.

The main hindrance to my vicar hopes is my lack of religious faith. So I have had to swap the possible pulpit for proselytizing in art centres. Some of the art centres are deconsecrated churches, so I can still find myself raising my fists under low lit stained glass while talking of Darwin or intrusive thoughts.

Richard Coles is a vicar I enjoy talking to, though when he gets on to the sensation of the holy spirit, I find myself trying to change the subject. I can nod and understand the allure of mysticism to a point, but then my mind goes, “hang on, this sounds too barmy for my ears”.
This is the wall I cannot break through.
A sensation beyond my recall or imagination, an irretrievable idea.
My point of squish-faced “I don’t get it”.
In his interview with this week’s Big Issue, Coles tells his faith wanting interviewr that faith is there, “if you really want it”, but I don’t think it is. Just as atheists may not always have the empathy to at least comprehend the faithful, the faithless mindset is beyond some in and around the pews.

I see no reason why anyone wouldn’t want to earnestly believe that there is something that has put this universe together, that gives it a meaning and a destination and the possibility that our conscious existence is not finite.
That we may see our ancestors and our offspring again, and possibly for eternity.
But unfortunately, the sort of minds that make fire, farmland and physics experiments have an uphill struggle to place a mystic being, beyond all the laws of all else we see in our universe, to make this deity idea seem tangible.

I try to imagine what might make me “a believer”, what tragedy or pain, but it seems like such a vast cauldron of cognitive dissonance that my nature/nurtured sceptical mind would keep peeping out and saying, “you know you’re kidding yourself”.

Would I like to exist forever and never lose those I love?
Sounds a grand idea.
Do I believe I can make that leap?
No.
So, instead I must make the very best of what I have here, savour my existence, however ridiculous, while I have it. Woody Allen was right, that it is the dying, not the being dead, that is worrisome.

Tim Minchin is given the Big Issue pages after Reverend Richard, and reminds us,
“All comedians are nerds getting up on stage saying things they wish they’d had the balls and fleet-footedness to say in the moment”.

And if it turns out there is a God and when I get to the after death queueing system and it says, “you didn’t believe in me and instead just tried to make the most of your life, and attempted to be altruistic and empathetic and love those around you as much as you could, so to the furnace for you”
I will say, “fuck you, Yahweh”.
And it’ll say, “right, I am extending your eternity in fiery agony”
“what do you mean extend the eternity?”
And he’ll say, “have you never heard of Hilbert’s hotel. There are different types of eternity”.
And eventually, after I’ve dragged out the eternal argument for as long as I can, I’ll start smelling my skin crackle.

on tour forever with my show about brains, minds and Peter Higgs – southport, henley, bridgwater, hove, manchester, london and on http://www.robinince.com (also US and Australia dates will be up soon, in fact I think the US ones are already, with Prof Cox)

and here is new Vitriola podcast https://soundcloud.com/vitriolamusic

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8 Responses to I wanted to be a vicar, but I didn’t have the matins

  1. liliannberg says:

    I must stop commenting so often, but what you have written is brilliant – every sentence is a gem to savour. It made me happy.

  2. Kevin Morley says:

    Hi Robin, great post, its great to see someone who genuinely seems to be searching for answers. I think the saddest position toward God is one taken by most people in this country – one of bland indifference. At least you think God matters enough to engage with it. God loves a trier!

    One thing I wanted to say was that faith is not some vague feeling that descends on you from on high – its a choice, like making a cup of tea, or going to the shops – but much more important. If you choose not to make that choice, that is your freedom. God will always respect your freedom – he is not a spiritual rapist!

    • ben says:

      God will respect that choice.. but eternal damnation awaits.
      More tea vicar?

    • Richardw says:

      Reality is not a spiritual rapist either.

      God will not be punished for lack of existance.

      We will not be punished for lack of belief by a non-existant God.

      ” its a choice, like making a cup of tea”- Making a cup of tea is a wonderful idea. Choosing to believe something that requires accepting contrary views and acceptance of what is in fact a requirement to accept a level of madness is not a good idea.

      Yes I said madness and did so with some thought. So crucify me!

      (We all display degress of illogical thinking – to do so consciously is somewhat stupid. I can’t do it and Apparently Robin shares that same lack of ability.)

    • andy beckett says:

      When I was 7 I found a box of unused hand written name tags in a cupboard that perfectly matched those on my Christmas presents a few months before. I was devastated, as this evidence confirmed what some of my peers already believed, that there was no Father Christmas. But by the next Christmas, I had chosen to delude myself into believing I had been mistaken, such was my desire to believe in magic. Discounting the obvious in order to feel better seems very human to me. I understand why people have faith, but regard it as pure wishful thinking.

  3. Nicely put.

    “I see no reason why anyone wouldn’t want to earnestly believe that there is something that has put this universe together, that gives it a meaning and a destination”

    Like having a nosey landlord?

    “and the possibility that our conscious existence is not finite.”

    I can imagine someone feeling that as their consciousness goes on, they seem to accumulate more and more of those embarrassing memories of social encounters that make you wince and moan out loud at 3 in the morning. So if it went on forever you’d eventually be wincing non-stop.

    Not that I have those, OF COURSE.

    “That we may see our ancestors and our offspring again, and possibly for eternity.”

    When the heat death of the universe occurs, my infinitely enduring consciousness would have no more offspring to observe the progress of. The heavenly equivalent of there being nothing on Dave or Drama that you haven’t already seen an infinite number of times.

  4. Jules Evans says:

    I’d say you set up a bit of a false binary opposition here Robin.

    You lump together all kinds of theistic / animistic beliefs – that life and the universe has meaning and purpose, that we will live forever, that we will see our ancestors for eternity, that there is a person called Yahweh running the universe like a Grand Controller – and then oppose that to the sane, useful, practical people who ‘make fire and do physics experiments’

    As you know, many many great scientists and physicists have belived the universe makes sense, that it is coherent, that it obeys eternal rational laws, that we can discover these laws. This is a form of theism. Many also believe we can bring our lives and consciousness into alignment with the cosmos to live virtuously and happily. This is also a form of theism, one shared by most of the great ancient philosophies.

    As to the Holy Spirit stuff, one way to think of it is as a form of conscious and socially positive trancing – humans crave altered states of consciousness(ie getting out of their heads), and seek them in better and worse ways. Going to a church and opening yourself to a spirit of love is a much better way to trance out than, say, joining ISIS.

    I think Sam Harris’ recent book was right – skepticism simply saying all alteredstates of consciousness are irrational / bad / scary is not sufficient – because most people want these experiences and a skepticism that lacks a sense of their value is always going to be a minority pursuit.

    Are there times in your life you have had intense experiences of joy, bliss, serenity, awe, and felt totally absorbed, carried away, expanded beyond your ordinary conscious identity? I don’t think looking at pictures from the Hubble telescope are sufficient – that’s a mild feeling of ‘wow’ not the surrender to an altered state of consciousness.

  5. rmccabe23 says:

    One of the many things that Atheists and Christians (or believers of any religion) have in common is faith. It’s just that when it comes to God, that faith takes opposing sides. Yes it takes faith to believe in a God but I would propose that it takes just as much faith to have full confidence that we know it all, that this is it, all of life’s answers can be found in humanity and science. There are ‘fact gaps’ for both faith believers and atheists alike between what we know and what we believe.
    The same piece of scientific research would lead one person to conclude (or make a faith leap to a belief if you will) that there is no God, that all can be explained by science, and humans will one day be able to explain and understand everything. A believer in God (like me) would take that research as evidence of how creative the creator of the universe is and how His designed universe boasts of His awesomeness.
    I know that I don’t get very far when I try to understand God in His entirety. I become all too aware that my tiny little brain is just not up to the job. You could argue that my faith leap to believe in a God that is so much bigger than me and anything I could ever hope to understand is wishful thinking. Or it’s a convenient cop out which causes me to turn my brain off and stop asking questions. But I would suggest that to choose to live life as a believer in this world is to choose, at best to be branded a wierdo, and at worst to have your head chopped off. There’s nothing convenient about it. I believe in God because when I experienced His Holy Spirit for the first time it opened in me another set of eyes that I didn’t realise I had. It changed me forever and gave me inexplicable hope, freedom and happiness. I share this with others in the hope that they will experience the same thing.
    Religion, or the man-made structures that we have built around God, have not done a great job at representing Him. I wouldn’t blame anybody for not wanting to buy into that. But don’t mistake that for the Big Man Himself, there is a vast difference. Why not send out an unsure prayer to God today to ask Him to show Himself to you and see what happens…..

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