As The Sabre Cleaved Brain from Body, He wished he’d paid more Attention to MR James

I decided not to walk through the dark woods, not because of some irrational fear of malevolent ghosts or voracious zombies, but because I might fall into a mud hole or maybe be bludgeoned by a very real axe murderer, driven to blood by Christmas.

And maybe a little bit because of the ghosts in my imagination and pattern seeking mind, keen turn wind rustled leaves into a spirit.

I try so hard to be a rationalist, but I watched too many MR James adaptations when I was too young. I presume that is why I was never drawn to being an amateur archeologist, those warnings of the murderers unearthed when antiquities are disturbed.

I don’t think you can ever be more than a wannabe rationalist, smidgens of myth hover about in darkness. I am not scared of ghosts, just people who believe a ghost has told them to kill me in the undergrowth. I try to be pragmatic with other people’s bullshit…and my own.

Instead of the woods, I went for the quiet country road path. Usually, this has no one on it, but this night there was someone that awkward distance away, the quandary of slowing down until they are always one brow ahead, or speeding up, overtaking, then worrying that is just what he wanted you to do so you’d be unaware of the sabre being drawn from its secreted sheath.

We all lived.

The sky was almost cloudless, so I was a Johnny Head In Air, and the opening line of A Matter of Life and Death came to me –

“This is the Universe…big, isn’t it”.

And, in clergyman sermon style, these memories led to thoughts of my atheism.

For no real reason, sometimes I wonder if I can pinpoint when a god was no longer in charge of my world. I have no idea. I have few memories of praying. I remember praying to god when I heard my Great Aunt Phyllis was ill. I suppose I was seven. I had only met her once or twice, but she must have given me delicious cake or ten pence, as the thought of her death worried me enough to put my hands together.

I was a member of the school’s Christian Forum group when I was 14, but I can’t work out why beyond the squash and biscuits and 45 minutes protection from having my head stuck down a toilet.

I don’t really have any memories of active belief nor active atheism.

Sadly, I do not have any of those anecdotes that lie in the books of well-known unbelievers. That one that starts, “I remember that when I was seven years old, I asked a teacher a rather clever question about heaven, and they had a most unsatisfactory answer, so I thought, a pox on this Yahweh”.
Others have a brief falling in with some fundamentalists in early college days and have a Damascene moment in a shopping arcade while giving out flyers promoting Jesus’s presumed homophobia.

Whatever my belief was, and I have looked around for it in memories, it just drifted off, forgotten rather than shaken off or wretched from the fabric of my being.

No god-shaped hole left, wherever the deity was must have scabbed over a long time ago.

No melodrama or family fights, slipped away due to lack of interest.

I can’t see it coming back, I don’t know where I’d fit him.I hope he’s not waiting for me in the woods.

(I always feel a little sexist making the god I believe to be non-existent male, I don’t believe in a female god either. Oh the perils of middle class liberal guilt)

I am off to tour Australia for Atheist folk (believers welcome too) dates HERE

And I am off to USA with Prof Cox dates HERE

and I have a smattering of UK dates from Berwick to Belfast, Swindon to Glasgow, Edinburgh to Uckfield http://www.robinince.com

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4 Responses to As The Sabre Cleaved Brain from Body, He wished he’d paid more Attention to MR James

  1. liliannberg says:

    Are people afraid of letting their atheism show? Hence the lack of comment to this interesting blog. I think I was born an atheist or perhaps accidently created by my grandmother who took me to her Pentecostal church as a small child, where I witnessed people crawling on the floor looking for Jesus, “speaking in tongues” and generally behaving like complete lunatics. I have always been grateful to my grandmother for subjecting me to this petrifying, but sobering experience at such a young age. My life from then on has been utterly devoid of any religious belief. I feel blessed.

  2. Jem says:

    For me, atheism started about age 12/13 when one of my school mates pointed out just how ridiculous the whole god concept is (he was taking the piss out of me in the process, rather than trying to de-convert me or anything noble).

    It took a few years for his words to beat back the years of (minor) indoctrination and I finally told my Mum I was an atheist just before my 16th birthday. She’d been a born-again Baptist some years previously (following a “miracle” healing), so this hit her hard, and I do still regret how unfailingly teenage I’d been about the whole thing.

    But it wasn’t until only recently (2012), on hearing Tim Minchin and Derren Brown on Chain Reaction, that I made the move to full (attempted) rationalism, after hearing them talk about dispersal of superstitions and got me realising that religion holds people for the same reasons as superstition. And, in fact, religion (any of them) is really just a bunch of organised superstitions.

    I’ve been so much more comfortable in a number of aspects of my life since, not least the firm knowledge that my words cannot ‘jinx’ an outcome over which I have no actual control, and also can’t really see any way, or reason, for looking back.

  3. Shiva says:

    I was brought up by a catholic mum and an atheist dad and the deal was I would go to church each week and my dad would never try to convert me. He didn’t. I recall when I was about nine a moment when I really scared after I was told that God might call me to be a catholic priest and that I would have no power to resist (and feeling that would wreck my life because I didn’t want any of that) so I must have been a believer at that time, although I don’t ever remember feeling I’d communicated with a God. On the other hand I remember from very young never believing in the transubstantiation stuff (communion wafer turning into body of Christ), and I never understood what Doubting Thomas did wrong. Over the next few years any belief in deities drained away. I learnt about the panoply of Gods that people had worshipped in the past, Hindu, Viking and Roman, and our belief that they were false gods. For me that was the key – just because a lot of people believed in Zeus or Marduk or Thor and Odin at one time didn’t mean they were real. I carried on going to church because I didn’t want to upset my mum (she said if I stopped going my younger sister would stop going too and she would be on her own). In 1970 (age 13) the old priest gave a sermon saying God would want everyone to vote Tory in the forthcoming General Election. I told my mum I wasn’t going to church any more. She asked me to stay for a year and see if anything happened. I did, and nothing happened.

  4. James Cragg says:

    I’m reminded of Jeremy Hardy’s comment on losing his faith: “When you’re Church of England, you don’t so much lose your faith as just forget where you left it.”

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