Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Mar 23, 2012 by

Dear Readers,

I have been in France for almost two weeks – with total writers’ block.

I had thought this happened only to nerdy neurasthenics, not to muscular physical types (ahem) like me. Now I know better.

Together with the mental paralysis has been a terrible confusion of ideas, although this confusion has at least helped me to understand a little better the debacle which disappointed me so much and which I reported in my essay ‘High Jinks’.

Please watch and tell me if I have been unfair.

Perhaps I should add here – asseverate, a noble word, and most suitable! – that the announcement yesterday of the early resignation of His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, cannot be due to me.

If in future, however, he abstains from any more theology until he can first explain who, or what, he means by God, I am sure his retirement will be much happier.

In the meantime it is becoming increasingly clear that we are part of a growing world-wide realisation with some resemblance to the ‘liberation  theology’ which was developed within the Catholic church in the 1980s in South America.

Many of its priests were concerned that the Church appeared more often to be on the side of the exploiters of the dispossessed and poor rather than demanding greater equality, honesty, and justice. We might say that they were attempting to find the God I have described to you: the one who demands honesty first.

Their ideas were condemned by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, who held that ‘it was wrong to apply Christ’s teaching on the Sermon on the Mount regarding the poor to present social situations.Christ’s teaching means that we will be judged when we die, with particular attention to how we personally have treated the poor.’ [1]

This, I am sure, was a comfort to all concerned.

A similar idea, popular amongst modern social revolutionaries, is that the current world-wide financial catastrophe is entirely due to an international cabal of bankers and industrialists. A gloriously improbable addition for those to whom nothing is so improbable that it needs the support of any real evidence, is that they are controlled in turn by a further international conspiracy, this time of shape-shifting alien lizards, headed by British Royal Family. Poor old Queen.

Empowered by all this privileged knowledge, an elite team of kick-ass good guys may soon be able to take control of the whole conspiracy, putting, presumably, the lizards in London Zoo, bringing happiness and prosperity to the whole world.

I feel pretty sure Cardinal Ratzinger would nix this plan as well.

Not, however, because he knows there are no cabals of bankers and industrialists. Omitting the lizards, I am sure he knows there are. It will be rather because he understands what George Orwell explained in his famous treatise of political reality: The Nazis and Communists pretended that round the corner is a paradise where human beings will be free and equal. We know that no one ever gains power to relinquish it. The object of persecution is persecution; of torture, torture;of power, power.”  [2]

The dishonesty and injustice, unfairness, cruelty and waste, will continue, whoever is in control, because people everywhere have the wrong notion of the nature of power. They believe that controlling power will produce security for them and their followers: but always, necessarily, on a steeply falling scale.

This is why hierarchies reproduce themselves. Ask the Rothschilds; ask Fidel Castro; and ask Cardinal Ratzinger, now His Holiness Benedict XVI.

Whilst I have offered my own criticism of Jesus, I do not believe his great sermon is in support of hierarchies. It seems to me to propose the same power to everyone, even beyond their lives. The question is: what power?

I am not so critical of Dr Dawkins. Indeed, I am rather fond of Dr Dawkins. He has style. But he too should understand, as my past employer, a grandson of Darwin, often used to tell me: “If it isn’t provisional, it isn’t science.”

Scientists must not aspire to truth. Their job is to produce explanations; and the test of an explanation is that it should best connect the known evidence – which is all that Darwin claimed – and may predict what has yet to be discovered.

I have suggested that the organisms may not simply wait for a chance mutation to be selected by their environment. They may attempt to adapt actively.

Why not – as my old friend also used to say – a bit of both? Why should evolution be a process of both selection and active adaptation? Recent research that I have seen seems to support this possibility.

This is therefore an adequate explanation of evolution all the way up to ‘the most complex and intelligent organism in our Universe: namely, homo sapiens.

We are apparently determined to prove this rule untrue: to prove, to the contrary, that we have no need to adapt to our environment, that it must instead adapt to us.

This is called a Popperian affirmation: also called suicide.

But setting ourselves apart as the exception, our rule answers the question whether life evolves autonomously or by intelligent design.

It evolves autonomously, guided by this impulse. To be, just for a moment, fanciful: imagine a planet so hot that its metals melt on its surface. Guided by this same impulse – crystals being the earliest forms of self-replicating structures – fields of metal crystals would naturally evolve: like flowers, turning to follow their sun.

Such fancies are fun. The next challenge is harder.

Virtually all the religions in the world claim possession of the ultimate truth. Not all despise all the others; but the most closely related usually do, and with the most diligence. They are killing each other now.

If all the later religions began with an experience like mine, why is there so much hate?

What happened to the honesty?

What happened to the joyful embrace: “But you are of me!”

It is almost fatally depressing. But this was not the worst of my paralysis. There was also a sense of failure; of not being clever enough; not brave enough; not ruthless enough; and most painful of all, of being too late.

For years I have visited the centres of religious study in Oxford, hoping to find some common ground. Islam I find the most intelligent. Its origin is obviously the most familiar.

All began with this inspiration. Over time the demands of power ravaged their simplicity. To say today: ‘I am a Muslim’ is as meaningless as to say: ‘I am a Christian’ or ‘I am a Jew’.

Do you mean one of your own kind? Or do you mean one of those stupid, cruel, lying, thieving, superstitious, selfish bastards of the other kind?’

In this state of mind I visited the Pyrenean city of Pau. Once the stronghold of the Protestant kings of Navarre who fought the Catholic French for years, massacring each others’ people and razing their towns, in 1598 its young King Henry was offered the French crown, provided he become a Catholic.

He accepted, with the famous words: “Paris is worth a Mass”.

As Henry IV of France, he then ended this ferocious religious war with a truly astonishing feat of imagination. In his Edict of Nantes, he declared:  “We have established, and proclaimed and do establish and proclaim: that the recollection of everything done by one party or the other between March, 1585, and our accession to the crown, and during all the preceding period of troubles, remain obliterated and forgotten, as if no such things had ever happened.”

Could any modern statesman achieve this today?

It added to depression. I had been sleeping badly. Two children are laughing at me. A girl and a boy, both beautiful six or seven year-olds.

I begin to explain.  “No, no!” the girl protests. We’re only little! Tell us so’s we can understand!”

The boy squirms and nods in support.

“Did you die and go to heaven and meet God who gave you a message?”

If this is the simplest these dear little daisies will understand, I must say ‘yes.’

“Yes,” I replied. In King Henry’s time I would have burnt for this alone.

“What about us?” she asked. “Will we be honest enough to go to heaven?”

She was angry now. Grown-ups should have answers.

“Look,” I said.  “It may be more difficult than you think.”

I wanted to add: ‘It may be more difficult than anyone can think.’

I woke up again, yet more depressed. I should have told them how to begin finding their angels. I was again too late.

There is a fine tall clock in the big living room. Made by McMaster and Son, Dublin, it counts off the hours in deep sonorous notes: BOOM …. BOOM …. BOOM ….

One hears it even half asleep.

Two nights later I woke up shortly after one o’clock, knowing that I know perfectly well what to write.

But I was afraid.

My paralysis was fear.

It is easy enough to invent nonsense conspiracies. I was afraid that telling my final secret: soberly, as a scientist, could wreck everything. It must wreck the rule book by which science is currently judged, and this might be seen as mere reckless vandalism, on a par with those shape-shifting lizards.

Was this really necessary? Apart from my claim that creation is guided by the impulse to be honest – and this impulse is God – everything has been explained before in different ways, at different times, to different people.

Of course this has caused different people to suppose they are unique: and then to despise, fear, hate others who disbelieve them.

What is missing here?


It took me until after four to defeat my fear: not through reason, more through contempt at my lack of spirit, but still a victory: I was ready to turn the last card.

Then, like Gautama under his Bo tree, there came enlightenment.

Science can support religious belief with evidence that science alone can provide. Then religions, in return, must accept the instruction of science.

Expect to be disturbed. Reality has this effect.

France – Oxford.

[2] 1984, Orwell, G., 1949. (slightly edited.)

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