Saturday, 7 July 2012

Reconsidering religion

The AV Club has an interesting article in it today entitled "Reconsidering religion" in which its writers discuss pieces of art (literature, music, cinema, television) that gave them second thoughts about the religion in which they'd been raised. The list contains items that I might have expected, such as Kurt Vonnegut, but also some more unexpected or even off-the-wall suggestions including Heinlein (perhaps not so off-the-wall really), the Housemartins, and even the Bible itself (actually, scratch that - that's probably obvious).

The article also got me thinking, as I'm sure was intended, about whether I could pin down something that did the same in my own life. For me, this would have been somewhere in the window between summer 1988 and summer 1989 - I can't tie it down any better than that, but I know that these two periods bookend my own switch. Memory aside, that this block of time is a little hazy also stems from there being no "Eureka!" moment. Rather, a process that began in summer 1988 gradually accumulated enough scepticism (or whatever the quantum of doubt is) to tip me into open atheism by summer 1989. Good scientist that I pretend to be, I formally describe myself today as agnostic, but the only theological possibilities that I consider plausible (however infinitesimally) are so far removed from mainstream religions that, to all intents and purposes, I've gone the whole way.

Anyway, when I've reflected on this subject in the past, the piece of art that most floats to the top is Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Strange, because it's both a long way short of their best film, The Life of Brian, and it doesn't share that film's very obvious ecclesiastical sensibilities and musings. However, it is loaded throughout with snubs to established religions, and it does present a rather prosaic - if unarguable - "meaning of life" at the end (and it doesn't hurt, additionally, to have the Galaxy Song). So though it didn't exactly "convert" me, I know that it made me think that there might just be more to existence than sitting in a Carnoustie church. I guess I must have been a bit more impressionable in those days.

I don't think that it really did more than accelerate the rot that took hold when I read The Blind Watchmaker during my summer holidays in 1988 (of which, reading this was also a symptom rather than a cause), but I know it was one of the drivers that got me thinking, and I know where that all ended up by 1989. So, thanks Monty Python. Thanks a bunch. ;-)

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