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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Basic Flying Instruction – A Comprehensive Introduction to Western Philosophy by Charles Gidley Wheeler

I hardly know where to start in describing this book except maybe to begin by calling it a chaotic mess. Moving from historical periods, to schools of thought to individual topics and back again in a seemingly random manner this somewhat less than comprehensive book (at less that 200 pages long it hardly did credit to over 2000 years of Western Philosophy) would be more likely to dissuade the general reader from studying philosophy further rather than the reverse. Parts of it I found rather hard going – his section on Logic felt interminable – others I found surprisingly sparse, in particular his section on Nietzsche which consisted of 4-5 large quotes and a brief mention of his sister.

Needless to say I was less than impressed with what I had hoped to be a useful introduction to what is still a comparatively new subject to me. Not recommended even (or especially) for the first time reader on the subject though it did prompt me to find out more about Martin Heidegger so maybe it wasn’t a total loss.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Quote:

There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity... It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which will avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.

Augustine. Late 4th/Early 5th Century AD.

That says volumes about the attitude of the Early Church to the acquisition of knowledge (or the virtue of ignorance). How much has changed I wonder in the 1500 years since.....

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Choice of the Cat by E. E. Knight

The Year is 2067. It is now 45 years since the Kurian invasion of Earth. Lieutenant David Valentine is steadily making a name for himself as an officer in the army of the Ozark Free Territory but that all comes to a sudden end when he is left in charge of a hill fort under attack. Leaving against orders he manages to save only remnants of his command against overwhelming odds. Threatened with Court Martial he resigns his commission and joins the covert surveillance organisation known as the Cats. Infiltrating the Kurian Zone with the help of the enigmatic Smoke he discovers that the alien Kurians have developed a new weapon. Breeding half alien - half human hybrids they have produced soldiers with the strengths of both and the weaknesses of neither. The force is still assembling and Valentine determines to stop them before they become fully effective both to save his people and his reputation.

This was the second in Knight's Vampire Earth series (the first being Way of the Wolf) and continues the adventures of David Valentine as he begins to fight an alien invasion that happened years before he was born. This is very solid writing indeed with good characterisation and a wholly believable world in which they live out their lives. Told with measured assurance this is honestly a cracking adventure series full of tension, action and fear. Although we are two books in we have yet to ‘meet’ a single Kurian who are secretive in the extreme. I do hope that when it eventually happens I won’t be disappointed but from the quality of the writing so far I don’t think that I will. These books are a nice addition to vampire fiction (as well as to the Combat SF genre) and I can recommend them to anyone who loves to lose themselves in a great adventure novel. Whilst not exactly high literature or a life changing experience this series is proving to be highly entertaining. I’m looking forward to the next book – and the one after that.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Not a bad start. Not bad at all......

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Face to faith

All faiths must accept pluralism if we are to defuse strife caused in the name of religion, says Jay Lakhani for The Guardian

Saturday November 3, 2007

Not long ago, interfaith dialogue in this country was based on the idea of "tolerating" other religions. This was clearly a derogatory attitude, suggesting that other religions had to be given permission to exist. The dialogue has since moved on and is now framed in terms of "respecting" other religions. This may appear to be a more mature approach suited to the needs of a multi-faith society, but in reality this terminology is a camouflage, shielding an exclusivist, non-negotiable agenda of the Abrahamic faiths. A sarcastic interpretation of the idea of "respecting" other religions is: I know that my faith alone is right and the others are in error, but I will not make a fuss about it. While this may reduce the chances of open confrontation between people of different faiths, it is hardly a prescription for community cohesion. Recently Pope Benedict declined to participate in a joint prayer meeting with people of other faiths because that might have given the impression that the Catholic church considered all religious traditions equally valid. This can be interpreted as "Catholicism alone is right; the rest of the religions are in error".

One of the greatest challenges we face this century is how to defuse strife caused by people in the name of religion. Continuing to shield exclusivist agendas is no way forward. The solution lies in an innocuous-sounding word: pluralism. In a nutshell this is an acceptance that there can be many pathways for making spiritual progress. It can be made in a theistic mode, a non-theistic mode, and even in a non-religious mode. We are all different and this difference shows up in the way we relate to ideas of spirituality. Down the centuries, different prophets have promoted different pathways for spiritual progress, tailored to suit the needs of the society they inhabited. Over time these teachings ossified as various religions. Every religion can be seen as a particular pathway promoted to suit the needs of the time. The destination they promise may be glorified as absolute, but the pathways can certainly not be absolute. They are always relative because they have to relate to us.

Every religion is entitled to make claims about its pathway and promote it to its adherents, but when it attempts to impose its pathway on people of other faiths or no faith, a religion can turn into an explosive device. One would think that mature theologians would recognise the seriousness of the situation and be happy to affirm that there can be many pathways for spiritual progress, their religion being just one of them. But my experience suggests otherwise. In the view of those theologians who are committed to exclusivist claims, God has been well and truly encapsulated within their system of doctrines and dogmas, so how can He escape and make an appearance in another religion? But if any system, however esoteric, captures God within its framework then by definition that system has superseded God. So a God easily confined by a religious system is hardly worth bothering with. The exclusivists also see pluralism as amounting to relativism - a dirty word to them because it suggests there is no absolute truth, hence anything goes. But pluralism does not suggest that; it simply states that there will be a diversity of prescriptions adopted by different groups as they reflect different starting points, but crucially these prescriptions are binding in each case. This is not relativism.

If there are no absolutes in religious teachings then pluralism too cannot be an absolute injunction. But pluralism has never claimed absolute status. It is simply an instrument to address a need: how can people of different religions coexist without thumping each other? One casualty of pluralism would be the proselytising agendas of missionary religions. I suspect this is the real reason why there is such resistance to this simple but potent concept - and that it is not spiritual but monetary considerations that prevent pluralism from being allowed to address the needs of a pluralistic society.

[Sounds like a plan to me. Of course if all religions are an equally valid way of finding a path to God doesn’t it also mean that none of them are – in the same way that where everyone is ‘special’ no one is? Will it also mean that all religions will have to admit that they are equally in error as well as equally right? Never going to work is it?]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cartoon Time.
This is doubly funny as we're studying Plato at the moment. I wonder what my tutor would think if I brought in some Play-Dough?
SF Art.

Monday, February 18, 2008

My Favourite Movies: The Last of the Mohicans

I saw this film many years ago (back in ’92 when it came out) and loved it instantly. The opening scene of the misty mountains and the outstanding soundtrack totally entranced me in the first few moments. I settled down in my seat and lost myself in the film. At the end of the movie I walked out of the cinema with a deep smile on my face. This is what cinema was made for.

Set at the time of the Anglo-French conflict in the New World and told through the experiences of the adopted Hawkeye (played superbly by Daniel Day-Lewis) this historic epic pushed all the right buttons. It was an action adventure film in time of war, it was a tale of revenge and it was a love story. I loved the setting and the effort taken to make it apparently historically accurate. I loved the character of Hawkeye and his masterful use of the flintlock rifle. I loved the costumes and the cultural details of the Native Americans. I just loved the movie – and, not incidentally, fell in love with Madeleine Stowe too. As soon as she picked up a pistol after her military escort had been ambushed I knew she was the woman for me (it always annoys me how characters don’t pick up fallen weapons in danger zones).

My favourite scene in the whole movie was after the fort had been taken by the French and the British army was allowed to leave. Ambushed by a large Mohawk contingent Stowe (and sister) where about to be killed when Daniel Day-Lewis springs into action running across a field strewn with fighting men in order to save her. Even though I’ve seen this film a fair few times now it still makes my palms sweat and my heart race. But then I guess I’m just an old romantic.

Anyway – it’s a great film and if you haven’t seen it you’re missing a treat. Go get some popcorn and some ice-cream and unhook the phone for a few hours. No matter what is going on in your life this film will make you feel better. Enjoy.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Death and Foxholes and Atheists, Oh My!

By David Gleeson

August 21, 2006

“There are no atheists in foxholes.”

For the first 35 of my 40 years of life, I had never once heard this saying. I must have been living on Mars. Now I can't seem to go a week without hearing some arrogant talk-show host or holier-than-thou preacher glibly using it in an attempt to ridicule and demean rational thinkers. I must admit that when I first heard it, I was perplexed. I guess I don’t have an ear for fundamentalist double-speak. I later learned that it’s basically a cute way of saying, “You may not believe in God today, but someday you will. Oh, and (wink, wink) by then it will be too late.” Apart from the implicit threat of Hell and eternal damnation that’s present in many of these fundamentalist credos, this one contains a strange and obvious admission of one of theism’s most glaring sources of embarrassment: the direct correlation between faith and fear, between the promise of a comforting afterlife and the harsh reality of this life, between belief in God and ignorance of the natural world.

Here is a perfectly acceptable translation of this ridiculous little homily: “You can’t be an atheist forever. One day, at a moment of extreme personal anguish or loss of self-control, when you are stressed or scared, cowering in fear of the unknown or of impending death, then you will turn to God. You will seek out His comfort, you will use Him as a crutch to get you through. His loving mercy will be like a warm blanket wrapped around your shivering body.” Well, well … humans seek comfort in stressful situations. There’s a shocker. Atheists, I think, have a better-than-average understanding of this type of human fallibility. It is, in fact, one of the primary reasons we reject human inventions, particularly those that seek to assuage the fear of death or the unknown. It is therefore quite perplexing to me when one of the primary arguments against the existence of God is turned around and used, unwittingly, by a devout theist in an attempt to ridicule atheism. But this is exactly what these poor misguided fools are doing. It’s as clear as if they’d rented a loud speaker and pulpit and plopped down in the middle of Central Park shouting, “Religion is for the stressed and weak-minded! God is real only to those who are cowering in fear!” Somehow, I doubt this is the message they want to be sending, and yet they send it over and over and over again.

So the popularity of this little saying among the devoutly religious strikes me as a bit curious. And let's be honest: even if all atheists renounced their atheism upon their deathbeds or at the deathbeds of loved ones (ludicrous, of course, but let’s go with the flow for a moment), what does that prove other than the obvious point that these people were human? Faced with unimaginable anguish or adversity, a human being sought comfort in a fairy tale. Understandable? Of course. Healthy? Perhaps. Proof of God’s existence? Um, no. As a matter of fact, it goes a long way to proving exactly the opposite: God exists only in the minds of frightened and fallible human beings. So whenever anyone, with an air of glib superiority, makes absurd generalizations about the unwillingness of free-thinkers to take up residence in man-made dirt ditches, I politely tell them, first, that they are just plain wrong; and second, even if they believe they are right, the analogy is so thoroughly counterproductive to their cause that it might behoove them to pick a better one. I’m pretty sure the devoutly religious have better things to do than lay bare, for all the world to see, one of the most convincing arguments for atheism.

[I’ve heard the expression about atheists and foxholes more than once and this article is the best rebuttal to it I’ve seen so far. As it points out, Christians seem to be saying that even rational people will turn to God – when they are in fear of their very lives! In other words that faith – or at least conversion to the faith - is based on naked fear. What a great basis for a religion. I have even heard it said that some people need to be humbled before they come to God – in other words something really bad needs to happen to you before you give up your convictions and turn in hope to something you previously thought to be a fantasy. Is this really what Christians want to get across to us unbelieving lot? Do they honestly think that arguments like this cut any ice with us – I mean any ice at all? Fear is the mind-killer and it seems that the religious amongst us want to encourage just that attribute in other to fill their congregations. It speaks volumes.]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Different Engines – How Science drives Fiction and Fiction drives Science by (Professor) Mark L Brake and (Reverend) Neil Hook

I stumbled across this book whilst browsing through Amazon and it looked interesting enough to buy – which I obviously did. Only later did I read a review that was less than complimentary. So it was with some trepidation that I dived into this history of how progress in science gave rise to Science Fiction and how SF returned the compliment by influencing the direction of science.

Bursting with interesting facts this book actually turned out to be rather good – despite the bad review. Running from the mid-seventeenth century almost to the present day this was a very readable overview of just about every highlight in SF placed within its scientific and cultural context. From the obvious link with the space shuttle Enterprise to the lesser known facts of early astronomers penning science fiction to by-pass Church censorship, the authors remind us of the pervasive influence of this so-called marginalised literary genre on the world today. Science fiction is often portrayed as the fiction of the future – and as often derided as such – but as the authors repeatedly point out SF is the fiction of the present and a clear reaction to the pace of change we all experience. Only SF deals with this area and, arguably, helps people come to terms with the often confusing world in which we find ourselves.

Regulars will no doubt have noticed my passion for Science-Fiction and if you read this book you’ll understand where that passion comes from. An entertaining and illuminating read.

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Favourite TV: The Man from U.N.C.L.E

Like most great TV from our past this show did not age well. Running from 1964-1968 for a total of 105 episodes this rather camp and self-knowing spy drama thrilled me throughout my formative years (actually seeing the transmission dates I can’t help wondering if I watched the re-runs).

The reason I was reminded of this not so great show (despite its favourite status) was the fact that I had the movie DVD box set bought for me this Christmas. On a weekly basis I dutifully watched 5 Man from U.N.C.L.E films. I must admit that they were almost uniformly bad. I don’t mean questionable… I mean really bad. The scripts were laughable, the acting universally poor and the effects often downright embarrassing. Yet I loved this show so much! I’m not sure whether it shows how much my taste has matured or just how undiscerning I was as a child. For several years I really wanted to be either Napoleon Solo or more often Illya Kuryakin (as I was blonde back then) – and that was before I noticed girls much so couldn't have been entranced by that aspect. If only life were that simple [laughs].

Anyway, that’s one of my more embarrassing TV secrets. Though I’m not entirely sure if it’s my worst…..

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Do I exist?

On the face of it this seems a particularly silly question to ask. After all if I didn’t exist then how can I possibly question my own existence? The answer is surely obvious.

Or not. I think that the question posed is actually two questions. They are: Do *I* exist and the rather different Do I *exist*… You see the difference in emphasis I hope.

Taking the first question of whether *I* exist revolves around the question of is there an *I* a unique thing that is me that exists throughout time. It could be argued that the *I* of my youth is not the *I* of today. My physical appearance has most certainly changed a great deal since I was, say, 5 years old. I imagine that just about every atom in my body is different today than it was way back then. So even on the atomic level I am not the same person. This goes the same for the structure of my brain. My brain today is vastly different from that of the child that I was. My brain structure is also linked in a very deep way to the ‘structure’ of my mind. I have experienced much and learnt much in the years since I was 5 so again the question must be raised: Am I the same *I* that I was decades ago? In many real senses the answer must be No. Yet in another very real sense it certainly feels like I am the same person I was so long ago.

For one thing I have memories going back into my childhood. Is the *I* then a collection of memories that have a link through time. Am *I* the product of those memories? Of course the problem with this line of reasoning is that memory is notoriously fallible. If I forget important parts of my life through injury or simple old age does that mean that I am no longer *I*? What about false memories or hypnotic states or drugs that can add false information into the mass that makes up what is regarded as the essential *I*? Where does that leave my identity?

It is arguable that what I think of as *I* is being created millisecond by millisecond by my brain but is essentially an illusion. Maybe in order to function the *I* has been created by evolution in the brain/mind in order that I can act as a purposeful agent. Maybe those early humans born without an essential *I* found it difficult or impossible to cope with the many conflicting demands of their environment and so perished before they could pass on their failings to future generations? Maybe the *I* is being generated by the mind as just a way of managing a complex brain system.

The second question is whether I *exist* or not. It is possible though not necessarily plausible that we live inside an advanced computer simulation and are just fairly complex pieces of computer code. If we were written in a sophisticated enough manner we would never be able to discover this. In a very real sense, if true, it would mean that our entire existence is a fraud and that, again in a very real sense, we did not actually ‘exist’ in the sense that we would have no real presence. Another possibility is that I might be a machine programmed to believe that I was a ‘real person’. There would be no way to verify this by thinking about it because my ‘thoughts’ would have been programmed either to be incapable to conceiving of such a possibility or to come to the conclusion that I was mistaken. I could attempt to damage my body physically in order to expose the fraud but I could have been manufactured in a sophisticated enough manner to appear to bleed (or feel pain) or simply ‘experience’ the sensations without any of them actually occurring. In other words there would be no way of independently verifying my ‘real’ existence.

So, if I cannot prove absolutely that I exist where does that leave me? I think that the only rational position is to assume that I exist until proven otherwise. My experiences, questionable though they are, seem to support my existence in both of the senses I’ve been discussing. There is also nothing to suggest that I don’t actually exist despite the sceptical arguments already outlined. So, for the moment at least, I shall carry on as if I do indeed exist – even if it’s for the entertainment of a player in a computer game or for scientific knowledge during a simulation. What else can I do?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Permutation City by Greg Egan

In the world of 2050 death has lost its final dominion. For a fee a person’s brain can be scanned and the mind uploaded into Cyberspace there to live forever. But such technological wizardry comes at a price and not just a financial one. Despite advances in computing power the resources needed to ‘run’ the Copy personalities is huge. Competing with them is a new global weather control system which periodically uses all of the worlds computing power. Afraid that they could be legally ‘deleted’ a group of virtual billionaires finance a scheme to produce a whole new universe specifically designed for them to live out their lives for all eternity. But when reality is controllable it’s always best to make sure who exactly is in control.

This was my first Egan book and I was totally blown away by it. It was just packed with so much inventive plotting and ideas that sometimes it was all I could do to keep up – indeed on a few occasions he lost me and I just had to go along for the ride until I got my bearings again. Bringing in such concepts as personal identity, the nature of reality, artificial life and the ethics surrounding death this book is a powerful reminder that in the future anything, and I do mean anything, might very well be possible. The problem we’re going to have is just how to deal with the moral, philosophical and practical aspects of our ever growing technological prowess. Parts of this book really had my brain working overtime with ideas of what actually is real and how that we can tell even who we are. It was a delicious way to spend a train journey or a lunch break at work – despite the funny looks I got when I laughed out loud at the authors amazing audacity. If you like having your mind expanded in the best possible way I can heartily recommend this to you. But be warned: this book will fuck with your head and you may never see things quite the same again. Excellent.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I Say "Atheist," for Several Good Reasons

By Bobbie Kirkhart

HumanistNetworkNews.org

Aug. 22, 2007

I’m a humanist, sure. Who in the freethought community isn't? Okay, a few curmudgeons, but humanism, to give a simple definition, means that we have human values, not divine ones. It only makes sense. And I’m not lackadaisical about my humanism. I'm proud to be a life member of the American Humanist Association and a board member of the Institute for Humanist Studies, which publishes this e-zine. I work hard for freethought, and much of that is with humanist groups.

But when people ask about my philosophy, I rarely say "humanist;" I say "atheist" for several good reasons. First, there is the obvious: The word "humanist" is usually misunderstood. The Los Angeles Times once printed an article saluting Pope John Paul as a humanist.

People know what an atheist is. They may think we have some illogical certainty, as last week’s guest columnist in Humanist Network News opined that a strong atheist says, "I do not know, or care, what your concept of God is, I hold it to be false." Others think we are intolerant of all religion, as some of us are. So are some humanists.

It is mostly people in the religious community who think that we have absolutely no morality. In spite of all these silly misconceptions and propaganda, almost everyone does know that we somehow manage to live our lives without a god belief, and when they see us living, laughing and loving as open atheists, they will likely be disabused of the fictions about us. In countries where god-belief is causing great damage, as it is in the U.S., we must model a life fulfilled without faith.

Many humanists point out that the word atheist does not suggest any particular morality. Of course, they are right. I think most atheists are, as I am, positive atheists, who hold the same values that humanists claim, although the rationale is different. The humanist says that being pacifist, egalitarian and benevolent is morally right. The positive atheist says that these values are natural, and we deviate from them as a reaction to oppression, including the oppression of religion. I prefer to emphasize that right is natural, noting that these two ideas are mutually reinforcing, and refuting those destructive religious concepts that define humans as innately "sinful."

Possibly my upbringing in the Bible Belt has influenced my thinking. I have heard many people boast "I'm a Christian," claiming that this identification bestows on them a halo of righteousness not shared by those of us whose beliefs are different from theirs. I see the same religious zeal in humanists who disparage us atheists. While this is a minority in the community, it is not as rare as it should be. It takes all kinds, of course, and some atheists do criticize humanists as being "wimpy" in their nonbelief. I have never, however, heard this from the speaker at an atheist meeting nor read an article in an atheist publication telling readers they should avoid the term. I've heard humanist leaders use the power of the podium to tell me I should not use the term atheist, not only in humanist meetings, but also in atheist meetings. This goes well beyond a philosophical difference; it reflects the religious idea that some words are taboo.

Those who attack us often claim that they are simply concerned about the baggage that comes with the word atheist. Indeed, there is baggage, and by silencing some and making others more confrontational, it damages our movement, both atheist and humanist. When our fellow freethinkers show the same prejudices, they reinforce society's bigotry. I have no quarrel with the many good people who attribute their ethics to a humanist philosophy. The variety in American Christianity is a major reason this country has so many Christians, and we would do well to emulate that in the community of reason. I think we can and should to do this without also mimicking the intolerance of their certainty that they have found the one way.

[Thoughts?]

Monday, February 04, 2008

Seneca Quotes (5 BC - 65 AD)

Be silent as to services you have rendered, but speak of favours you have received.

Consult your friend on all things, especially on those which respect yourself. His counsel may then be useful where your own self-love might impair your judgment.

Dangerous is wrath concealed. Hatred proclaimed doth lose its chance of wreaking vengeance.

Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed.

Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labour does the body.

He will live ill who does not know how to die well.

I do not distinguish by the eye, but by the mind, which is the proper judge.

If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favourable to him.

It is a denial of justice not to stretch out a helping hand to the fallen; that is the common right of humanity.

It is easier to exclude harmful passions than to rule them, and to deny them admittance than to control them after they have been admitted.

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.

It is pleasant at times to play the madman.

It is rash to condemn where you are ignorant.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Why I have Never Lost my Faith in God.

Over the past year or so I have been reading and commenting on Blogs by people who, through one reason or another, have lost their faith in God and have become Atheists. I have read of their painful exit from their earlier beliefs and of their struggle to come to terms with their new viewpoints. In many ways it resembled the grieving process when someone close to you dies. Whenever I read of their pain and their bravery I am thankful that I have never lost my faith in God. Because luckily (and I do think that there was a significant amount of luck involved) I have never believed in God and never had any faith in Him to lose.

It probably had a fair bit to do with an accident of birth. I was born in the 1960’s in the North of England. About that time religion was already in decline in the UK as it had been since the end of World War Two. The Sixties were also a time of rebellion when authority was more likely to be questioned than followed. From those facts alone it didn’t look likely that I would have become one of the faithful.

My family are Irish Catholics not long moved to England. Indeed my father liked to mention jokingly that he was at sea during the war – on the ferry over from Southern Ireland in 1939 then aged 10. Settling in Liverpool (where I lived until the early 1970’s) I would probably have been a practicing Catholic except for my Grandmother. As I have related elsewhere in more detail my Gran, bless her, took serious umbrage at the Church when the local priest refused to help her. Holding a grudge like only the female side of my family can she refused to step inside another church for over 35 years. Because of this none of her five children – including my Mother – were brought up in the Catholic faith. Because of that fact my Mother was indifferent to the church – if not actually hostile – and because of that I spent my formative years in Church of England schools rather than Catholic ones.

Now this fact often confuses my American readership in particular. As far as I know (not having researched it to any extent) the majority of schools in England are nominally run under the auspices of our State religion (which is a version of Protestantism called the Church of England) founded, I believe, by Henry VIII because he wanted to get a divorce which the Pope in Rome wouldn’t grant him. If you’re interested in the details I’m sure there are plenty of resources on-line that you can access. Anyway – not having experienced CofE education you might think that there would be a significant dose of religion handed out with the more Secular aspects of State led education. Not a bit of it. This is why my wise parents decided that in order to avoid any religious indoctrination they would send me to Church of England schools until I was sixteen. Sure there was some religion in the schools I attended – after all Religious Education was and still is a compulsory school subject – but at the time such education was considered to be a very low priority. I don’t actually remember being taught religion per se in school and remember most RE lessons as either ‘free study’ periods or half-hearted attempts at getting us to think philosophically. These were normally taught by student or substitute teachers and they were an almost complete waste of time.

Growing up in this kind of environment it is hardly surprising that I had never developed any kind of faith in God. Likewise my peers were as indifferent to religion as was I. The only time it was likely to come up in school was when the local bully used it as an excuse to beat you depending on your answer to the ominous question: “Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?” to which any answer at all usually resulted in being thumped.

So for a whole host of reasons I’ve never had any faith in God to lose. Any yearnings for an understanding of the Cosmos have been more than adequately met by my science education which, at a fairly early age, basically inoculated me against any possibility of religious affiliation – especially given my above stated indifference. So I consider myself one of the lucky ones as I never had to go through the painful process of waking up to reality. Much kudos to those of you who were not so lucky.

Friday, February 01, 2008