Stoned man finds God shock.
I’ve been looking through some old stuff, and I found this little bit from what was part of my notes for The Fool’s Errand, which is my answer to ‘Smile’ or ‘The Teenage Opera’ i.e., unfinished. But this seemed worth posting…
Now, you might think you are an athiest. You might believe with all your heart, (though not soul, obviously) that there is no God.
I am not out to make converts. But if you are an atheist, I’d like you to answer this question: do you identify more with Richard Dawkins, or Johnny Cash?
Choose one, choose quickly. Richard Dawkins, or Johnny Cash?
Do you choose the four sided orthodoxy of Dawkins’ sixth form Biblical exegesis or ‘When The Man Comes Around?’
Don’t think about it. Just jump. Where does your heart lie?
If you are looking for a reasoned defence of faith against Dawkins clever, empty book, this isn’t the place.
This is the question; who would you back in a fight? Dawkins or Cash?
For me, there is no argument, and no real intellectual defence for the place where I find myself. It’s just instinctive. I just believe; I go with Johnny Cash and Bob Marley and Al Green. I saw Al Green a few years ago at Glastonbury, and when he said ‘Can I Get a Witness?’, I said ‘Hallelujah’’
If I think atheist rock, I think Iron Maiden; I think Saxon. It’s unfair of me, I know, because when I think Christian music, I think Aretha, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and not really so much Cliff Richard or Chris de Burgh. But run with my hypothethetical; pitch Iron Maiden or Slayer against Bob Marley, say, or Gram Parsons. Which would you rather smoke kif with? If you just choose Iron Maiden, incidentally, you may find that this is not the place for you.
When I sit by the side of a river, and watch how the water moves; how the eddies carry ash leaves spinning down the stream; or watch how the smooth water under the lea of the bank takes the light like new cast iron; I don’t think ‘There’s lovely’. I think, ‘Thank You God.’ I just do.
According to Prof Dawkins, this instinctive reaction is deluded. He argues the case beautifully. If so, it must join my instinctive feeling that Prof Dawkins is a twat. This may be deluded too; he may not be a twat at all.
It’s just a gut feeling thing.
It’s called Faith.
Here’s another awkward thing. I believe 100% in evolution, in the Big Bang, in all that orthodox scientific creation story. Science is not the World, but it is the best map of the World there is. It’s not a perfect map, but it’s getting better, and it takes technologists to places where things can be made to work.
But I still believe in magic, and I’m puzzled by those who don’t. Dawkins’ sterile wonderment, which somehow stops itself from asking imaginative questions isn’t magic at all. I ask Prof Dawkins; is there no phenomenological spookiness in your life? Nothing? No shivers down your spine? Never a whisper in your ear in the dark of your godless commie dreams? No doubts, Herr Professor?
The phenomenological spooks first come to me one night in 1986.
I was living on my own in an artists studio with no heating and no cooking facilities, up in the Downs behind Newhaven. It was in the garden of a big old house that was being squatted by some unpleasant junkies. Although I had the use of the house kitchen, I never fancied it, somehow. I wasn’t eating much.
I was reading ‘Walden’ for the first time, and also a lot of Nietzsche. I was listening over and over to my one tape, a C60, on an old mono cassette player. It was the first Jesus and Mary Chain album, with ‘Portuguese Love’ by Teena Marie taped off the radio on the end.
I was smoking a fair bit of spliff, most notably when a spate of Nepalese Temple Balls, real ones, with a bit of mould on the outside, came through Brighton. Cor, that was proper that was, but a week of smoking that shit is probably enough to last a lifetime. Any more than that and you’ll end up wandering round Shimla with bare feet and and stinky dreads chanting to Shiva and begging off less reckless tourists.
OK, so with the isolation, the hunger, the reading, the listening and the smoking, I was probably a bit bonkers myself. I admit that.
One evening I was taking a short cut home through the churchyard in Bishopstone, on the way back to the studio from a night in Brighton. I had been on the balls. It was drizzling, that very fine rain that soaks everybody to the skin and beyond; rain that pierces your pores, and runs from your eyes and your nose. I think it must have been a full moon, because the world shone silver. If I wan’t wary about bathos, I’d say that the night looked like lurex. The air vibrated with power. And then, abracadabra, bingo, tra-la, I realised that I was part of this beauty, and that it was part of me; further, that I was loved in the world; and that all would be well. You might just call it being out of your tree, but it felt to me like… like God.I cried all the way home, and wrote all night. I still have what I wrote, and still read it from time to time. It is my little bit of gnosis, preserved in an A4 notepad.
You might think it Religious Experience 101, and maybe it was. But that’s it. Since then, I’m a believer, brothers and sisters.
My pal Liz was a theology student. I told her this had happened to me. She said, ‘Had you been taking drugs when you had this experience’? I said ‘Yes’. She said it didn’t count. But for me it was the start of what I’m very much afraid that I’m going to describe as a journey. For some time, I’ve felt that I’d like to be confirmed in the CofE, and I’ve now started on that process. The Dalai Lama said that if he was a Westerner, he wouldn’t be a Tibetan Buddhist, and that he wished people in the west just went to church. The leap of faith I took by surprise in that churchyard in that rain and lurex light has ended up with me making a cultural decision as much as anything. I just want to celebrate that beautiful moment in the way that English people have for hundreds of years.
Anyway, it’s toney to be an Episcopalian.