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.

17 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    That sense that you are at one with everything: that all your fretting has been so silly: that everything is going to be all right: that you are at one with the silvery moonlit world in some way that you know doesn’t need articulating, not right now. That happened to me when I finally renounced my religious upbringing and knew there are really no fairies at the bottom of my garden. There don’t NEED to be.

  2. Graham says:

    And what’s wrong with vicious, petty, vindictive, mysoginist racist tyrants?
    I think you can be in awe of all the stuff you mention in your last (undreaming) paragraph, and still find it in your heart to have a bit of faith that it all didn’t just happen all by itself. Even though it may well have done so. It’s the mystery of not knowing that matters.
    And I’m with the KJV Old Testament God all the way on this one, baby. I’m all for a bit of smiting and then some nice relaxing begetting.

  3. EpuurSiMouve says:

    I’m not here to make converts. But if you are a believer in the Abrahamic version of God, answer this question: do you identify more with Dawkins, or the God of the old testament.

    Choose one, chose quickly. Dawkins, or a vicious, petty, vindictive, misogynist, racist tyrant?

    Don’t think about it, just jump. Where does your heart lie?

    For me, its more important than ‘faith’ (‘believing what you know aint so’ according to Mark Twain.) Its about common human decency and having respect for my fellow man.

    Sorry, faith is nothing to be respected. Faith helps people throw acid into the faces of girls for daring to go to school, to persecute homosexuals, to justify slavery, to fly planes into buildings. As humans, we deserve something better.

    Ok, before you say ‘that’s not my god’ I get the impression that for you, its all about having a warm fuzzy feeling. Fine, but I’m reminded of the old joke about what people mean when they say ‘I’m not a Christian but I am really spiritual’ i.e. ‘I’m scared of dying but cant be arsed to go to church.’

    If you want to thank someone as you sit by a river, why not Zeus? Ra? Allah? The flying spaghetti monster? Why do you need to thank anyone at all? Why cant you just take pleasure in the event just for its own sake? Why invoke an imaginary friend?

    Can you also please expand on what you mean when you say Dawkins sterile wonderment stops him asking imaginative questions? You mean questions like, what colour are the hats worn by the invisible pixies that live at the bottom of my garden? I’m struggling to think of a more imaginative question than ‘why are we here’ and ‘where did we come from’, but hey, that’s probably just my sterile atheism talking. If ‘goddidit’ is the answer to every question, that sounds pretty sterile to me, but that’s my lack of absolute certainty again.

    You’ve obviously not aware of Dawkins book ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’, where he responds to that precise (and, sorry, unoriginal) criticism, but that’s the beauty of faith isn’t it? Who needs those pesky facts when you’ve got faith?

    Personally, I find the fact that we live on a planet 4 billion years, in a universe 15 billion years old, that we are made of atoms created in the hearts of long dead stars, and that we share an ancestor with every living thing on the planet, simply stunning in its own right. If you don’t that’s fine – after all, its not like I think you’re going to spend an eternity in everlasting torment simply for having a different opinion, is it?

    (p.s. the hats are red, and I have pixie endowed authority to persecute anyone foolish enough to argue they are yellow.)

  4. Graham says:

    That’s the trouble with so many of you young people. No sense of destiny.

  5. Matt Harvey says:

    I don’t think I’m ready for that kind of commitment

  6. Graham says:

    Well I want to convince it to cook and clean for me and generally abuse it. Then I’ll dump it for a younger model and go and find myself in a Buddhist retreat in South Cheam. Then I’ll drink nothing but Cream Soda and Worcestershire sauce for a month. That’ll show them.

  7. Matt Harvey says:

    I love this post and want to marry it – or at least live with it in a cramped flat for a bit

  8. Gary Flood says:

    Keep up the good work. Though you’re a twat for ignoring my fan email to you in 2007! Never mind. 1 Where’s the bloody book then? 2 When are you next performing live in either the comedy or straight music context? Or is all effort going into the book?

  9. simon norfolk says:

    just popping in the say good afternoon Ian – that was all x

  10. Graham says:

    Well I’d be sitting out the back with the girl whose boyfriend had been ignoring her all evening. Because I’m kind like that. And I hardly think that a Welsh village chapel would feature in heaven. Do they have slate in heaven? And Blair? He’s going down!

  11. Ian Marchant says:

    It’s not a complete theory, you understand. I mean, if I was forced to choose between Dawkins and Tony Blair, it’s Dick every time…

  12. lonesomedepot says:

    Dawkins or Cash? Well, that’s an easy one.
    Then again, so would be David Attenborough vs… ooh… Tony Blair (or the Pope).
    So where does that leave a poor sinner like me?

  13. Ian Marchant says:

    Ideally, of course, a Welsh village would have at least three; one you go to, one you don’t go to, and one for the English holiday home owners.
    I too have been thinking about Heaven. I was once sitting on an almost desreted Caribbean beach with a chum. We were drinking Carib Beer and smoking sensi. The sun shone, and a breeze moved through the coconut palms. My chum sighed, and said ‘This is Paradise, isn’t it?’ And I realised that so far as I was concerned, it just wasn’t. Paradise for me would be much drizzlier, involve second-hand bookshops and greasy spoon cafes, and a much flatter, warmer beer than tins of Carib from the cooler in the back of the car.

  14. Dru says:

    I’ve been pondering over how Heaven is modelled, lately, and now I’ve added a vision of it as Glastonbury Festival but presumably a bit bigger. With a special field for Cliff Richard. Like that basic requirement for a Welsh village- not one but two chapels; the one you go to, and the one you DON’T go to…

  15. MikeMcG says:

    Curiouser & curiouser – in what passes for one of R4’s 6.30pm comedy slots this week, a poor impersonation of Richard Dawkins tried to persuade Irish music impresario Louis Walsh that he was also in fact a hugely talented singer & songwriter.

    I just liked the coincidence with the annoying atheist v. rock God aspect of your post.

  16. Ian Marchant says:

    Oh, I’ve seen the Green Man too.

  17. Graham says:

    First off, Ian, there’s no shock in a stoned man finding God. It’s a natural consequence. Now, the first instinct that we must follow is our inherent feelings toward our fellow man. Or woman. And of course we’d rather spark up with Johnny Cash, Bob Marley, Nick Drake, even, I venture to suggest, John Bonham. As long as the bugger refrains from doing a goddam solo. Much preferable to Dawkins, who would drone on and on about the molecular structure of things and drain every wonderful moment of its magic. The man doesn’t understand wonderment. And you know me; I do!

    And I think Bishopstone is a quite natural place to feel the wonder of the natural world. When I was 17 I worked at the old Mercury Motel at the approaches to Seaford, a motel now no longer standing, and I used to walk home to Denton through Bishopstone Village and Poverty Bottom. What you did on that canal boat, I did in a cow field at Poverty Bottom one morning at 1.30. Because I knew there would be no witnesses and because Judy the waitress was HAUNTING me. I heard a mournful lowing from the beasts in the nearby field, and I knew that God was with me. I was listening to mainly Spirit and Elvis at the time, but I don’t think that’s relevant.

    Anyway, I know what you mean about the silvery midnight light of universal awareness for I have been bathed in it too. Perhaps wanking in places of natural beauty is how we English celebrate our part in the eternal beauty of the cosmos. And it’s quite possible, probably sensible, to believe in evolution, physics, molecular biology, Mother Nature, the Green Man, Herne the Hunter and the Abrahamic Godhead all together. I do and it only adds a tiny bit of confusion to the schism that is my inner self.

    With a bit more time to edit it, this comment could well have made sense, but it would have been robbed of its raw honesty and deeply soul searched raggedness.
    Best wishes to ya, Ian.

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