In love with Richard Dawkins
My sister lent me The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, which I read on various planes and in various hotels while out of the country this last 2 weeks. It's rare that you come across a book which gets you really thinking, and I've bought The Selfish Gene to see what else he has to say.
Dawkins' aethism is refreshing, brave, intelligent, funny and thoughtful. I puzzled over a couple of things, such as his chapter on intelligent design - there didn't seem to be much on where the universe came from - what caused the "the big bang" for example? At times he descends into polemic (which is always amusing - but perhaps not the most level-headed argumentation strategy)- it is really necessary to call the Bush government the American Taliban? But on the whole, I agreed with a lot of his arguments.
I don't believe in God anyway. I don't even believe in "a higher power" who created everything. My only religious experience was at 16, when a friend harrangued me into going to a fundamentalist church with him (fashioned on American revival movements - our cultural cringe takes many forms). After two hours of singing, hugging, clapping and chanting, I was called to the front to "receive the spirit of the Lord". I refused to move from my spot at the back. So kindly, the congregation decided to come to me. I found myself surrounded by them all, praying and speaking in tongues. Actually, I did feel something - my hands and feet went red and numb, and I experienced this weird, joyful pleasurable feeling (I've never taken heroin or E, but I imagine it was probably a bit like that). Was it the Spirit of the Lord though? I don't think so. I was an impressionable 16 year old, easily swayed by peer pressure, having just received my GCSE results that week (so in an emotional state anyway). After two hours of clapping and jumping up and down, I suspect many people would feel their hands and feet were a bit odd. The chanting, swaying music was clearly designed to lull people into some kind of hypnotic trance. I could see how it could be mistaken for a religious experience though.
I don't encounter religious people very much. On the overseas course I was recently teaching, my students took me out for a meal and it transpired that all of them were religious. They asked me if I was, and I said no. They were still nice to me, but I was reminded of that line in Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caulfield says his Catholic friend would have enjoyed their conversation more if he had also been Catholic. Also, to my shame, I didn't "come out" as gay to any of them. There was quite a bit of talk about my marital status along with comments on my physical appearance. And I told them I wasn't married (true), but didn't mention my male partner. I guess if they'd checked out my staff website and seen that I've written four books with the word "gay" in the title, then they'd probably be able to work it out (and I suspect a few of them had done this). I guess I could make excuses all I want, but ultimately I simply couldn't be bothered to deal with the questions and possible problems that my sexuality sometimes brings. I've found that my sexuality has caused other students issues in the past - in particular, gay male students who are still closeted have a problem with me. And who knows what stuff these students were hearing at church? I just wish I lived in a world where I could mention my partner and it didn't ever have to be an issue.