the written word

The key to being ‘modern man’ lies in his civilised pursuits – the arts, writings, all those things that specially mark us as fundamentally different to animals, even the clever ones.  The Egyptians started the ball rolling with their hieroglyphs about 3400 BC, with coherent texts coming in around 2600 years BC.

In the grand scheme of things that doesn’t really seem very long ago does it?

Putting it in to a British context, the neolithic era saw the locals living in small extended family groups who would work the land in a semi settled manner, they would wear basic hide garments, build barrows, causeways and around 2500 BC put together Stonehenge, for reasons we know not what.  But whilst that has to stand as a stunning example of tooless basic engineering and one we Brits should be duly proud, we can’t duck the fact that we didn’t start writing stuff down onto tablet or papery stuff until over 3000 years later with the epic Anglo Saxon hero poem of Beowulf.

Civilisation is generally considered to have begun around 6000 years BC  in Mesopotamia – an area that would set it in modern day Iraq, and it was from this very area that we see the first epic story, written in Sumerian cuneiform, a sort of detailed picture series on stones around 2000 BC – the Epic of Gilgamesh as it’s called is a story of the daring do’s of King Gilgamesh of Uruk

What I find fascinating is the epic story of Gilgamesh recounts, a number of early biblical tales as delivered in Genesis – and as a means of comparison, it is believed that the life of the old Testament Abraham is dated around 1900-1800 BC which puts him in historical touching distance to the author of the story; and furthermore, King Gilgamesh himself was believed to have been a historical figure in Sumeria c.2700 BC which places him as a physical contemporary of the early Genesis characters.

Finding unadulterated manuscripts or stones from antiquity are rarer than hens teeth, but they are the gems we long for – to help us place ancient history in context, to act as corroboration.

And herein lies one problem I have and this doesn’t make me clever or unusual – when one considers ancient religious texts – the danger for corruption, especially where translation has taken place, but also where the same language has morphed, developed and changed over time, means that our reliance on the text as the unadulterated truth is challenged severely.

I cannot believe the Bible is written under divine influence.

I love the idea that the Gilgamesh story lends credence to stories such of the great Flood and even Adam and Eve that gives me a spark of some historical corroboration that is guiltily exciting.

But the Bible, as a reliable document is perhaps a stretch too far – of the 3 Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity  – it is the Bible which for me presents the greatest challenge to unravel – because in part I feel it has the answer to my soul searching and in part is complete doctored fantasy.






Mrs Waplington killed God…

Like most kids I knew at primary school in 1970, I was shipped off to Sunday school each week, it was held in a classroom at our school and I remember how much I resented being there on a weekend.

I didn’t resent the lessons though once I was there. I was peculiarly receptive to the Bible stories we were told, and I suppose it was a precursor to my enjoyment of History lessons in my later school life, because I understood the historic timeline very clearly – and more importantly, I accepted what I was being told as complete fact. I believed in God, I believed in Jesus and when I recited the Lord’s Prayer,  I did it with real conviction.

My parents sent me to Sunday school as a way of getting the kids out the house for a couple hours – we weren’t a religious family, religion and God played no part in my upbringing, no part in our every day lives – there was no sense of religiosity in my entire family and no one had felt it necessary to go through the effort of getting us baptised. In fact up to my early teens  I had never set foot inside a church. And the only time my parents or grandparents had attended church, was to get married.

So they must have wondered what they had done by sending me off to Sunday School, when after I was too old to attend any more, I took the decision to take myself to church – and to organise my own baptism and confirmation.

I remember the first time I walked in to our local church – it was a gothic masterpiece – high pointed ceilings, ornate pews , beautiful stained glass, the heavy smell of incense, benevolent statues of Mary and graphic pictures of the stations of the cross. You could be forgiven for thinking I was Roman Catholic – but you would be slightly wrong, because although I attended an Anglican church and was baptised a Protestant, our church was high Church and was as Catholic as it was possible to be without having a Pope, And I fell in love with the place.

To this day I can’t resist a beautiful church, incense and a sung Eucharist.

I attended an inner city comprehensive secondary school – it was a tough place and not for the faint hearted. Some may say we didn’t exactly attend school but survived it! If I was being charitable I would say that the school did its best to give us a good basic education and was spectacularly successful at crowd control;teachers tended to be appointed not because they were enthusiastic about their subjects but because they didn’t take any crap and knew how to maintain discipline – these were the days when the sports master walked around with a cane and knew how to use it.

I belonged to a small, and often ostracized group of students – the group who were considered worth attempting to educate to O level rather than being left to grapple for a CSE like everyone else. Heady heights indeed.

Key differences in our school day saw us taught a second language, French in our case and instead of taking one general science course we did the individual science subjects – Biology, Physics and Chemistry all separately.

I wasn’t a scientist particularly and there were moments struggling through yet another boring practical making solenoids that I didn’t wish for a spate of generalised science blurb instead.

And then there was the small matter of Mrs Waplington.

My first Biology lesson and I felt I’d drawn the short straw, because Mrs Waplington was taking our class and we were all frightened shitless of her. Undoubtedly a good Biologist, she had long lost the rosy belief she would mould great minds of the future with her enthusiasm and wit. She was shortish  and frumpy and had clipped disinterested tones that said – don’t piss me off! (actually with the hindsight of an adult, I believe that Mrs Waplington was a good and fair woman – she taught us well and was the only science teacher I ever had who got me to not only pass the bloody exam but actually feel I liked and understood it)

But my over riding memory of Mrs Waplington is it was she who killed God.

My first lesson in Biology and Mrs Waplington clearly wanted her point to be understood and she didn’t want to spend too long explaining it and she didn’t want too much in the way of questioning – so she addressed us with unequivocal directness.

‘Whatever you think you know about life and how it originated – forget it. Any childish notions you have left over from primary school about the origin of man – forget them. Today you begin to study science and you will study scientific method. If you intend to do well on this course then you need to understand that there is a difference between what science can tell us and what we think we know from bible stories – today we are going to begin with Mr Charles Darwin, to look at the evolution of man…….’

Honestly I don’t remember her exact words – but that paragraph, is pretty much it. I remember sitting there and thinking I need to pass this exam. But underneath was a disturbing disquiet.

Because I saw in what I was being taught albeit at low level, the unquestionable logic of science – even though I was largely pretty crap at science I learned that science is king – it explains how the world works, it explains there are no eternal mysteries and that the world as we see it works on understood principles and unbreakable laws.

My bible stories couldn’t compete with that.

Given I could never fathom Adam and Eve and where their sons had found handy wives – it was far far easier to see that Mr Darwin with his finches in the Galapagos was altogether more logical and how over millions of years man had dragged himself from the primordial stew.

I understood at long last that ‘faith’  in God was not the innocent acceptance of the Bible and the Gospel I had learned but was instead an unshakeable belief in the Almighty and his workings despite the contradictory evidence supplied endlessly by the scientific community, and on that basis I realised I didn’t have faith at all.

Without any great in depth knowledge I was lead by Mrs Waplington & Co. into that great  educational sausage machine, and I was ground out believing what I was told – without question or further thought. After that initial disquiet I never questioned anything I was told again – all my questioning was directed to set books and set knowledge.

My science career was mercifully short – but it’s effect lasted half a life time because I lost faith. For me to have said  I had faith would be to invite ridicule. But to say I had faith would also be a lie – because I no longer believed in anything.

My teen years were busily filled with all the flim flam beloved of teenagers everywhere – music, boys, being rebellious and a bit of study tacked on the end.

But once the teens were past – I was left with what exactly? And so began my adult life and a period of spiritual confusion and loss – and so began my soul searching and its been a long and painfully slow journey…….