When I was a boy, I was sometimes told about my mother’s elder brother, Walter, and how he had been enthusiastically involved in the Church — until, one day, he “gave it all up”, and turned his back on the role that the Church had envisioned for him. Intrigued, I wrote to Walter in 1979 to inquire about the circumstances of this about-turn. This was his reply:
As children we were bundled off to church and Sunday school, but as far as I can recollect I was the only one who took religion seriously, my fervour reaching its height during the years of puberty. Looking back I now realise I must always have had the seeds of scepticism in my make-up for I remember at a very early age experiencing a childish puzzlement bordering on revulsion at the story of the Gadarene swine. It seemed to me tough on the pigs, not to mention their owner!
Later, despite my zeal I never felt mentally at ease with “miracles” and the concept of the “Holy Trinity.” These I accepted on faith, but after leaving school and a widening of my reading faith gave way to the spirit of enquiry, and by the age of seventeen or eighteen my position was roughly that of a Unitarian. This did not last long, however, and with short stops at Theism, Deism and Pantheism the journey brought me to my present destination.
My ideas on religion were more [or] less settled by my very early twenties, since when I have had no good reason to modify them in any fundamental respect.
One of the difficulties I had in discussions was that of “definition.” I found that words like religion, Christianity, soul, etc. mean all things to all men. By religion I mean a felt, practical relationship between man and a god or gods who are believed to be in some way directing the cosmic process, and at least in the case of the higher religions, taking a beneficient interest in human affairs. By a Christian I mean one who accepts three fundamental beliefs: a personal God, life after death, and a belief that the New Testament represents the high-water mark of ethical teaching. I don’t accept any of these propositions.