14. 27 January 1986
Thanks for your letter and enclosure. Yes, I entirely understand how you are now placed; I've been there too. And in many ways stayed there, and always shall. If an account were made, totting up hours and minutes spent, like a civil service organisation and methods study, I wonder how much of one's waking life would be spent in just doing one's best under difficult circumstances? Under that rubric I'm ready also to subsume e.g. writing whatever books one has it in one to write. It's all somehow the same essential activity: latent or realised energy being acted upon by external forces and events. The description applies equally, come to think of it, to the planets in their orbits and the stars in their courses. Even though the sun might long to lie in, it has to rise; the starry firmament yearns in vain for an early night. The trick is to combine compulsory activity with a relaxed feeling of self indulgence. I seem to manage that all right. Too well, even.
Now to the latest epistle to the Croydonians. The first thing I want to wonder about God is why people who believe and who disbelieve in him/her/it are so strikingly similar, quite often: go to the same schools, and read the same books, stay tremendous chums. It seems so strange that so cosmic a difference should make so little difference (so far as I can see) in standards, attitudes, comportment and so forth. It's exactly as if (dis)believing in God were just one way of dis(believing) in God, and conversely. And he/she/it doesn't seem to make any clear distinction either. Not only rain but tidal waves and oceans of molten lava fall indifferently on the just and unjust, theist and atheist alike. Which reminds me that while I entirely feel the force of that merry quip about the atheist as a person without invisible means of support, I want to enquire why that isn't just as true, if not so amusing, about the theist?
Either way – what support, exactly? Very well, then, on my own showing the central thesis is indeed the one to which you address yourself: what difference does belief in God make in your experience? And the answer I confidently expect you to reach, and indeed demonstrate is, in a word, none.
And this despite an early conditioning that could hardly be more disparate. No bishops or curates even among any of my forebears: just sailors, shepherds, smugglers, fiddlers, and essentially farm labourers, who all hated the parson and the squire with equal fervour. It never for a single second occurred to any of us, after the age of about eight or nine, that Christianity might be true. Christmas and Father Christmas lost their little adherents at about the same time, and for much the same reason; nice stories but not true.
Nobody even hoped that, à la Hardy, it might be so: The whole basic cast of mind of the peasant class, world wide, is utterly unChristian and perpetually pagan, from paganus (a-um) rustic. It's no coincidence that the last witch in England was burnt in rural Essex, and rather recently too. I never had the least doubt :hat she looked exactly like (and indeed probably was) my grandmother.
Yet from this utterly pagan and secular background I've done and thought and said and experience, in ordinary terms, much the same as you: and indeed some at least of that experience has been joyfully shared, I hope to our mutual enrichment: certainly to mine. There seem to be no barriers to our understanding and reciprocation.
So I have to ask again: why introduce an unknown x when the equation already balances? If the concept of God makes such a difference to you, why has it never made any difference at all to me (for example)?
I can see though that it helps your prose style. It is (isn't it? just as I said) autobiography, but it's personally very persuasive, even powerful, as a piece of prose. If God can help people to write well, he/she/it serves a good purpose, which could with benefit be extended to theologians generally. They so often seem to write so diabolically!
Love as ever, E.