3. 23 November 1984
My dear Nancy,
Whoa there! I can see there's much to be said for a plunge in media res, but I've taken my stand a very long way indeed even from the fringes, let alone the middle, of the topics now proposed. I am indeed, as you rightly suggest, quite interested in the theological, which ought (at least prima facie) to contain an element of the logical: but the religious means to me only religious mania. If in the beginning is the word, and the word belongs to any part of the monastic (or padded) cell or the torture chamber, then it's going to fall on not just deaf but plugged ears. This isn't at all out of any wish to be anything other than receptive and helpful: it is that I'm, both by temperament and training, utterly inimical to all the basic assumptions of the Christian faith as I understand it. I should want to begin by being shown why in this world or out of it anyone would wish, or even agree for the sake of argument, to make any such assumptions or Assumptions.
What I think about circumcision, for example, is (since you ask) that both ritual mutilation and general sanitary and dietary prescriptions in the Genesis-Leviticus vein might well have been very suitable, even necessary, for a nomadic tribe of Semites, especially in hot weather; but why any Anglo-Saxon in a more technological and hygienic age and temperate climate should be expected to take any serious account of them, even for a single second, is far beyond many plummet lines depth of anything I can fathom. I have to add, moreover, that they seem to me all too suitable for a religion of guilt, sin, redemption, blood, hellfire, flagellation and general torture all round which seems to me just a form of lunacy, and a peculiarly vicious and repugnant form at that. Even for a theist, the Genesis – O.T. notions of divine covenants and sacrifices and so forth could still be horrendous blasphemies: and I as an atheist object to them strenuously on behalf of the personal deity in whom I Absolutely don't believe. One wouldn't attribute such things to a Christian dog, let alone God.
Some things I understand, or at least am always ready to try to understand; theological problems e.g. of priority, or attribution, aesthetic questions of the Bible as literature, influence, etc. But the merely religious questions devastate whole tracts of my mind like a scorched earth policy. Perhaps this is just a musico-literary critical stereotype – much the same attitude as William Empson's as described in today's TLS, I notice; he's rather against that old torture monster and Nobodaddy, the God who was satisfied by the crucifixion – the same God (or rather God) who at an earlier stage of his development was tickled pink by circumcision. Is this the God who requires that one believes in Christ? He must be off his Godhead. He must surely have noticed by now that only a tiny minority of homo sapiens from Olduvai man to the present (a million years or so and countless billions of individuals) have ever done, or even had the smallest chance of doing, anything of the kind. What in heaven's name does He think He's playing at?
And given my basic and profound antipathy to all these weird doctrines, what can I say (try as I will) to such notions as expiation by the blood of the sin-offering' except that they make me feel metaphysically and indeed almost physically quite sick?
Nor does Galatians help. Can one of these incidentally be the verse of which Browning wrote
There's a great text in Galatians
once you trip on it, entails
twenty nine distinct damnations
one sure, if another fails?
I'm sorry about all this: but I have to speak as I find, and I don't find any way in to the deity or the religion of sadomasochism. Where do I begin? Let's do it thoroughly.