Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Oxford Think Week rescued - Paula Kirby

This evening's event more than made up for the disappointment of yesterday!  Much more!  I ventured to the Oxford Skeptics in the Pub event for a talk by one of the most incisive atheist writers, fully aware of the possibility of disappointment.  I'm delighted to be able to say that Paula Kirby did not disappoint in any way, (in spite of twice being introduced as Sheila).

In front of an audience containing a brave group of Christians among a larger number of secularists, she clearly delighted in telling a moving story of becoming a committed Christian as an adult, and then becoming an atheist a few years later.  I can hardly attempt to emulate her by trying to distill the key facts from an argument and present them clearly and concisely, without leaving any doubt about my views.  However - here goes!

Before describing how she lost her faith (or won freedom from faith) she wanted to explain how she became a Christian.  The story was moving and rather personal, and left us in no doubt of her full commitment.  For 6 years her religion was completely central to her life, with a significant spiritual encounter that she now rationalises in a different way.

Then she went on to observe how Christians often describe their conversion as having a weight lifted from their shoulders, and to assure us that although she had experienced that, the relief of becoming an atheist was an even greater pleasure.  Even in the totalitarian North Korea, people's thoughts are private.  But somehow God invades even your private thoughts, and it is such a relief to lose the feeling that someone is looking over your shoulder all the time.

The words of the Apostle's Creed seemed to be the tipping point in her de-conversion.  [How many times have I said them and questioned what they really mean?]   "He descended into Hell . . . " was the first sticking point that made her start to examine the whole of the rest of her faith with a critical eye, ultimately drawing up a list of things she believed about christianity along with a list of things that others believed just as strongly.  Realising that the two lists could never be compatible she reasoned that perhaps neither was true, and that if christianity was not true then she didn't want it, however comforting it might be.

As she said "Take away 'God did it' and you have a whole new exciting world".  Not only was she not sitting on the fence, but there was actually no fence to sit on!

This short summary does no justice to a delightful evening full of intelligent humour.  I would be surprised if my admiration was not shared by the vast majority of the audience.  To conclude, I found her views on the afterlife (in response to an audience question) resonated with my own.  She had found herself unusual among Christians in that she never really wanted eternal life.  It is reassuring to hear that I'm not alone in that!

Think Week has been rescued.  Thank you Paula.

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