GOD without MYTH

Written by Ronald Grant, not later than September 2003.
It is referred to in his life story.

A spiritual journey

I do not remember being baptised, but was assured by my parents that everything proper was done at an early age to secure my spiritual welfare; I was never aware of Godparents, nor did they seem to have any form of Confirmation I was taken, I think a few times, to the Presbyterian church in Fisher Street, Carlisle, but remember no religious teaching. The only advantage of that church, to which my mother belonged, was that the church hall was used as a badminton court, to which sport I was willingly introduced.

Holiday visits to my grandparents were always interesting; A village like Cove had its own rules and with my cousin Ian Galbraith we were taken along to the church every Sunday when we were there. We must have heard but paid little attention to what was said...we were much more interested in the Clyde paddle steamers.

God played little part in my life until I was bundled off to a small prep school in Silloth at the tender age of eight. There we were marched along to the parish church every Sunday; again, very little attempt at spiritual teaching, but they had a very interesting carillon (of which no trace now remains). We were required to kneel by our beds and pray before getting into them. I dont remember having any concept of God; I suppose I unqestioningly accepted that prayer was useful and desirable.

That school ceased to function a few terms later and most of us went, with much of the school furniture, to Seascale Prep School where the same routine continued. Round about the age of ten I first personally faced a dilemma: If I behaved badly, I would end up in hell, even for minor misdemeanours! On the other hand it seemed that there was joy in heaven for renouncing bad behaviour even at the last moment and only doubtful reward for being "good". I was, in fact, mostly compliant, honest and reasonable but remember the thought that if minor misdemeanours took me down to the hot place, I would have most of my friends with me. One unfortunate incident at Seascale was when something was missing, supposed stolen; we were lined up and questioned; I was embarrassed that anyone should consider me capable of theft and blushed at the thought. This was taken as an obvious sign of guilt and I was beaten for it. This may have led to a lifelong distrust of pompous authority. Compulsory churchgoing was the rule, but not taken very seriously.

Much the same attitudes to religion persisted during my two or three years at Strathallan, where a significant influence was a very good science master who, I later realised, laid the foundations of a scientific education, to the detriment of acceptance of religious mythology.

And so to Oundle where after a year or so we were expected to be confirmed. My parents assured me that I had been baptised in infancy, but I was not sure what to do about confirmation and put it off for a year. During that time I fought the battle of conscience, not wishing to upset any promises made by others for me at baptism, and decided that I would go through this ceremony, taking promises made by godparents off their shoulders with the clear idea that I could renounce them on my own behalf. I said nothing about my intention at the time, but clearly remember the embarrassment of the chaplain praying over me at an obligatory private interview. I did make an attempt to accept Church of England dogma and went to communion once or twice but it didn't do anything for me as there was no way I could accept airborne Y-chromosomes or disappearing bodies. Equally I was unable to accept that all good in the world was the work of Christ, directly or through others.. I could see that many worthy men were inspired by other faiths. On Sundays we had one hour in class; I suppose it was originally intended as religious instruction, but in one year we were entertained with intellectual games while in another we had a very interesting study/analysis of the book of Genesis. No nonsense about 'holy writ'; there were, if I remember, three recognisable sources, J, E. and P. (that was in the 30s, perhaps there are four now) Analysing the Bible as an historical document put it in a much more interesting light.

Although I probably did not know the words at the time, I was clearly working my way through ecumenism to syncretism and came to realise that each phrase of the Creed excluded believers in one heresy and that most of those who recited it parrot-wise had no concept of the import of their words.

At Oundle I went on an accelerated journey up the path of pure science and mathematics and Physics in particular, going straight from two terms in a Lower certificate form to the equivalent of today's A-levels and a distinction in Physics two years later. Spiritual development meanwhile was more or less on "hold" somewhere between agnosticism and atheism. It must have been about this time that I came to the conclusion that there were no phenomena in life which were, by definition, beyond explanation or understanding.

This last thought was about to be severely challenged; I think it must have been Easter 1936 when I went to Germany with the school hockey team as a guest of the Hitler Youth. The fact that we became aware of nasty anti-Semitism and witnessed obvious preparation for war was irrelevant in the present context. Before leaving school I had arranged to stay with a school friend for a few days on return to the UK and had a very clear dream about it; a large room with a long window, such as I had never seen before. I described it to my friend and tried to make it fit with one of the rooms in his house without any success and thought little more about it until I arrived at his house and confirmed that no room in his house fitted my dream. However he took me to his girlfriend's house a day or two later and found the large lounge in their house was exactly as I had foreseen. The atmosphere became pleasantly emotionally charged in a close encounter with his girlfriend, (remembering that I had been brought up in a monastic style and knew nothing about girls!) It seems customary for anyone hearing such a story to talk about "deja-vu" and attempts to mould the facts to fit the dream, but in this case there was no doubt whatsoever that this was my first certain encounter with the serious and ancient dilemma of predestination versus freewill.

It was about this time that I was introduced to J.W.Dunne's "An Experiment With Time", which was clearly highly relevant to my dream. Although I found his recorded experience very interesting, I had a little difficulty understanding his theories and his interpretation of the philosophers. The fact that he found only about one in twenty of the under thirties to have what the Scots would call "The Sight" meant that, having been one of them, I had to be very selective as to whom I talked about it; so often being met with a glassy look which appeared to say "he's one of those!!!" My personal conclusion was, and still is, that precognitive dreams only occur when there is a strong emotional feeling attached; the place and the emotions are usually accurate but the words and actions are different. This leads me to consider ideas about subconscious communication between individuals and between individuals and the group, but for the meantime I can add nothing to the dilemma of predestination versus freewill.

If we knock away all the mythology and superstition from recognised religions, it is perhaps pertinent to consider what might be, in mathematical terms, the highest common factor or lowest common denominator. It appears to be agreed that there is an entity, presence, spirit or whatever word one may use to indicate that with which the individual has two-way communication and which in some aspects is not governed by normal considerations of space and time. This entity which is regarded as "God" is supposed to be omniscient, omnipresent omnipotent, and the basis of all that is good, although this latter is questioned by many, including many doctors, who find omnipotence incompatible with their observations that the nastiest things often happen to the most valuable members of the community.

Communication between human beings is so multifactorial that I think it best to start by looking at evidence of subconscious communication between animals, particularly birds, fish and animals in herds, for instance sheep. The most obvious is, perhaps, migrating birds, such as starlings, in flocks sometimes of thousands; as they wheel and change direction with astonishing precision, without crashing into each other, the whole resembling amoeboid movement of a single animal. I have heard it suggested that this could be achieved by each individual taking notice of its neighbour, but this would imply a reaction time of less than one hundredth of a second. Considering that human reaction time is at best about one sixth of a second, these birds are demonstrating a much closer and more immediate communication. Fish are more difficult to observe in this country but in the clear waters of, say, the Persian gulf, the apparent amoeboid movement of the shoal and immediate communication and co-ordination is very clearly seen. I was most interested to find that an artist who had spent many hours putting sheep to canvas agreed with an observation I had made previously that a flock behaves almost as if an enormous elastic band surrounded them and the most peripheral would edge toward the centre even when their noses were close to the ground and their attention focused on eating.

Returning to subconscious communication in the human, there are many observations, difficult to prove but almost impossible to deny that those close to each other in nature and nurture seem to read each other's mind, even at a distance; such a facility being enormously enhanced by touch or eye contact. So much for the individual, but there is also the effect of common experience in groups and the enhancing effect of shared thoughts and ritual. This whole field has been somewhat muddied by all the hocus-pocus of seances, mind-reading, fortune-telling and the activities of bona fide magicians, but, when all the nonsense has been removed, something still remains. Now that sensitive machines have been invented which can detect patterns of activity at a distance from a human body; it seems quite logically possible that the mechanism of concept transmission between similarly tuned individuals may one day be explained by an, as yet undiscovered, aspect of physics.

On the basis of my previous contention that there is no observable phenomenon which is by definition beyond scientific explanation, there must be a large area or range of physics which, so far, has never been explored. My guess is that it all concerns the physics of the movement of charge and the transmissible effects of such movement in and emanating from a conducting medium. This may apply to electrical current-like effect of the conduction of an impulse along a nerve fibre or the activity within individual cells, particularly the observed circular or spherical charge/discharge passing over the surface of individual cells or their component parts. There must be an electromagnetic 'couple' which can exert its influence, irrespective of distance, comparable to a mechanical couple which we all learnt about in elementary mechanics. I visualise a pattern of three dimensional electromagnetic couples which can be appreciated by any similarly tuned system at any distance, This is what must be what occurs in the animal kingdom in flocks of birds, shoals of fish, flocks of sheep &c..as previously suggested.

A passing though important thought in this context which could be a clue to understanding: Consider a magnetic field; If the magnet turns slightly, how soon does the field at a distance change direction? No actual particles are involved so is it instantaneous or at the speed of light? And why and how?

The similar age, environment and experience of individual fish in a shoal, birds or sheep in a flock would seem to be that which could provide the ambience for observation of such transmission. The most obvious examples in man is the well reported subconscious communication between twins and the interaction of progressively larger groups as the immediate family, the extended family being the group with which the individual celebrates or commiserates, being either relatives or neighbours in a small community such as a village. Other comparable groups would be school friends, workmates or members of the same club. I have no doubt that such communication is enhanced by ritual as provided by various religions, rotary, freemasonry &c.

Various phrases come to mind as "When two or three are gathered together in thy name...", "No man is an island...". It seems to be widely accepted in every culture that gathering together of like-minded people and performing an acceptable ritual has a coordinating effect on the group as a whole and may extend to others outside the immediate group as in praying for relief or benefit of one unable to attend. Such effects are be very difficult to measure, so proof of such an effect is virtually impossible although ther must be plenty of anecdotal experience which may seem convincing but is hardly true evidence.

Putting all this together... Start with a single cell; its activity affects and is affected by the activity of all comparable cells, the closer they are in origin and function the closer will be their mutual effect and coordination. From the single cell to the whole living individual, whether animal or vegetable. Considering animals first, this is where the coordinated action as in birds, fish sheep &c arises and, by extension, the same effect is certain to exist in higher animals and in man, although such effects in man are much more difficult to assess as all the other methods of communication must play a part and thus tend to obscure the particular subconscious communication to which I have been trying to draw attention.

There is therefore a common subconscious, not in the Jungian sense of something genetically inherited, but active, ever present and constantly available to influence ones thoughts and actions; of which each individual is a part, acquired and built from the moment of conception.

( Genesis ii. 7.) "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul"

And of which each individual remains a part throughout life until;

(Ecclesiastes xii) "Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit return unto God who gave it."

I am confident that this omnipresent common subconscious is that which mankind has interpreted as God, using the word in the widest possible sense and described in a variety of forms and personifications to suit the ethics and culture of any particular people, time and place.

Index of works and memories.

Site prepared and maintained by Simon Grant, revisions to July 2007