Friday 28 May 2021

Another three decades of atheism... A fork in the road, summer 1978, reading William Arkle

A key moment in my life - a fork in the road - seems to have happened in the high summer of 1978; on a day when I was lolling on the bed and reading William Arkle's A Geography of Consciousness, which I had borrowed from the Edinburgh City Library. 

I had read, and been really gripped by, the Foreword - which is a kind of prose poem concerning the various phases of consciousness, how it changes (and in many ways declines) from childhood to adulthood; and what may be hoped from future developments in consciousness. I assumed this Foreword reflected the views of Arkle, but I now believe this Foreword to have been significantly revised and edited by Colin Wilson.

I was also very interested by the Introduction by Colin Wilson, in which he described Arkle's 'lifestyle' (which very much appealed to me), and interpreted Arkle's views; but primarily (as I now see) in terms of Wilson's own vocabulary and intellectual project.  

In other words, this Foreword presented an a-theistic (non-God) perspective on the modern problem (my problem) of alienation, and how it might be tackled. It presented and continued and this was exactly the approach Colin Wilson himself had taken from The Age of Defeat (1959) onwards; and I found myself optimistic that it might provide exactly the answers I sought. 

Within a few days I had borrowed and read Wilson's The Outsider (1956) - and had the strong feeling that this was what I has been waiting for! 

This, then, was The Road Taken - the decision to follow Colin Wilson. But The Road Not Taken was to fully engage with William Arkle himself, to accept Arkle's primary assumptions... and this (as I retrospectively realize) was the fork in the road. 

As I read on into A Geography of Consciousness, beyond the Introduction and Foreword, I realized thta Arkle believed in God. That was an immediate block - since I would not take such an idea seriously, regarding it as an obvious error. Then again, Arkle was explicit that human life had transcendent meaning; that the specifcis our our actual lives were entwined with divine purposes and meanings...

In other words, Arkle struck me (and - it was implied in the Introduction - also Colin Wilson) as being a victim of Wishful Thinking; of a constitutional optimism about the significance of life (rooted in God and eternity) that was something that struck me as 'obviously wrong'. 

My interpretation of Arkle's  exemplary (and, to me, enviable) lifestyle was that it was rooted in this wishful-thinking-unrealistic-optimism. And that, while Arkle himself must be 'made that way' (perhaps due to upbringing?), these were ultimately assumptions which were 'nice for him', but could not provide a model for somebody like myself. 

So as I read Arkle talking about things such as God, eternal human purposes, life beyond death; and about getting to know and communicating with God - I just Blocked.   

All such passages were a solid block, I would not (felt I could not) take such things seriously. If I was 'honest' they seemed childish, silly, naïve, self-deluding...

I also thought such 'hypotheses' unnecessary; and that I could (following Colin Wilson) get 'what I wanted' without the absurdity of Believing in God.

As it turns out - I could not and I did not. 

But it was another thirty years before I finally acknowledged my failure and went back to re-examine Arkle's metaphysical assumptions (not 'hypotheses') of a real God; who is creator, and who loves his children in a personal relationship; and who is involved in the minute details and large strategies of every human life. 

Eventually, in the autumn of 2008 (and, inter alia, having rediscovered Arkle online, and especially his Letter from a Father) I then took The Road Not Taken.

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