October 30, 2019

In order to help someone who’s lost their way, you must first know what it is to lose your own way.

8.30 am: Off to School. The day had not yet delivered on its promise; the early-morning mist and low cloud still lingered. Today would be dedicated to second and third year Personal Tutorials. I don’t insist on seeing any students after their first year. My role is like that of a GP: ‘Make an appointment only if you’re either unwell or otherwise in need of a sounding board’. In between appointments, I caught up on minor, irksome admin projects. 9.20 am: ‘Surgery’ began.

I’m astonished at the resilience some students demonstrate in the face insuperable challenges. They’re real troopers. And my heart goes out to those European students who are, for the time being, unsure and unsettled about their future status in the UK. Some would dearly love to stay on and complete an MA degree after graduation. The university is a glorious melting pot of nationalities and ethnicities that get along with each other and enjoy one another’s differences and complementarities. In this respect, a university is an exemplar of how a country ought to behave.

The students I talked with were, to a woman and man, full of praise for the support and expertise of the staff that they’d encountered on their degree. One staff was described as: being ‘so charismatic and knowledgeable; we hang on their every word’; another as ‘firm, but so easy to talk to; they really rule the class, in a good way’; and yet another as ‘completely serene … like Zen, you know … it makes for such a comfortable learning environment’. I could go on. Over the years – the decades – I’ve been both blessed and honoured to work with colleagues of the highest calibre; they’ve been an incentive and challenge to my own teaching.

A number of conversations, for quite different reasons, had steered towards a discussion about religion and spirituality (which aren’t necessarily the same thing). Who knows how important these ruminations will prove to be in the future. It’s hardly possible to talk about the creative experience without touching upon matters that lie outside our existence. Few students that I’ve talked to have ever countenanced atheism as a viable belief/unbelief system. Agnosticism, for some, is the only sane position: ‘You can no more disprove the existence of God than prove it’, one said reasonably. From an empirical, a philosophical, and a theological standpoint, that’s unquestionably true. Which is why the notion of faith (as a ‘gift of God’) is indispensable.

4.30 pm: Surgery over, I wandered around the ground floor and the upstairs studios in order to stretch my legs. Students were working in semi-darkness. (Have we not told them where the light switches can be found?) In the background, I could hear someone practising on the piano in the double gallery downstairs.

There’s one part of the School, leading down to the basement, that I’ve always found a little disquieting. There’s no reason for it; this area has no dark history, as far as I know:

My last appointee called at 5.00 pm; they were not one of my charge. The student wanted to talk to me about sound art. I was happy to be an evangelist for the cause.

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5 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi John. It is not necessary to be able to “disprove” the existence of a god or gods in order to be an atheist. All that’s needed to be an atheist is to not believe in any gods.

    • johnscriptorium
      October 30, 2019 8:33 pm

      Hi Tom. In the context of today’s conversation, we were talking about philosophical atheism, which developed in the Enlightenment. Like Sadducism, which was revived at that time, it tended to have an antagonistic dimension. But, you’re right, It can be a straightforward disbelief in ‘gods’. Although, I might argue if pushed, that disbelief is the settled view of someone who, in their own mind, has disproved the existence of such, even if only to themselves.


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