All In The Mind - A Farewell To God

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This is the name of a book by Ludovic Kennedy. Now in his eightieth year, Ludovic Kennedy is a very distinguished writer and broadcaster. All his life he has fought for truth and justice and he has campaigned on behalf of many people who have been victims of miscarriages of justice. His book records the bewilderment that many atheists feel when they examine the Christian religion and the horror they feel when they read the history of how Christianity has tried to brutally suppress opposing views.

The author has assembled some nice quotes from sceptics throughout the ages.

For example,

The basic thesis of Kennedy's book is that God is a human invention. He is 'all in the mind' and is a fictional character - like Hamlet.

He starts the book by examining the doubts that he had about prayer. 'Intelligent Christians must know that prayers go unanswered. If it were otherwise, every non-believer in the land would convert to Christianity tomorrow. Why then do Christians continue to pray?'.

Kennedy had these doubts at the start of his adult life. Half a century later, he reports on the situation as it is now, and he records that it seems that a great many people share his doubts. He records the great growth in secularism in Britain. In 1901, there were more than 22,000 paid Anglican clergy, today there are fewer than 11,000. A poll of 15,000 schoolchildren found that one-third called themselves agnostics and one-quarter atheists. That adds up to a majority of nonbelievers.

Kennedy points to a poll in France which said that only 1 percent of Catholics relied on Church teachings for ethical judgements and to a poll in Germany where support for the Pope among Catholics reached only 16%.

He points out that in 1992 there were only 3 applicants for teaching posts in the Christian Brothers in Ireland. Applications for the priesthood had fallen by 85 percent.

The bulk of Kennedy's book tells the history of Christianity and the rise of atheism to try to shed some light on why Christianity no longer controls Western thought.

Early Mythologies

Before dealing with Christianity, Kennedy looks at some of the other thousands of gods created by mankind. He regards it as perfectly natural that preliterate men should have endowed thunder, lightning, rivers and forests with spirits who ruled and controlled them. Aboriginal tribes created the god Bunjil who lived in the sky and watched over men. The Andaman Islanders invented a god called Puluga.

The Zulus had a god called Ukqili and the Yoruba had a god called Olodumare. The Maya god was called Kinichahua and the Inca god Init. The Aztec god was called Tonatiah. What could be more natural than that the Israelites should invent their own god, which they called Yahweh?

The Greeks also had many gods. Some of their names live on today, even if belief in them has died out with their believers. The missions to the moon were on Apollo spacecraft. British warships have been called Ajax and Achilles, Neptune and Ariadne.

It appears that while the Greeks were very adept at inventing gods, they also produced the first sceptics. Xenophon of Colophon wrote 'If oxen or lions or horses had hands like men, they too, if they could fashion pictures or statues they could hew, they would shape in their own image each face and form divine- Horses gods like horses'

False Prophecies

Kennedy does not think much of the historical value of the Gospels. He writes that it is 'plainly absurd' that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because Joseph's ancestor David had lived there a thousand years earlier. He regards many of the events in the New Testament to have been written to 'fulfil' the prophecies that the Gospel writers found after scouring the Old Testament looking for passages which they thought were about Jesus.

Kennedy points out that the accounts of the resurrection are contradictory. He regards the ascension into Heaven as 'dotty' - a product of the Jews' belief that Heaven was directly above us.

He writes that '... Jesus is presented as a fanatical believer in himself and his message, who at times becomes so overexcited he begins to contradict himself.' Kennedy points out that Jesus' two most famous sayings 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself' and 'As ye would that men do unto you, do unto them likewise' were hardly original to Jesus, having first been spoken hundreds of years earlier.

Kennedy quotes Confucius on the subject of 'turning your cheek' 'If you requite evil with good, with what shall you reward good? No, I say, reward good with good and evil with justice.'

He writes that 'For the Church to continue to preach, as it does , that 2,000 years ago Christ died for our sins then, now, and for ever makes no kind of sense at all.' When Kennedy examines the history of Christianity, he find that the Church has been obsessed with sin ever since.

The Conversion of Constantine

Christianity got its big break when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Before then it had been a growing sect which had been sporadically persecuted. After that, it received the backing and the might of the Roman Empire.

Constantine converted to Christianity after winning a battle with the logo of Christ painted on the shields of his soldiers. As so often in the conversion of Europe to Christianity over the next 800 years might and material success proved to be inducements and incentives to conversion. Constantine's conversion to Christianity did not prevent him from ordering prisoners to fight with wild beasts in the Circus. It did not prevent him having his eldest son and his second wife executed.

Now that Christianity had become the official doctrine of the Roman Empire, disputes such as the Arian controversy could be settled. There was now an imperial power which could crush disagreement. Constantine arranged councils where Christian dogmas could be finalised.

Once dogma had been finalised, heretics who did not agree could be sought out and punished. Kennedy quotes Jerome's description of the punishments given to heretics who did not recant - red-hot plates were applied to the genitals, there was laceration with whips tipped with lead.

The Church Fathers laid down penances for sins, especially sexual sins. From henceforth, life was to be controlled and regulated by the Church.

Christianity's Killing Fields

Ludovic Kennedy tells the sad tale of the countless persecutions and wars fought in the name of Christianity. Even Christians were not safe from Christian justice. The eyes of the Archbishop of Ravenna were gouged out on the orders of Pope Constantine .

However, it was pagans who bore the brunt of Christian evangelising. Charlemagne ordered 4,500 Saxon soldiers to be beheaded for being pagans. The most famous attacks on nonbelievers were the Crusades.When we look at the Crusades, it is strange that today the word 'crusade' has positive connotations. Politicians are proud to say that they are crusading against drugs or crime.

The first Crusade was launched by a Pope - Pope Urban VII. He decreed that Christians going on the crusade would require no further penances to achieve salvation. Kennedy records one popular slogan of the time - 'We shall slay for God's love.'

On the way to the Middle East, the Crusaders slaughtered hundreds of Jews in Mainz and Worms. It is estimated that the Crusaders killed between 30,000 and 40,000 Jews and Muslims when they reached Jerusalem.

The fourth Crusade even destroyed the Christian city of Constantinople.

Heretics were also attacked during these times. In 1209, between 15 and 20 thousand Christian Albigenses were killed. As Pope Boniface proclaimed in 1302 'It is altogether necessary to salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.' Popes tried their best to enforce this doctrine.

Fake Relics

Ludovic Kennedy lists just some of the relics collected by Christians over the centuries. There were pieces of the Holy Lance that pierced Christ's side. There were large numbers of True Crosses. People had found the very rods of Moses and Aaron that they used to strike rocks to produce water. There were leftovers from the feeding of the 5,000.

Apparently, the Lateran Basilica in Rome had the heads of Peter and Paul, together with the Ark of the Covenant and the shirt of John the Baptist. In another church nearby was the umbilical cord of Jesus and most bizarrely of all, people claimed to have 204 bits of the babies massacred by Herod and fifteen different churches claimed to have the foreskin of Jesus.

Around this time, the Turin Shroud first became generally known. Some people still think it is genuine.


Burning Witches

Exodus 22:18 says 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' Christians obeyed this commandment of God with great dedication. The Bishop of Wuerzburg burned 900 witches. Archbishop Schoneburg burned 369 witches in only 22 villages. The last recorded execution of a witch was in 1787.

Christians of today do not believe in witches.

The First Atheists

During the days when Christianity had a firm grip on people's minds, it was dangerous to declare that you did not believe the same things that others did. But a few brave souls did question Christianity.

Commodore Canouve is reported to have said 'We have never seen any dead man who has returned from the other side to tell us that Paradise exists or Purgatory or Hell. All these things are the fantasies of friars and priests.'

Pierre Charron wrote 'All religions have this in common, that they are an outrage to common sense, for they are pierced together out of a variety of elements some of which seem so unworthy, sordid and at odds with man's reason that any strong and vigorous intelligence laughs at them.'

Even philosophers, such as Spinoza and David Hume, were moving towards atheism.

Many Christians denied that there could be any such thing as atheism. Lord Herbert of Cherbury wrote 'In reality there are no atheists.' Kennedy gives a nice story of the prison chaplain who refuses to believe that Holyoake was an atheist although Holyoake had been sent to prison for atheism!

The most famous British atheist of the nineteenth century was Charles Bradlaugh , MP. Ludovic Kennedy points out that the Christian claim that an atheist cannot be moral was refuted by the fact that Bradlaugh was almost puritanical in his lifestyle.

While Bradlaugh was elected as a Member of Parliament, he was not allowed to enter Parliament as he was not allowed to take the oath, which mentioned God. Bradlaugh was very willing to take the oath, but time and time again, Parliament refused to admit him. They did not want a self-confessed atheist as a Member of Parliament. Bradlaugh always managed to get himself elected by the voters of Northampton, but it took more than five years before Parliament would admit him.

Such discrimination against atheists was routine in the 19th century.

The 20th Century

Kennedy documents a talk given by Dr. Margaret Knight on the BBC when she discussed how people could be moral without religion. People wrote letters to her saying things like 'We listened to the talks with real excitement, feeling at last that someone is saying things we have felt for so long.' and 'It was like opening a dungeon door to admit the light.'

Kenendy also documents how even Christian theologians like Bonhoeffer and Tillich now teach about a God who is radically different from the traditional Christian teaching. He points out how Christian theologians are trying to keep the word 'God' while working out what meaning they can give to those three letters. As can be seen from Kenendy's quote of Bishop Robinson 'prayers and ethics are the outside and inside of the same thing and could be defined as meeting the unconditional in the conditional in an unconditional personal relationship' they have not quite succeeded in producing a meaning.

In the last chapter, Kennedy gives examples of atheist spirituality in a field that he enjoys - poetry. He contrasts that with writings by Christians and , after quoting a passage by the Archbishop of York, is forced to ask himself what a grown man like Dr. Hope thinks he is doing peddling fantasy as historical fact.

Conclusion

Ludovic Kennedy has taken on an enormous task in summarising the history of religion, Christianity and atheism in the last 2,000 years and distilling it into a short book. He has produced a clear and fair account which records his personal feelings of bewilderment at religion and his hopes that spirituality will no longer be sidetracked down the cul-de-sac of talk of Atonements, Original Sin, Ascensions, Incarnations etc.

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