Chapter 5
Balaam in Moab

Religious experience is suspect. The Church plays it down and has always viewed people making claims to such experience with grave suspicion. This was so even in the so-called ages of faith, when credulity in such matters was much more widespread than it is today. To give only one example from the past: when a peasant named Peter Bartholomew sought an interview with the Bishop of Le Puy and Raymond of Toulouse just after the capture of Antioch by the men of the First Crusade in AD 1098, saying that he had had a miraculous visitation from St. Andrew, who had shown him where the spear which had pierced Christ's side on the Cross was to be found, the Count of Toulouse believed him without hesitation as did most of his men, but the Bishop did not; and this was typical. Then, as now, ordinary men and women were much more ready than the Church to listen to those who claimed to have had various kinds of religious experience, and this, I think, in many ways is to the Church's eternal credit. Today's equivalents of Raymond of Toulouse and the rank-and-file Crusaders who put their unquestioning trust in Peter Bartholomew are not so ubiquitous as they were in Crusading days, but nevertheless they are not difficult to find. There are plenty of people, to quote from an article by my friend Professor David Martin, who 'mooched around a fairground of faiths until they find the booth which meets their need. In one booth they may be raised to higher consciousness, in another they can commune with the still music of the plant world, in another dance their sorrows away and uncurl their tight psyches, in another pay obeisance to a guru with an esoteric technique and an oriental vocabulary; in yet another scream away their personal fantasies at each other.' Most of those arcane pursuits are harmless enough, and their popularity may well be laid at the Church's door; for the Church is often so active - indeed, activist - that it seems to have forgotten the virtues of silence, and people in search of a reason for living are driven to look elsewhere. But there are other forms of religious experience which are not so harmless, as was made only too obvious when an American revivalist led an entire congregation of so-called converts to Guyana not so long ago, and there persuaded them to take part in a mass suicide. As Dr Emilio Castro said at the time, this should warn everyone against 'human conversion through the intensity of emotion experienced......Psychology helps us understand the control techniques of the human mind which have been developed by sectarian religions. Psycho-social studies reveal the mechanism of submission of the personality. This manipulation of mass psychology or of the individual as a well-known temptation to every charismatic Christian leader.'

Equally well-know to every parish priest are the people who come to him with patently dotty claims to special relationships with God or revelations from him, which would lie better on psychiatrists' desks than on vicarage tables. Once again, to give one example only, albeit an extreme one: when I was a parish priest in London a young woman on a bicycle came to my house and asked to speak to me. I took her into my study, whereupon she told me that I could sit down if I wanted to do so; it would not be blasphemous on my part, even though she was really the Virgin Mary. She was, she told me, pregnant with Christ but unable to deliver him because her brother had an evil foot in Crewe. She had been to her doctor, who was really John the Baptist, but he had been no help at all, and would I please do something about it. It was difficult to know exactly what I could do, but I encouraged her to go and see a psychiatrist, who happened also to be a priest and a friend of mind. In the event, however, she did not do so.

Nevertheless St John's advice not to 'believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they be of God', combining as it does a right and proper scepticism with the possibility that some experiences labelled 'religious' may conceivably be genuine and not psychopathic, is worth following. for there can be absolutely no doubt that all religions are based on claims made by their founding fathers to religious experiences and religious revelations, and there is no
a priori reason to believe that while some such experiences and revelations were real enough in the old days they cannot possibly be so today; you may deny the possibility of religious experience at any time, but you cannot refuse to acknowledge its possibility in one age while acknowledge it in another. Of course, whatever the Church may do in practice, theoretically it does not disallow the possibility of religious experience in any age; but when it allows such a thing to be possible it tends to go on and say to people claiming to have had religious experience that they are basically unimportant. Instead, great emphasis is laid upon perseverance, discipline and a rule of life. If as a result worship becomes drier, emptier and more boring, never mind! It is dogged endurance that counts. If a marriage dies on its feet, never mind! The couple are joined together eternally by that sacred scrap of paper, marriage certificate, and it is maintaining a facade of unity which matters. If prayer becomes a penance, never mind! Just get on with it. Thus legalism triumphs, and people get so bored that they either give the whole thing up or desert the Church for one of Professor Martin's 'booths', and who can blame them?

However, there are other forms of experience which, though not religious in the narrow sense of the word, may be relevant to the subject. As I have briefly mentioned, Arthur Koestler has argued that we live our lives on two stages, not one, as Shakespeare would have had us believe in his celebrated lines from As You Like It:


All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.......

Most of those parts, Koestler has argued, are played on the trivial plane of existence, the daily stage upon which we gossip, commute, work, do the crossword, read the paper and watch television; but occasionally, perhaps in the face of death or in the depth of love, or when listening to music, or when swallowed up by what Freud called the 'oceanic feeling', we fall, as through a stage trap-door, on to the absolute or tragic level of experience, and there we view the world in a radically different perspective; returned once more to the trivial level of everyday life, we write off our experience on the tragic level as the result of over-strained nerves. But is it? Often, probably, yes. But it is on this tragic level that occasionally
we experience moments of illumination, disclosures, sudden flashes of insight into the solution
of problems which have been bothering us; and the lustre of respectability has been conferred upon such moments by the fact that the biographies of eminent scientists are peppered with accounts of ideas coming to them in such moments of unexpected and unpredictable disclosure, T.S. Kuhn in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), has pointed out how accepted scientific ideas are subject to periodical crises, 'and these are terminated, not by deliberation and interpretation, but by a relatively sudden and unstructured event....Scientists often speak of “the scales falling from their eyes” or “the lightning flash” that “inundates” a previously obscure puzzle, enabling its components to be seen in a new way that for the first time permits its solution. On other occasions the relevant illumination comes in sleep. No ordinary sense of the term “interpretation” fits these flashes of intuition through which a new paradigm is born.'

One of the most celebrated and dramatic examples of such a moment of illumination - such a disclosure - was that experienced by Otto Loewi, the Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Graz. He had been puzzling for a long time over the mechanism by which nerves affect muscles; one night he woke up with a brilliant idea, and reaching for a piece of paper he jotted down a few notes. In the morning he found to his dismay that they were illegible, while he had completely forgotten the idea which had come to him so vividly a few hours previously. All day he struggled to recall it, but it refused to come back. He went to bed depressed; then in the middle of the night he woke again with the same flash of inspiration - the same clue to the problem - and this time he wrote it down with great care. In the morning, when he checked it, he found that it was indeed the vital clue to the understanding of the process of chemical intermediation, not only between nerves and muscles and the glands they affect, but also between the nervous elements themselves; and startling as such a story may be, the biographies of scientists are full of similar tales. 'I can remember the very spot on the
road, whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me,' wrote Charles Darwin of the moment when the idea that natural selection was responsible for the origin and development of species came to him in a flash and changed the course of science and human thinking. Like Otto Loewi, it was in his sleep that Kekule dreamed of the benzene ring, while Semelweiss's discovery of the cause of childbed fever, Kepler's idea about the elliptical orbit of the planets round the sun, Pasteur's discovery of the cause of anthrax, Einstein's famous intuition which led him to formulate the theory of relativity and hundreds of other discoveries and clues to the solutions of intractable scientific problems are on record as 'coming' to the investigators in moments of illumination. It is no wonder that Professor Hawkinge of Cambridge said recently on television that the one thing necessary to become a good
physicist was to have the ability to make intuitive leaps. Roger Penrose, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford and the inventor of a new, post-Einsteinian, six-dimensional space, which he calls 'twister space', has emphasized even more strongly the central part played in creative science by intuition and the authoritative place of aesthetic satisfaction in the acceptability of mathematical theory.

This is not the only aspect of scientific creativity which is very different from the popular idea of the way in which scientists work; they also often grapple with their problems in a far less intellectually articulate manner than is generally supposed. In a survey made amongst American mathematicians by Jacques Hadamard in 1945 entitled The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field, all but two of the people consulted said that they did not
approach their problems in words or even in mathematical symbols but in a vague way which relied more on visual images than on reasoning; in fact, they felt their way towards a solution, rather as painters explore the visual imagery of their subjects, instead of following a well-lit intellectual path. Einstein was typical when he confessed that 'the words of the language as they are written or spoken do not seem to play any role in the mechanism of my thought....which relies on more or less clear images of a visual and some of a muscular type.' Similarly, R.S. Woodworth said that ' often we have to get away from speech to think clearly.' Moreover, as in the process of creating a work of art, the guide in this non-verbal process of groping for solutions to scientific problems is more often aesthetic than rational. The French mathematician, Raymond Poincarre, described it as 'the feeling of mathematical beauty, or the harmony of numbers, of forms, of geometric elegance', and added that 'this is a true aesthetic feeling that all mathematicians know.' He was echoed by the Cambridge mathematician, G.H. Hardy, who claimed in his book, A Mathematician's Apology (1940), that such a feeling for beauty was not only the mathematician's guide in his search for solutions to his problems but also the first test of the validity of those solutions when they came to him in moments of illumination. 'Beauty is the first test,' he said, 'there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.' After that first test, of course, a solution to a mathematical problem, like any other suggested solution to a problem in science, is subjected to as many rigorous experimental tests as can be devised, and these are crucial. But even so, Paul Dirac, one of the greatest of twentieth-century English physicists, has said flatly that in his opinion 'it is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment.'

But if creative scientists rely more upon moments of illumination and flashes of inspiration and are guided more by aesthetic considerations than is often supposed by non-scientists and even perhaps by those engaged in which T.S. Kuhn called 'normal science' as opposed to the creative variety, then plainly they are also much closer to the creative artists of this world than most people suppose too; for the artists are the people above all who rely upon moments of illumination for their starting points. Plato spoke for them all when he said that 'all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed.....For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired.' Twenty-four centuries after Plato's time, the Irish poet A.E. said much the same thing in a slightly different way: 'The poetry itself breaks in upon and deflects the normal current of consciousness.' For Wordsworth, it was the transcendent significance of 'the common face of nature' which broke in upon the normal current of his consciousness:


I felt
Gleams like the flashing of a shield; the earth
And common face of nature spake to me
Rememberable things.

While for Vincent Van Gogh the vision was much the same. 'I really do not know how I paint,' he wrote in a letter which is worth quoting at some length.
'Armed with a white panel, I take up a position in front of the spot that interests me, contemplate what lies before me, and say to myself, “That white panel must be turned into something”. Dissatisfied with my work I return home, put my panel out of sight, and after taking a little rest go back to my work, almost with qualms, to see what it looks like. But even
then I am not yet satisfied, for glorious Nature is still too vividly stamped upon my mind. Nevertheless I find in my work a certain reverberation of that which fascinated me. I know that Nature told me something, that she spoke to me, and that I took down her message in shorthand....and this is never in a tame or conventional language that did not spring from Nature herself.'

Echoing Van Gogh, his contemporary Paul Cezanne, writing to Emile Bernard in May 1904 about 'the spectacle that Pater Omnipotens Aeterne Deus spreads out before our eyes,' told his friend that he was 'progressing very slowly, for nature reveals herself to me in very complex forms, and the progress needed is incessant.'

Beethoven told Louis Schlosser, a musician from Darmstadt:

'I carry my thoughts about with me for a long time, often for a very long time, before writing them down.....I change many things, discard others and try again and again until I am satisfied; then in my head I begin to elaborate the work....It rises, grows up, I hear and see the image in front of me from every angle, and only the labour of writing it down remains...You may ask where I obtain my ideas. I cannot answer this with any certainty: they come unevoked, spontaneously or unspontaneously; I could grasps them with my hands in the open air, in the woods, while walking, in the stillness of the night, at early morning, stimulated by those moods which with poets turn into words, into tones with me, which resound, roar and rage until at last they stand before me in the form of notes.....'

'The earth and common face of nature spake to me'...........'I know that Nature told me something, spoke to me'...'Nature reveals herself to me'.....'My ideas come unevoked, spontaneously'......'I could grasp them in my hands.'

The emphasis upon disclosure to the artist is the same, and I could quote many others to similar effect if space allowed me to do so. 'reason must rust these intuitions of the heart,' said Blaise Pascal in yet another sphere of human experience, and indeed it must if the arts of mankind are not to be written off as delusory things; charming confections designed to put a gloss on the real face of the world, which is in hard fact merely an insignificant ball of rock. But reason must also trust those very similar experiences of divine self-disclosure to such men as Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, St. Paul and indeed many others outside the Judaeo-Christian tradition, if religion is not also to be written off with the arts as expedient but delusory nonsense. To confine myself to that tradition for a moment, the stories of Moses and the burning bush, of Isaiah's vision of 'the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.....and the foundations of the threshold were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke', are too well known to repeat in detail here; as indeed are St Paul's vision on the Damascus road and the experience he described to the Church in Corinth, when, 'whether in the body, or out of the body, I know not; God knoweth', he was 'caught up even to the third heaven...and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter'.

But as in the experience of both scientists and artists, the men involved in these religious experiences - Moses, Isaiah, St Paul are passive; they take no initiative, but something is disclosed to them 'out of the blue', and as Koestler has said of such an experience, although it is often as 'verbally incommunicable as the feeling aroused by a piano concerto.....its primary mark is the sensation that it is more real than any other thing one has experienced before; that for the first time the veil has fallen and one is in touch with “real reality”, the hidden order of things, the X-ray texture of the world, normally obscured by layers of irrelevancy.'

Although it may seem arrogant to compare the experiences of such men as Einstein, Van Gogh and St Paul with those of ordinary men and women,. I must risk doing so, for I do not believe that there is any essential difference between St Paul's vision on the Damascus road and that which I received when my eyes were opened to the splendour of Uccello's Battle of San Romano; though, of course, there was an immense difference in both subject and degree. I would go further and put in the same class the moments when, as a child, I picked that unforgettable pansy and the time, just before the war in that suburban train, when the world grew transparent to the glory of its own essential being, even though they did not chance the course of my life at the time; and such moments are experienced by the ordinary men and women more often perhaps than most people think. here is one example recounted to me by a friend:

The winter was exceptionally cold, and many of the schools had to close down for weeks on end, so it was by no means unusual for me at the age of eleven to spend most days playing with my sledge in the snow. I emphasize the point that it was not unusual for me to spend a day that way, for on one particular morning something very strange happened to me, which was to change me for the rest of my life. As I was pulling my sledge up the hill opposite our house, I began to feel quite different. I became acutely aware of the incredible beauty of the morning; the sun was brilliant, the sky very blue and the snow dazzlingly white and clean. I stopped and looked up into the sky and felt aware of myself in a way I had never known before. That moment was mine; everything was unutterably lovely. I longed to be able to share it with the other children, but when I got to the top of the hill, I knew that they would not understand; it hadn't happened to them. I wanted to go home and tell my mother, because by then I had realized that it was a most important event in my life, but I knew that she would not understand either, and I felt different and sad not to be able to share it. It is still very difficult to describe or explain what happened; words are quite inadequate; and yet it did change me. I have always remembered it, and nothing has ever been quite the same since.

The nineteenth-century writer, Mark Rutherford, had a similar experience, and he too knew that those to whom such a thing had not happened would not understand him if he spoke about it.

All my life I had been a lover of the country, and had believed, if that is the right word, that the same thought, spirit, life, God which was in everything I beheld, was also in me. But my creed had been taken over from books; it was accepted as an intellectual proposition. Most of us are satisfied with this kind of belief, and even call it religion. We are more content the more definite the object becomes, no matter whether or not it is in any intimate relationship with us, and we do not see that the moment God can be named he ceases to be God. One morning, when I was in the wood, something happened which was nothing less than the transformation of myself and the world, although I 'believed' nothing new. I was looking at a
great, spreading oak. the first tinge from the greenish-yellow buds was just visible. It seemed to be no longer a tree away from me and apart from me. The enclosing barriers of consciousness were removed and the text came into my mind. Thou in me and I in thee.
The distinction of self and not-self was an illusion. I could feel the rising sap; in me also sprang the fountain of life up-rushing from its roots, and the joy of its outbreak at the extremity of each twig right up to the summit was my own: that which kept me apart was nothing. I do not argue; I cannot explain it; it will be easy to prove me absurd, but nothing can shake me. Thou in my and I in thee. Death! What is death? There is no death; in thee it is impossible; absurd.

I must not quote too many examples of this kind of thing, but perhaps one or two more are permissible; for Sir Alister Hardy, who was Linacre Professor of Zoology in the University of Oxford until 1961 and Professor Emiritus since then, made a study of this kind of near-religious experience, and one or two of the examples he quotes in his book The Spiritual Nature of Man (1979) are memorable. Here are three:

When I was on holiday, aged about 17, I glanced down and watched an ant striving to drag a bit of twig through a patch of sun on a wall in a graveyard by a Greek church, while chanting came from within the white building. The feeling aroused in me was quite unanticipated, welling p from some great depth, and essentially timeless.

The second is a little longer:

I spent a week by myself in the cottage when I was fifty years old. During that week I experienced insights and inner flights of consciousness that would have been impossible to undergo in any other circumstances. The aloneness, the changing weather, and the grandeur of the hillside and hurrying cloud so impressed my mind that my thought took flight. The turmoil of my mind was subdued, and my life rested in tranquillity.....I was alone in retreat for a brief spell, reunited with a nature of heart-break and searing beauty. I climbed the hill towards the sea, mindful of my fifty years, conscious of my intellect confounded, and myself a broken reed. Yet aware, so poignantly aware, of a reality which bound me to truth, and locked me in unity with all life. In the moment of revelation there is no past and no future, and it seemed my life was welded into one whole present as I leant against the salty sea wind.

The last one is from Julian Huxley:

I fell mystically united with nature....for a moment I became, in some transcendental way, the universe.

Some people will argue that these experiences are not religious at all, but I think that this would be a mistake. I agree with Professor C.C.J. Webb, who said in his book, Religious Experience (1945), 'There is a serious danger of overlooking the existence of a genuine religious experience which, although taking forms less striking and strange [i.e. than those of some mystics], is not therefore less real and significant.' And this remains true, I think, even though not every such experience bears discernible fruit or results in a scientific, artistic or religious 'breakthrough'; but a sufficient number do precisely that for a claim to be made that they constitute, if not a link between science, art and religion , at least a factor which is common to moments of great creativity and originality in all three fields. In all three, too, the experience seems to impose upon the scientist, artist or prophet a compulsion to be faithful
to what has been disclosed - to the revelation - and, whatever the cost may be, not to deny it. The locus classicus is to be found in the biblical account of the part played by the prophet Balaam during the invasion of Moab by the Hebrew peoples. He was employed by one of their enemies to curse them, but instead he blessed them to the understandable fury of his employer, who threatened to withhold the payment he had promised; but Balaam replied, 'Have I any power to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that shall I speak.' In a quite remarkable parallel bridging the millennia, John Betjeman, in an interview on television, having said he believed that there was such a thing as a Muse, went on to say, 'I regard myself as not writing my own verse, but as a sieve, through which things come, and I hope to sort them out so that people can understand them; but sometimes a thing presses down, and you've got to do it'. In a somewhat similar vein, Beethoven, speaking to Karl Czerny, the pianist and composer who had been his pupil between the ages of nine and twelve, said on one occasion, 'I have never dreamed of writing for fame and honour. What weighs on my heart must come out, and that's why I have written.'

This sense of compulsion, this conviction that something is being said through you and that it must be said at all costs has been behind the courage of the scientists, artists and prophets who have braved the wrath of their conservative colleagues and defied the public opinion of their day; and there have been many of them. In the scientific world the persecution of Galileo set the tone for the treatment of unwary innovators, but it has not always been the Church which has led the hunt; T.S. Kuhn has pointed out that the scientists themselves can be as conservative as medieval Popes when they see the foundations of their accepted scientific models or paradigms challenged by new concepts, rounding on their heretical sponsors with almost as much venom as that once considered typical of Inquisitors. Moreover, the persecuted have become the persecutors from time to time, as when Galileo himself indignantly rejected Kepler's idea that ocean tides were caused by the moon. Pasteur was violently attacked by the scientific establishment of his day , though he also had a few allies, and the history of science is full of examples of other great innovators being greeted with hostility and incomprehension.

Meanwhile, in the art world, great originality has fared no better; as everyone knows, the French Impressionists were regarded as either mad or deliberately offensive for years, while Van Gogh virtually never sold a painting except to his brother Theo, and Cezanne was left alone with hardly a flicker of appreciation or recognition until he was an old man; and even then very few people saw anything in his works. In the literary world, too, some writers have discovered that they need the courage of a Balaam if they are to be true to their convictions and compulsions; in our own day, Solzhenitzyn is one obvious example. I cannot make up my mind whether it is more amusing or more depressing to observe in conclusion that all this is so well-known today that conformity in the art world consists of being 'original' at all costs, thus turning innovation into the essence of submission to the establishment, and I suspect that the real innovators today are those whose works do not shriek aloud, 'Look how unlike anything else I am!'

If it seems far-fetched to claim that such disclosure-experiences as I have tried to describe (I am wary of the word 'revelations'; it has been devalued by too much use and abuse) constitute links between the apparently very different realms of art, science and religion, it is worth reinforcing that claim by pointing out that two other characteristics are common to all three; a belief in order or harmony and a refusal to despise the ordinary and trivial things of life. All science depends upon a belief that there are laws which, once discovered, explain the behaviour of whatever it is which is being studied (this is true even in the sub-atomic world, although there the laws of chance and probability appear to reign); and these laws are assumed, doubtless correctly, to be constant throughout the universe. Thus it is assumed that the light from a star X million light years distant from the earth, when analysed spectroscopically, will reveal the chemistry of the star, since its various constituents will behave in the same way as similar substances behave in the laboratory; though , of course, there is no possible way of proving this by demonstration. As to the ordinary and trivial things of life, science treats all of them from the fall of an apple to the growth of a mould named penicillium notatum in a laboratory as of potential interest and importance. Meanwhile, every work of art in whatever medium - poetry, music, painting or architecture - is an affirmation that order, harmony, balance and design are there for those with eyes to see them. The difference between a landscape of Mont Sainte-Victoire by Cezanne and a photograph of the same bit of country is that, whereas the photograph records the superficial
accidents of the countryside, Cezanne's painting is a statement about the underlying structure and harmony in and beyond the land with its trees and rocks and forms against the blue of the Provencal sky; it is a statement which challenges the beholder to agree or disagree that the world is such an ordered and harmonious place and not just an unordered jumble of rock and vegetation; and every work of art makes a similar challenge, though works of different schools embody and express different kinds of order and harmony.

As to artists' interest in the ordinary and trivial things of this world, it hardly needs demonstrating; painters in ancient Egypt decorated walls with paintings of geese, reeds, and slaves; a Minoan craftsman working in Crete in about 1500 BC made a gold pendant in the shape of a pair of common wasps or bees and a ball of pollen to hang round the neck of one of the bare-breasted ladies of that mysterious and fascinating civilization which centred on the court of King Minos; Velazquez treated the dwarfs who were the clowns of the Spanish court with dignity and complete seriousness; Chardin painted pots and pans, loaves of bread and white tablecloths as though they were as valuable and as lovely as the treasure of the Incas; and Picasso picked up discarded pieces of an old bicycle on a rubbish dump and made them into a bull's head. Lastly, all religions depend upon a belief that the world is under-pinned by a divine order and upheld by a divine plan, while the intrinsic value of the commonplace creatures and things of life is a tenet of most of the world's great faiths. 'Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, but not one is forgotten in the sight of God' would make a motto equally appropriate to scientists, artists and members of the world's great religions, however often some of them might fail to live up to its precept.

When all this has been said, however, it should also be stated that most normal scientific work, most normal artistic production and most everyday religious practice, though often the long-term result of insights and inspirations gained in moments of disclosure, are not directly concerned with such moments or with falling through Koestler's trap-door, but much more often with the intellectual analysis or the working-out of whatever has been experienced there, sometimes by other people. And this right and proper; for as Otto Loewi, when he awoke, checked the validity of the solution which had come to him in his sleep, subjecting it to intellectual analysis and experimental tests, so should every work of art claiming to be
inspired be open to a rigorous criticism, and every religious revelation be subjected to an equally rigorous intellectual examination before being accepted; disclosure must be consonant with lucidity, even though on occasion it may transcend it, as it certainly does in great works of art and some mystical experiences. As I have already said, it is especially necessary to put religious claims of inspiration and revelation to the test of lucidity for the simple reason that it is only too easy for legions of slightly dotty people to believe that their lives have been illuminated by blinding flashes of divine light, whereas in fact they have been dimly lit by the ignis fatuus of religious delusion born of neurosis; and this is no good either for them or for other people.

Not all of this filtered through to me at the time I have been describing, when I was forced to admit to myself that I was no longer atheist; for instance, Professor Hardy's book was not published until 1979; enough, however, reached me to encourage me to re-examine the foundations upon which I had tried to build an understanding of the world and myself. But I still felt naked and helpless as the shelter of my atheism crumbled around me, and I soon discovered that I could not live for long in the open with the winds of uncertainty and ignorance whistling round my ears. Moreover, the corpses planted in the now deserted garden of my youthful twenties were still stirring and posing the final question that really mattered, namely, What is a man? Gaugin had painted a picture of a dark-skinned girl lying naked on a bed against a strange, exotic and rather frightening background, and he had entitled it,
'D'ou venons nous? Que sommes nous? Ou allons nous?' It hung in the Tate Gallery, and it haunted me; but the answers to those questions eluded me.

Antony Cyprian Bridge