Books: The things we believe

All in the Mind: A Farewell to God

by Ludovic Kennedy Hodder pounds 18.99

The broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy has been celebrated in recent years for exposing miscarriages of justice. Here, though, he is leading the prosecution, and God is in the dock. The case against the Defendant is that people have been misled into believing in him and worshipping him. He has done nothing to deserve this. Quite the opposite. Besides, He doesn't exist.

Kennedy isn't the only person who was an atheist in short trousers, although in his youth it was undoubtedly a more daring outlook than it would be now. But true agnosticism is surely a stronger position: not that we don't know, but that we can't know whether there's a God or not. Kennedy's fundamentalist diatribe against organised religion is likely to push the undecided into the clap-happy camp.

His style of argument may have swayed a lot of men in wigs but it doesn't read well. He piles up his evidence like so many silk-bound bundles as he batters away at the long history of organised religion in the West, before turning to the much shorter history of atheism, organised and disorganised. Authorities are used mob-handed. By the time everyone from Tom Paine to Karen Armstrong has given the New Testament a good kicking, who could possibly believe it? And it's true that these accounts of what went on in Palestine 2,000 years ago hardly qualify as rigorous historical writing. They are about as reliable as a police officer's notebook. But that doesn't make them untrue.

Most of us are prepared to use our imaginations when we consider the ancient world, just as we are when we think about Shakespeare, whose life is almost as mysterious as that of the Bethlehem-born carpenter and religious leader. The problem with Kennedy, as with his co-atheist Richard Dawkins, is the literalism with which he approaches the world. He employs not so much a sword as a neutron-bomb of truth: he leaves a few historical people, beliefs and structures standing, but wipes out beauty and mystery.

The book includes several autobiographical interludes, and they are the most interesting passages, because here Kennedy is prepared to leave behind his protective phalanx of experts. His reductive distaste for the vagaries of religion began early. He recalls being made to recite the Apostles' Creed, which says that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born to a virgin, died, descended into hell and three days later came back to life and ascended into heaven.

"I did not know then and I do not know now what all this meant," he says. But this is absurd. You might as well ask what is "meant" by a baby's smile, or a piece of fruit, or a burst of Miles Davis. None of them "mean" anything in that sense, but they are mysterious and beautiful. Anyone who really wants to attack supernatural belief has to deal with that, not pretend he doesn't understand the question.

Worse is the personal rudeness he adopts on occasions. For instance, he quotes the Archbishop of York, improvising about the Virgin Mary. "When I read paragraphs like these," he says, shaking his head ruefully, "I have to ask myself what a grown man like Dr Hope thinks he is doing, peddling such fantasies as though they were historical fact." Tut, tut, Dr Hope. Whereas when Kennedy recycles a Spectator columnist's remarks on an unnamed priest "who dropped dead among the giggles and slaps of a homosexual sauna", that presumably constitutes serious debate.

With atheism, Kennedy is on firmer ground. Freed from the necessity to lash out, he gives us an interesting historical account of what is less well-trammelled territory. And in the end, after 260 pages of telling us what he does not believe and what other people should not believe, he finally tells us of some of his own truths. The chapter "Touching the Transcendent" recounts briefly Kennedy's own "peak experiences" of nature and art, coupling them as ever with notes on his reading, including the highlights of great poems, notably Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey".

Wordsworth, of course, wrote about "a sense sublime / Of something far more deeply interfused ...". He didn't have "a sense sublime / Of nothing". And the "transcendent" must mean something beyond and above our existence, not in our own minds all the time.

Perhaps Kennedy, now pushing 80, protests too much. He says he's an "a- theist": but his loathing of the blood-stained personal God of Judaeo-Christian history need not stop him having a faith, should he require one. There are plenty to choose from, even if his coverage sticks largely to Christianity. Meanwhile, thanks to mishandling and muddle on the part of the prosecution team, God would seem to have good grounds for an appeal.

Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
television
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower