From loony left to loony righteousness

Share
Related Topics
Under the scathing title "If there is no God, what is the Oxford atheist scared of?" Paul Johnson issued (in the Spectator on 16 March) a rousing challenge to Richard Dawkins to debate the existence of God in public with him. But no, says Johnson, the man is scared. Why else "his craven refusal to come out of his safe academic burrow and debate with me ... the existence or non-existence of God"? Johnson thinks Dawkins doesn't know whether he can do it: "He is unsure of his arguments, his cause and his skills. He is scared he would make a fool of himself in front of the world ..."

Now, Paul Johnson has never been afraid to make a fool of himself. If, that is, Paul Johnson really exists. But can we reasonably believe in the things done by and said by Paul Johnson? Is there really such a person?

Some eminently reasonable people such as Ludovic Kennedy seem to have their own doubts. In a recent review of Paul Johnson's new book, Quest for God, Kennedy said that on the occasions he had met Johnson he had found him good, pleasant company and simply couldn't reconcile the affable bloke he had met with the intolerant, arrogant author of Quest for God. It was almost as if they were different people.

But then the man who goes under the name of Paul Johnson has often been different people in his life. There is a very good chapter in Christopher Booker's book on the Seventies detailing Johnson's Damascene conversion from flaming left-winger to mighty Thatcherite, from believing in the curative powers of socialism to an equally strong but opposite belief in the redemptive powers of capitalism. Booker writes:

"I have already written in these columns of what I believe to be one of the saddest conclusions to be drawn from Johnson's spiritual tergiversations - that when a man speaks as often as he does of his own devotion to `reason' and of the `fanaticism' of his opponents, one may look to his own works with confidence for a conspicuous absence of the former and an over-abundance of the latter. There is now another truth to which I fear he has borne scarifying witness. That when a man sees through the folly of one extreme and one-sided view of the world there is no greater danger and no greater likelihood than that he will rush to another,equally extreme and even more one-sided."

That was written in 1978, to describe Johnson's rush from left to right, though Booker might also be describing a rather unconvincing and illogically written character in a novel. And where is he now? Well, in the course of issuing his challenge to Richard Dawkins the man called Johnson says that his own chief object in life at the moment is not left-wing or right- wing or indeed political at all but "a burning wish to share the precious gift of belief in God with as many fellow-mortals as possible".

So, in the years since Booker described the conversion from flaming socialist to flailing capitalist, Johnson has seen another guiding light emerge ahead of him: God. There may have been others, of course, in the 20 years since Booker wrote those words. I have occasionally seen articles under his name extolling the power of water-colour painting, and he may have gone through the other passions normal to a man of his age, such as a sudden interest in opera, but even what we know of him strikes me as unbelievable. This dashing madly about from one credo to another, this unshakeable belief in his own rightness, this inability to see himself whole, the conviction of a weather-cock that whatever direction he is facing in is the only one to face in - well, I don't believe it.

I don't think he really exists.

I don't think Richard Dawkins exists either. That's why he won't come out to debate. It's not because, as the man called Johnson says, Dawkins "skulks in his New College tent, afraid to put on his armour and venture forth".

It's because Dawkins is sitting quietly in his tent, waiting for the shouting and screaming red-haired loony outside, flogging his copies of Quest for God, to get tired and go away.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference