It was while jostling for a drink in the Union bar last week – amongst impeccably well mannered, considerate, sober first years out for a quiet drink – that a question struck me, seemingly from above, like a neat, grey-white globule of pigeon poo: Does God actually exist?
The question has occurred to me a few times before, quietly yet urgently – while approaching the Tesco self-service check-out with a basket full of processed meat; while sifting through the many intricate layers of WebCT (now mournfully departed) for a buried file of lecture notes; while defecating voluptuously in a Cambodian bus station during my gap year; while in Dundee. God, the Almighty, Our Lord, Our Father – is he perched up there, on his cloud, watching over our student ‘banter’, nodding and frowning accordingly? (And he is most certainly a ‘he’, with a big manly beard; his ethnicity is disputed, although it’s safe to assume he isn’t Siberian – I mean, obviously.)
I hazard I am not alone in confronting this deep, deep question while passing a polite evening in our lavishly maintained and amiably populated Union bar. It compliments so well the other pertinent questions that fall on one in those tasteful environs. For instance, how many venereal treats lurk within that second-year medic over by the drinking-fountain? Or, must I really put myself through the Friday Bop again? Or – especially while being repeatedly elbowed by effortlessly stylish ‘lads’ wearing white trainers in front of the bar – what’s so great about people anyway? Ultimately, these questions mesh together, creating a mutually supportive web of doubt or belief, depending on your own degree of faith. To successfully answer one question is to illuminate, at least, another. Such is our task as conscionable students, in pursuit of truth and other splendid, delightful things.
Yet, certainty is a fickle tart at the best of times. You just can’t nail it, however firm you try to be. The further you chase the little strumpet, the further she recedes – the more you know, the more you discover you don’t know. Philosophers like to call it ‘letting the sceptic out of the box’. I like to call it a waste of time. It is best, ultimately, to accept that some questions must remain unanswerable, that mystery has an inviolable and enduring role to play in the Human Comedy – or Human Bop, if you will. You may never know why you keep ordering Tennents at the Union bar, knowing you will loathe every chemically-tinged dreg of it. Or, for that matter, why you ever went to the Bop a second time.
As with God, there is only so much light that rational enquiry can shed on the matter. We must embrace doubt, confusion, self-loathing, inebriation – these are peculiarly human things, and make us different from, say, badgers or aphids or monitor lizards, all of whom could scarcely organise a Friday Bop if they tried. So, if you ever find yourself vomiting into a Union loo-bowl of a Friday night, bereft and friendless and with your mobile phone stolen, you can comfort yourself with that. I know I do.
An anecdote will serve to drive the point home. A few nights ago I witnessed an argument between two friends – whom I considered, out of decency, not naming; but whom, on second thoughts, I decided to name anyway: John Palmer and Jonathon Deakin. They were bickering fiercely over their preferred J.K. Rowling novel, as students are known to do. ‘THE CHAMBER OF GODDAM SECRETS,’ said John Palmer, slamming his almost-empty pint onto the worn polished surface of their table in the Central. ‘LIKE HELL IT IS,’ said Jonathon Deakin, in the lively manner for which he is famous, spilling little streams of London Pride as he did so. ‘IT IS SO TOTALLY THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE.’ And so they went on, neither budging from their favoured adventure. It was bruising to watch, especially considering that the best Harry Potter novel is, obviously, The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Yet perhaps, ultimately, such things are unknowable; maybe the best of them is, in fact, The Goblet of Fire – who knows, alas. Who knows. In any case, Harry Potter examples and references generally help to illuminate any problem, and should be used whenever and wherever possible. This, beyond anything else I may have said, is my sovereign piece of advice for young people in Britain today.
— Ben Dunant