Hang on, I thought you were one of the good guys?

Bust of Gaius Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar: He wasn’t all that noble (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was young, I naturally identified with certain historical characters, for very odd reasons. As a result of reading Asterix books, I found Gaius Julius Caesar a very sympathetic character. When I was taught about the Norman Conquest, I instinctively found myself “supporting” Harold Godwinson, as he seemed properly British, in contrast to William of Normandy. Even though I eventually discovered more about them and concluded on a conscious level that they were both rather unpleasant and far from heroic, it’s hard to shake that instinctive, deep-rooted sympathy and identification, and it’s never really left me in either case.

Similarly, one of the things that had a real effect on me when I first started to notice professional cycling was the thrill of watching Marco Pantani attacking on the stage to Les Deux Alpes in the 1998 Tour de France, beating his rivals by minutes on the day and effectively winning the race. Since then, I’ve become far more cynical about doping, and the full extent of the use of performance-enhancing drugs by both Pantani and just about everyone else at the time has become very clear. I know he doped, and normally that would appal me, but I can’t completely shake that initial admiration.

I think we all do that quite a lot – we keep mental lists (either conscious or subconscious) of people who are worth listening to, and people who aren’t. People we like, and people we don’t. People we agree with, and people who are wronger than wrong. It can be very useful as a kind of mental shortcut, as long as we’re not totally blind to it. If you’ve ever said something like “It might be X saying it, but he’s got a point”, that’s probably a good sign. But when those mental lists change, it makes everything far more complicated.

So having seen my beliefs change over the last few years, I’ve sometimes found it quite difficult to get my thoughts straight when my mental shortcuts have become completely useless. I used to be deeply suspicious of atheists and even liberal Christians. Once upon a time, believe it or not, I even found a lot of sense in the sanctimonious reactionary mewlings of Anne Atkins on Thought for the Day. (For non-Brits, imagine a well-spoken vicar’s wife taking four minutes to smugly explain why conservative Christian theology/morality is great and everyone else is just plain wrong, being paid per logical fallacy.)

It’s not a total disaster to have to think a bit, although it sometimes startles me to realise that a particular person is still filed in the “wrong” mental pile, but it colours so much of my past life. I have a huge amount of residual thought and belief which is the result of an automatic reaction based on how I thought at the time, so even when my mental filing’s up to date, it’s not straightforward. I still have a legacy of things I opposed because they were done by people who were on my “bad” list at the time, and things I supported because they were associated with my “good” list. Even my own past opinions can betray me.

So it’s a long road ahead to make sense of things and settle into a new, stable set of beliefs where I feel fully comfortable. Please be patient with me.


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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

2 responses to “Hang on, I thought you were one of the good guys?”

  1. callmequirky says :

    This is exactly why this is one of my favorite quotes of all time.

    Barry Lopez:

    How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.

  2. Joan Bailey says :

    Ahh,,tis a challenge dealing with all those ingrained reactions to stuff. Getting rid of them is a bloody life times work. I added the ;’bloody’ so as not to sound too much like The Little book of Wisdom and more like a recovering cynic and northerner. :I)

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