Saturday, January 8, 2011

Confessions of a Religious Studies Scholar II: Conversion

Before my “evangelical conversion” my hobby was stage magic. That is conjuring tricks for the purpose of entertainment, not some form of occult religion. In fact, I had begun to develop a very profitable small business performing at various events such as children’s and office parties throughout the winter. At the time I could earn as much from a half-hour magic show as I earned in a week as an apprentice.

In attempting to improve my performances I came to know a local inventor of magical tricks, Normal Hazeldine who’s “Hip Hop Rabbits” was quite famous in magical circles. He was retired and he earned extra income by selling unique magical equipment which he built at his home.

Irving, age 16, performing the Chinese linking rings trick.

Norman, whose rabbit trick can be seen in the background of the picture above, had one other great passion: scepticism. This he took very seriously. Therefore, in addition to selling me some really excellent magical tricks he lent me various anti-religious books including works by Tom Paine, Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh. The importance of this was that it was my first introduction to logical argument of a systematic kind. It also meant that my rejection of religion was based on argument not simple neglect.

Tom Paine the author of The Age of Reason

Early in September 1960 I met a couple of very attractive young women who tried to interest me in attending the local parish church. I steadfastly refused telling them that I though religion in general and Christianity in particular was a “load of rubbish.” Undeterred one of them invited me to a meeting the following Saturday where she said I could have a “good argument” with some of her friends. Since I had nothing better to do that weekend I went along. There I discovered that her name was Judy and to my great disappointment was introduced to her fiancé Peter Heyman with whom I soon became firm friends.

Years later, after completing his PhD, Peter joined the Faculty of Theology at the University of Edinburgh where he taught until he retired a couple of years ago. Over the years our understanding of religion changed. He became an agnostic and I became a Christian. Nevertheless, we have remained good friends.

Largely as a result of Peter’s arguments I was slowly convinced of the validity and truth of Christianity. As a result by Christmas of that year I had started attending church and realized that I believed in the Christian gospel. This realization dramatically changed my life …
More to follow …

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