How the Dark Continent became dark


“Long after the traces of the human animal have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others that have yet to spring up. The Earth will forget mankind. The play of life will go on.”

John N. Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

The absurdity of certainty

At the blog Recovering Agnostic I came across the phrase, “… a breach in my previously impregnable certainty”. I rather like this thought – and the blogger’s honesty – that certainty, like some fortress, might be breached. Are our opinions not often like walled cities, defended at all costs? There is a humility in acknowledging that what is self-evident to ourselves might be unsustainable for another.

I am living in Chester, a city which was originally a Roman garrison, surrounded by an ancient wall; not a five minute walk from here is the place where in 1646 Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces breached the wall, forcing the capitulation of the Royalist stronghold.

How fiercely I defend my ideas, and how fiercely others seek to assert their own! There’s nothing wrong with conviction – but it too easily ossifies into an impregnable citadel, or becomes the fanatic’s clarion call. Bertrand Russell said it well:

“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”


“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

Could we oppose tyranny without conviction? I doubt it. But conviction and purpose need not preclude doubt or self-questioning.

Voltaire noted that “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Perhaps we must find a place between doubt and certainty, a place where we permit our opponent a little dignity, without surrendering our own.




“Where does one go from a world of insanity? Somewhere on the other side of despair.”

TS Eliot


“Being, not doing, is my first joy.”

Theodore Roethke

“I wish I could find an event that meant as much as simple seeing.”

Theodore Roethke



A ledgerstone at St. Mary’s, Chester