I took my latest book 'Why Man Made Gods and Dogs' into the local bookshop last week to ask the proprietor if he'd be willing to stock it. He was a pleasant -looking middle-aged man with a ready smile.
'What's it about?' he asked, very reasonably.
'It's an overview of modern science as it relates to religion' I explained. 'It ranges from astrophysics and cosmology, Parallel Universes, Black Holes and so on, through Creation of Life in a test-tube and the future of humanity, paranormal phenomena, altered consciousness, the evolution of altruism in animals, scientific evidence for the power of prayer, questions for atheists to answer etc. Its a serious book but written for the general reader in a light-hearted, even irreverent, style'.
'I see' he said thoughtfully 'but what's your conclusion?'
'Well I've provided the facts in a simple format and I hope people will think for themselves, and then draw their own conclusions when they're better informed about modern science. My personal view is that as humans evolved from apes they probably began to ask intelligent questions about the Universe which they could not answer and so they postulated a supernatural agency to account for the natural world they saw about them'.
His brow wrinkled. 'You're not trying to say there's no God are you?'
'In my judgement, looking at all the evidence, there's probably not' I said.
He held my book at arm-length, and handed it back to me disdainfully. 'I couldn't possibly handle a book like that. Everything that science knows was already written and predicted in the Old Testament' he said.
Deepest Somerset is not without its fundamentalists.
I'd also sent a copy to the Archbishop of York, because in the book I'd questioned whether his habit of praying for victory for his local football team in York was really something of which God would approve. It seemed a bit unfair to the other team I thought. His put-down was much more sophisticated. He replied politely that he looked forward to reading my book "when time permits". I'm afraid this may be some time ahead, judging by the current fracas in the Church of England over homosexual and female bishops.
I recounted these two stories to one of my devout Jewish friends who lectures to school-children on Judaism. I asked him whether he really accepts that adulterers should be put to death, as recommended in Leviticus, and how many British Jewish adulterers have been executed in the last 100 years or so. He gave me a knowing smile. 'Ah, its all a matter of interpretation, John, you see according to our version, the Talmud, the act must be witnessed by two neutral observers before it would incur the death penalty'.
So its OK if you draw the curtains then. Not so good if you've sold tickets.