Late in 2010, I encouraged Duncan Watterworth to become the “last-word” contributor to Elgin This Month, a magazine I was publishing at the time.
His first column was headlined “Satan made me do it … A song for those who knock at my door.” It concerns (a) two experiences with Jehovah’s Witnesses, (b) what Duncan calls “religion, evolution and geology – all favourite topics of mine,” and (c) a song Duncan wrote between the two JW encounters. He played guitar and warbled the lyrics for his interlocutors on their second visit, much to their amusement. I’ve reread the column, and it’s as good now as it was then.
I am long-gone as his editor, but Duncan continues to charm, amuse, offer insights and occasionally infuriate with his columns. Until another Satan – COVID-19 – put a halt to things, the two of us lunched at The Bistro about once a month. Recently, I was struggling with a column of my own concerning the darker side of Jesus. Before publication, I sent a draft to two Christian writers and one atheist, that atheist being Duncan. In his excellent editing comments, Duncan reminded me that a column should never stray too far from one theme.
A theme he periodically revisits is the triumph of rational thought and science over religion. In an email subsequent to the Jesus column, he invited me to a showdown. He proposed we each write a column the same month. He would argue anti-religion and I would proselytize pro. We emailed back and forth, and he cooled to the idea. (Afraid he might lose? Just putting that out there.)
The concept reignited for me when I wandered into his April, 2021 offering. In it, he manages to bring in (a) the voice of a rational pelican, (b) Charles Darwin, and (c) “no predestination, no unfathomed mystery of life.”
Not that we’re engaging in dueling columns, but if we were, I might try some of the following:
- You write as if churches dominate society the way they did when you were a teenager in Aylmer over 50 years ago. That notion is as old as roller skates at drive-ins. In January 2020, Faith Today magazine reported 11 per cent of Canadians attend religious services weekly. Duncan 1, Terry 0.
- Your zeal speaks to a strange paradox. After dismantling religion, rational minds seek new secular versions of it. Could a religious persuasion be innate to our ever-evolving species? What’s your talking pelican got to say about that? Terry 1, Duncan 0.
- There’s no good argument for the existence of God. I know it. You know it. Duncan 0, Terry 0.
- We 11 percenters cling to the old rugged cross because in our darkest hour, we need somewhere to turn. Are we weak? Yes. Are we wrong? No. Terry 1, Duncan 0, because I’m scoring, and I hate to lose.
But now we’re in the territory of two camps, an unhealthy divide that profits nobody. It’s more fun to discuss some of Duncan’s favourite topics: cheap travel in the hinterland, talking pelicans, canoeing, reading, odd-ball characters, writing, getting old.
Here’s to looking you in the eye again, kid, at the Bistro once we’ve all had the jab.