BOOK REVIEW: A Sceptic's Search For Meaning

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Bob Russell-Brown reviews a new book authored by late television journalist Mike Willesee.

IT WAS WITH EXCITEMENT that I put my name forward to review Mike Willesee's book A Sceptic's Search For Meaning.

In order to disclose any bias or prejudice in my review, full disclosure of my past education and religious experience is necessary.

Aged about ten, I presented myself to the local Church of England. They were happy to take me in, but while I don't know why, I lost interest. Aged about 22, in order to marry a Catholic, I entered into that faith. For six years, I took communion, made confession and did my best to live by Catholic precepts.

My exit from Catholicism came when my faith was shattered by the iconic photo of the Vietnamese girl whose clothes had been burnt off by napalm. Priests could not explain to me how their god could allow such things to happen. After gaining my engineering degree, I discovered the New Scientist magazine and have read it for the last 40 years. I have studied Buddhism but, since it is not a religion, it's fair to say that I am an atheist whose “religion” is science.

Depending on one's background and beliefs, Mike's book can be taken two ways: it's either a heartfelt story of his search for meaning or an attempt to convert people to the Catholic religion.

From his well-written book, it appears that Mike was a very driven, self-centred person who hadn't planned for retirement. It could be argued that, while in a state of retired boredom, he fell under the influence of his neighbour, Ron Tesoriero, a fervent critic of creationism and evolution. While we should all admire Mike's achievements as a journalist and TV producer, that should not give him any status in the field of theology.

Mike had previously abandoned religion and had believed that ‘There would be tens of thousands of people out there who'd refused to get on flights over the years because of what they claim to be a premonition’ (p.59). However, he later took premonitions as messages from God. His own “fulfilled premonition” should not be taken as evidence.

Many times, Doctor Karl has told people who rang in to his on-air science  program, “For a year, every time you have a premonition: write it down, record whether it was fulfilled or not, then tally how many came true”. The existence of “answered prayers” to assist Mike's mission should also be dismissed on the grounds of “how many millions of prayers go unanswered?”

The existence of stigmata is a different issue. Mike and Ron did an excellent job in documenting the existence of stigmata and the failure of being able to get scientific verification of what stigmata are composed of. Apart from the Catholic community, the current world opinion is even if stigmata are real, there isn't any medical or scientific explanation for them.

However, having personally observed some remarkable feats performed by Shaolin monks, my mind is open to psychosomatic control of mind over body. After reading a mind-blowing book, The Jesus Scroll, I am of the opinion that Jesus did exist, but was only one of the Hasmonean kings and, as such, was not the son of God. If true, then this would put an end to the concept of stigmata.

In the end, it's up to each reader to decide to believe, or not.

Bob Russell-Brown studied communications engineering at UWA and worked for 20 years as an engineer for Telecom/Telstra (retired). He currently helps migrants to learn English and is the President of the Wanneroo branch WA Labor (still scheming).

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