The Path at My Feet
From Christian Cleric to Ageing Atheist
By Charles Cornwall
Published: November 2011
Publisher: Hyde Park Press
Review by Eustace Black (see below)
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Review by Eustace Black
Eustace Black is a writer. He has done many of the jobs that are supposed to look good on a dust-cover, including bar manager, trawler deckhand, produce seller, systems administrator and he was formerly a student minister of religion. He is a member of the AFA Committee and Public Relations Team.
This is a story of bravery. Not the done-in-moments bravery of the bloke who hurls back the grenade, or the fellow who dashes into the burning building to save the kitten; some deeds of bravery are done quietly over a long period.
Charles Cornwall is such a man. Faced with a life of hypocrisy on a salary, or leaving a pastoral position when belief ran out, he took the more difficult road.
Reading Charles’ book, you won’t hear him describe himself in such glowing terms. Indeed, he describes his first step (from active pastor to “unattached list”) as “a cowardly act on my part”. Still, as a clergyman with no savings and the concern of looking after a wife and children, his act was courageous. There are many who stay for the pay and conditions, long after belief has died. We meet one of these dog-collared unbelievers at a funeral toward the end of the first part of the book. He “simply proclaimed the Bible message and left it up to his hearers to interpret it in whatever way they were inclined!”
The people in the book are all dealt with kindly. Mr Cornwall even finds a means of understanding his father, who may not have been the easiest family member in the world.
Charles’ unassuming account of his life, and his rising above the impediments religion brought to his youth, is quite kind to third persons, in a way many first-person accounts aren’t.
Indeed, having taken us from his early life, through churches and guilt, eventually finding he was not alone in atheism and joining the Atheist Foundation of Australia, Charles considerately offers the reader a selection of articles written with the dual benefits of familiarity with belief and its theological or philosophical framework and the doubt that springs from applied reason.
The autobiographical part of the book reminds me somewhat of A.B. Facey’s A Fortunate Life. Charles-as-narrator just gets on with it, does no hurt, and casts no blame. That’s not a bad example, and I may re-read the story now and then.
The articles are an excellent source of reason, as an antidote to blind belief. They are written in the same non-aggressive style as the early part of the book, and Charles provides many calm answers to the canards of misguided faith.
I don’t award stars out of ten, but I demand to keep my review copy. It will be in the shelf I can reach easily, just by my desk.
Clergy who have outgrown faith don’t need to feel alone. The Clergy Project (www.clergyproject.org) was formed in early 2011, and provides community, in a framework of anonymity and trust, for those who may be seeking to make the difficult exit.