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A Crazy Diamond: Percy Bysshe Shelley

by John Dillon

My ‘Crazy Diamond’

[ED: You will want to press skip a few times.]

I guess most of us have at least one inspirational icon in our lives. Film and rock stars, literary giants and composers are among those we might choose. I like to think of these as ‘crazy diamonds’, courtesy of Pink Floyd. Such individuals are always brilliant, mercurial and more often than not, short-lived.

If you were to ask me who mine is, I think I would opt for someone who at Eton gained a reputation for playing wild pranks, such as wiring up his door handle to a source of electricity, and blowing up a tree with gunpowder. He was a member of a close-knit literary circle, and was a particular friend of the ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Lord Byron.

Fittingly for such an icon, he died at twenty-nine, romantically being cremated on a pyre on a beach near Viareggio in Italy. He left behind a substantial body of poetry and prose works, and his name was Percy Bysshe Shelley.

What I most want to draw your attention to here though, is a remarkable pamphlet he published in 1811, at the age of nineteen, and for which he was sent down from Oxford: The Necessity of Atheism. Within its pages, you will find all of the pearls of wisdom you will need to validate your own atheism. You will forgive me, therefore, if I leave you with a few of his gems:

Extracts from The Necessity of Atheism by Percy Bysshe Shelley

We must prove design before we can infer a designer.

Testimony is insufficient to prove the being of a god.

Every reflecting mind must acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of a deity.

God is an hypothesis, and, as such, stands in need of a proof: the onus probandi rests on the theist.

If ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, knowledge of nature is made for their destruction.

It is only by hearsay (by word of mouth passed down from generation to generation) that whole peoples adore the god of their fathers.

All religious nations are founded solely on authority; all the religions of the world forbid examination and do not want one to reason.

God is himself founded only on the authority of a few men who pretend to know him.

A god made by man undoubtedly has need of man to make himself known to man.

Is there a country on earth where the science of god is perfect?

If God wishes to be known…why does he not show himself?

Shine on, my crazy diamond!

[ED: There are numerous editions of Shelley’s works. If you want to read The Necessity of Atheism, and I recommend that you do, make sure to get an edition including prose works. Kindle editions are very cheap.]

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