Every one of us has times in our lives when a simple choice has massive implications. Where to be educated, whether to begin or end a relationship, where to work and in what industry, et cetera. I am at a turning point in my own life, it is plain to see. I am moving to a new city to a new job. I am not losing much sleep about this it has to be said. I am sad to be leaving the friends and colleagues I have in Bristol and I will miss the town, but I am sufficiently practised at enduring change in my life. Plus I’m excited about the new life I will have in London.
That is not the turning point I want to write about though. What I want to write about is a seemingly minor matter that is of great importance to me: In order to move to London I need to find a place to stay. None of my London friends have a place for me, so I’ll be moving in with strangers. I went through to London this week with the aim of finding a place before I had to come back to Bristol. I expressed interest in two houseshares and of the two, one has responded positively. If I want to move in I can.
This flat is owned by a woman in her mid thirties, who rents out three bedrooms. It’s a lovely flat and the room is nice too. The atmosphere of the house is pleasant, and there is even an excitable dog in the place, something that I would really appreciate. The people in the house seem friendly and interesting, and I’m sure would have been lovely people to live with.
There was one problem though: When I was talking with the woman who owned the place, who has travelled the world many times over and is an interesting character, she said something that I haven’t been able to forget. She was pressing me for details on my work, what is the application of what I do? Aware that this was a person who might be offended to learn that my work has potential applications in defence, national security and the oil industry, I tried to list some of the more universally appealling aspects of my work. It is low power, so better for the environment and it has applications in drug discovery and genetics, potentially opening the door to breakthroughs in healthcare. I hand-wavingly mentioned cancer and HIV as examples of diseases, as if that would make my work fundamentally good, rather than a tool to be used for good or bad as people see fit.
To this my potential flatmate and landlady stated that we didn’t need machines such as mine in her circle of friends was a man who could heal cancer and HIV, by the means of some mystical process that was not detailed to me. I hastily changed the subject. It was clear to me though that her belief in this man’s powers was quite fundamental to her.
Overall my visit went well. We drank coffee and smoked, and talked on various subjects. I got to thinking that this warm, pleasant house and the spiritually-minded people would be a nice complement to the days I will spend tackling ones and zeroes, in what is an intellectually but not spiritually satisfying job. After I left though, the statement about the healer troubled me.
I phoned Dave, to ask his opinion. Could I live with someone with such beliefs? I desperately wanted him to say that I could, because I was running out of time in London, and needed to settle the issue of where I would stay. Dave and I agreed that I could be diplomatic, and it would be good for me to have my beliefs challenged, it takes all sorts to make the world go round, that kind of chat.
Back in Bristol, I am now due to respond to this woman’s offer of having me stay. I can’t do it. I have to recognise that my belief in rationality and science is too strong, and living with people who believe in quack cures for serious illnesses is just too offensive to me.
I could explain further, but I think that people will either understand that stance as it is, or they will not understand no matter how much I try to explain. Science is a kind of religion, it is my religion and it is the one true religion.
I mean that both as a sincere, truthful statement, and as a self-knowing, ironical joke.