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Dear Tychy.

I am writing to inform you of the terrible events which have lately devastated my career. Two years ago I was appointed a Vice-President of the British Humanist Association and I have since worked constantly to advance the Association’s mission and campaigns. I recently attended a debate at Edinburgh University entitled “Intelligent Design versus Evolution,” where I appeared upon a panel with a range of experts from various fields to consider the question “Are we here by chance or design?”

I arrived in Edinburgh a day beforehand to address the Edinburgh University Humanist Society. These occasions unsettle me somewhat. The Society were brainy kids, but they always seemed to be reciting my own thoughts to me. It was as if my mind was a pack of cards which had been dealt out to the Humanist Society, leaving me with none, and I was left watching the game, unable to participate. A few drinks heartened me, however, and by the time that the pub was closing I was in a confident and generous mood.

But when I got back to my hotel, I rolled up the sleeves of my shirt, unbandaged my arms, took off my socks, and despaired. I turned the television up loud so that the guests in the next room could not hear, and then I cried for a good twenty minutes. The stigmata – the bright wounds in my wrists and feet – were bleeding afresh.

My parents were firm Catholics and I was a fucked up kid. I have suffered from stigmata since the age of thirteen, when I performed the role of Christ in a school play. At that age, I could think of nothing else but kissing the girl who was playing Mary Magdalene, but she was flatly unimpressed with me. Indeed, I later heard gossip in the playground that she had given the kid playing Peter a blowjob. The play was supposed to merely depict the Last Supper, which was bad enough – I was unhappy at having to wash the feet of all the kids playing disciples – but the drama teacher got carried away and the play concluded with a crucifixion tableau. I was not literally crucified, you understand, but the red paint used on the fake nails reacted badly with my eczema and I was sick for several weeks.

There is plainly a rational explanation for my stigmata, but I am often embarrassed by the emotional attentions to which those with faith subject me after they have witnessed my wounds. I once attended a Humanist conference in Mexico City, but the streets rose in a spontaneous religious revival after I had gone out shopping in a t-shirt. Incidentally – and I imagine that you are wondering about this – the stigmata has ruined my sex life. I dated girls from the British Humanist Association but I always insisted upon making love with the lights off. They unfailingly found this very insulting, and I was usually dumped within a few days.

To prepare for the University debate I bandaged my wrists and feet. The kids from the Humanist Society turned up at the hotel at about half eleven, we put together some potential questions, and I then spent two hours rehearsing my argument and fielding some of the potential questions. I felt oddly unadrenalised, but I also distrusted this apparent calmness. I have never been confident in front of audiences and I suffer from weird anxieties that I may suddenly vomit or break into a torrent of uncontrollable swearing whilst lecturing.

The debate was held in Appleton Tower – a decrepit University office block built in the 1960s, which is so full of asbestos that it cannot be legally demolished and must thus remain forever upright, like Jeremy Bentham’s corpse. At the debate, each member of the panel was given two minutes to outline their argument. We firstly heard from a zoologist, who I am certain could have spoken for four hours solid on the evolutionary progression of shellfish had not the chair threatened to remove his microphone. We secondly heard from a Christian zoologist, who pointed out that the first argument was hardly watertight and that the evolutionary progression of shellfish was a far more mysterious business than science had hitherto assumed. We thirdly heard from a Roman Catholic priest, who was unshaven and stunk of drink. Oh he was a wicked devil that priest, and whilst he spoke I could see his evil little eyes all over me, like scurrying cockroaches searching for their dinner. His argument was basically that God had created shellfish, but that they were merely to decorate the sea which He had also created, and that beyond this shellfish were not particularly remarkable.

When the priest sat down he glared fiercely at me. I stood, preparing to send this great rat scampering away from the kitchens of science. I began to contest the argument that the establishment of an ecosystem upon Earth is miraculous when one considers the odds stacked against it. I asserted that if time and space are infinite, then there is surely an infinite quantity of chances for a functional ecosystem to develop. Yet whilst I was speaking, I was suddenly conscious that the priest was gazing up at me with an odd expression of triumph. His eyes were beady and when I met his gaze, he nodded towards my waist. I then stood mortified – blood was pouring out of a sudden opening in my side.

I took a step back and promptly slipped over all the blood on the floor.

I grabbed at a chair and pulled myself desperately to my feet. Yet the priest marched smartly up to me and literally ripped off my jacket.

Behold!” he cried. “The marks of faith!”

He flung open my arms like an aggressive tailor and my sleeves fell back, there were two jets of blood from my wrists like twin fanfares, and I assumed the posture and appearance of the crucified Christ.

The room was screaming in my ears. Boos fell thick and fast. The Humanist Society was snarling and swearing and fighting to get on to the stage. There was the crisp pop of breaking glass behind my head, and I then ducked to avoid another glass.

“Please!” I entreated. “There is a rational explanation…”

Above the uproar the priest was attempting to lead the room in prayer.

I turned and ran for my life. Yet some of the students from the Humanist Society followed the trail of blood which splattered behind me, they finally caught up with me in George Square, and they beat the living daylights out of me. Some bystanders intervened and helped me to get into a taxi. Back at my hotel, the staff attempted to bandage my wounds, but when one of them saw my stigmata she burst into fervent prayer. Soon half of the kitchen had been called, and chefs, kitchen porters, and agency workers were all loudly rejoicing at the apparent miracle of my wounds. Overwhelmed, I fled. I spent the night sleeping in the Princes Street gardens. It felt like the whole world had been wrested from me, and that I was now naked and exiled. My parents were firm Catholics and I was a fucked up kid.

yours

An Atheist.

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