There can be no doubt that Conjectures is a work of extraordinary breadth taking the reader on the author’s journey towards the resolution of deep personal questions of spirituality and faith. James Leatt’s life experience, first as a Methodist Minister and then an academic, serve as a backdrop to the conjectures he outlines.

Of course, a conjecture is a conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information and therein lies the challenge of the book. How does one pull all the philosophical threads of the ages together to discover a sort of spiritual Theory Of Everything. Leatt experienced a Damascus Road moment standing on the verandah of his alcoholic parents’ rented house in Kalk Bay as an eleven-year-old boy — a deep inner assurance that he had a right to be part of the universe. What followed was a journey in search of spiritual understanding which initially led to his conversion to Christianity followed by a life-long transcendence away from that safe harbour of the Doctrines of the Church towards a secular spirituality.

Enroute we are taken on a tour de force of the thinking of the great writers and philosophers of the ages: Pascal’s ‘The heart has reason that reason cannot know’. In Tennyson’s Ulysses ‘I am part of all that I have met’. The third century BCE questions posed by Epicurus ‘Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Is he able but not willing? Is he both able and willing? What then is the origin of evil?’ The particularity problem raised by Reinhold Niebuhr in relation to Jesus as the only way. Jung’s theory of the two-million-year-old self. Marx’s ‘The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness’. Freud’s religion as a projection of suppressed desires. In Speaking of God, William Horden’s ‘The language of religion is not scientific but rather describes the mystery of God. Nietzsche’s ‘… the death of God’. There are discussions of mindfulness and Eastern beliefs.

As Leatt puts it, “I have been a forager looking for ideas that throw light on my life and times”. He concludes that he can no longer accept Judaism, Christianity and Islam’s appropriation of the world’s religion. He is glad to be the beneficiary of the process of disenchantment whereby magical thought and practice are eliminated by science and technology.

His wrestle with the issues of faith, meaning and ethics finally leads him to the formulation of the tenets of his secular spirituality, yet somehow one is left with the impression that Leatt is still that hungry eleven-year-old boy looking to the Kalk Bay stars for answers.

* * *

Archie Swanson’s poetry has been widely anthologised both in South Africa and overseas. He has published three collections of poetry: the stretching of my sky, the shores of years and, most recently, beyond a distant edge. He serves on the Board of the South African Literary Journal which publishes New Contrast. Instagram @poetarchie 

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