March 25 marks the two hundred second anniversary of the University of Oxford sending down, or according to one source, merely rusticating (translation: expelling, or merely suspending) Percy Bysshe Shelley and Thomas Jefferson Hogg for sending a tract to the heads of all colleges at Oxford entitled The Necessity of Atheism. They were shocked and appalled (as am I).
You can read the whole thing (1813 revision) at The Necessity of Atheism.
This post is for his cojones in publishing the tract and not because I enjoyed his poetry (a bit gushy for my tastes, in spite of his ability to turn a phrase) or the contents of the tract. As with all generalizations, there are exceptions, and Ozymandias is one of those.
Shelley turned the idea of atheism on its head. He rejected deism (the idea of a creator god with no other attributes) which is opposite of many who reject a meddling god or a god of supplication but can’t imagine creation without a god. On the other hand, he saw some outside influence that co-exists with the universe. He stated it this way: “There Is No God. This negation must be understood solely to affect a creative Deity. The hypothesis of a pervading Spirit co-eternal with the universe remains unshaken.”
This “Spirit” is often interpreted by modern authors as Shelley’s vision of the kind of pantheism espoused by Benedict Spinoza. One of several points of contentions I have is Shelley’s opinion that beliefs are involuntary. At least he used this idea to good effect, arguing that atheism shouldn’t be persecuted (something that the University of Oxford college heads disagreed with him about). Shelley continued to espouse unpopular ideas for the remainder of his life – he just never learned, and that’s what an Oxford education is all about.
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!