Rob Donovan - Author
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About Rob Donovan
  • Grammar-school educated in Dartford, Kent.
  • Scholarship to St Catherine’s, Oxford, to read History.
  • Thirty years plus at the chalk-face – the love affair with teaching the young never diminished.
  • Degrees: Four Masters and one Doctorate.
  • A creative life now as an author.
Rob Donovan - The Metaphysical Side

It’s tricky finding a title for this page that I am creating to identify another of my personae. I could call it ‘THE RELIGIOUS SIDE’ or ‘THE SPIRITUAL SIDE’ but I’ve chosen to go with the less familiar ‘metaphysical’ angle. I think people will have fewer preconceptions when they see that title; they are more likely to be asking what’s that about?

If you were to check out my website page on me as an academic, you would find that I was awarded an Open University Masters’ degree in Philosophy in 2009. My working definition of ‘metaphysics’ – literally, ‘beyond the physical or natural’ – is taken from those studies: metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.

Deep stuff. Controversial matters. And, of course, divisive. My Oxford dictionary notes that ‘metaphysics’ has also come to be used as a term for talk about matters which have no basis in reality. And indeed, if you believe or feel you know that the first principle of things is that there is only this natural world, that there is nothing beyond the physical, that does rather kibosh any talk of the other kind of metaphysical with its language of the supernatural and gods and goddesses. All that sort of thing is for those who are away with the fairies, however complex their systems of justification for their faith.

In my lifetime, I have seen the world through various filters and taken contrary positions on these matters. There was a time when I did identify myself as an atheist and would have agreed with Karl Marx that religion was the opiate of the masses. I think it’s worth examining what Marx wrote in 1844 in the context of the passage from which the quotation comes:

‘Man makes religion, religion does not make man … man is no abstract being squatting outside the world …This state and this society produce religion … The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their conditions is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.’

Marx believed that religion had certain functions in a capitalist society which were similar to the function of opium in relieving the distress of a sick or injured person. It reduced people’s immediate suffering and provided them with hope and wonder, albeit illusory, so giving them the strength to keep going despite the hardships of their life. Such religion was harmful in so far as it prevented people from seeing the reasons for the distress and oppression in the world around them that was shaping and diminishing their lives. Religion stood in the way of the oppressed – the working classes – breaking free from their chains.

For me, now, there is much here that hits the nail. I am still a socialist, shaped by the imagination and insights of Marx. But I am not trapped in an ideological straitjacket where the 19th century words of Marx have become a secular bible; my socialism is – in Jeremy Corbyn’s words – one that is fit for the 21st century. And in my case, I am pleased to be able to link them with my 21st century understanding of the significance of the life and teaching of a Jewish carpenter, Jesus, who lived two thousand years ago. I am proud to call myself a Christian Socialist – and add the adjective ‘demythologising’ before the compound-noun ‘Christian Socialist’. Both my socialist and my Christian beliefs have been refined according to what my learning paths through life have revealed concerning who we are and how we make sense of the world.

In short, I believe that there is much of which I am ignorant – but always people matter. I also believe that possessing wealth and power seems to make many people behave badly towards their fellow humanity.

In my life, I find I like being with people who care about others – and I avoid those who don’t.

That is why I am now both a member of the community who worship as Anglicans in St John’s in the Fields, up the hill where I live in St Ives – and a member of the community who worship as the Salvation Army, down the hill in St Ives in Wharf Road.

I also actively campaign against governments, including my own, that treat people with contempt.

That is why I am a member of the St Ives branch of the Labour Party in the constituency of St Ives (that includes all the peoples of the main centres of Penzance, Helston, and St Ives, and all surrounding areas - plus the Isles of Scilly).

My socialist path is one that I trace in my ‘Labour Party activist’ webpage. Here is the outline story of my Christian path:

My first wife, Glynis Donovan {nee Richards} (1949-74), was a practising Roman Catholic when we met as Oxford undergraduates in 1967 and we married in a Catholic church in 1969. By the time of her death five years later, she had lost her faith. In those years and afterwards, I veered between atheism and agnosticism in so far as I considered these matters at all.

When I married again in 1976, my wife Louise Donovan (nee Watkins) was a practising Roman Catholic and remained so for many more years. We married in a Catholic church and I often happily accompanied her to mass on a Sunday. Yet I remained agnostic.

In 1984, when we were living in Oxford, I had my own quiet conversion experience that led me to being received into the Roman Catholic church. I worshipped with Louise within the Blackfriars church in Oxford and loved the radical, post-Vatican II spirit of that community. When we moved to the more traditional practices of worship in Suffolk in 1986, we had the good fortune to find the friendship of the local priest - Italian by birth; Father Olindo - who welcomed us in our difference. In time, I became a eucharistic minister and teacher of those preparing for the rite of confirmation.

When Father Olindo retired around 2010, the new priest did things differently. Louise by now was working full-time and having her ageing parents to dinner every Sunday. Her attendance at mass became less and the gossip in the congregation became louder. ‘Where’s Louise?’ ‘Why isn’t she here?’ ‘Are you two having a problem?’ Yes, we were – fellow Christians behaving badly.

In the end, Louise had had enough. I went for one more Sunday – and then I departed too. Louise found spiritual meaning among the Quakers of Beccles for a couple of years before we left East Anglia for Cornwall in 2013; I just found I was quite content to let matters rest.

Once we were in St Ives, we both became absorbed in our working lives – Louise as the textile artist and I as the writer. My socialist side was nurtured by the writing of what became the ‘The Road to Corbyn’ and rejuvenated in 2015 with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party. Louise felt the need to return to being part of a worshipping community in 2018 and began attending St John’s in the Fields, the local Anglican church. I promised to join her once I had run the London Marathon in April 2019 to raise funds for the Salvation Army’s campaign against modern slavery.

Then, in 2021, Louise and I both felt increasingly anxious about health and safety issues within the Anglican church as the pandemic ebbed and flowed. By January 2022, Louise had returned to her Quaker roots, worshipping in silence by Zoom at the Marazion Meeting House. I soon joined her. We have found the place where the wind knows our name.

More About Rob Donovan
Rob Donovan - Metaphysical - Gallery
Rob Donovan - Scholar and Academic
Rob Donovan - Teacher
Rob Donovan - Runner
Rob Donovan - Labour Party Activist
Rob Donovan - Triodos Bank Customer
Rob Donovan - The Metaphysical Side
Rob Donovan
Salvation Army - St Ives Cornwall
July 2019
Rob Donovan
Sally Army Striders - London Marathon
Bram. Rob and Perez - April 2019
Rob Donovan
Quakers Meeting House Marazion
September 2023