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Atheist Shelley

"In March 1811, while a first-year undergraduate at University College, Oxford, [the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley] wrote an aggressive pamphlet on his religious views. His argument was neither new nor particularly outrageous -- it derived directly from Locke and Hume. Since ideas, wrote Shelley, come from the senses, and 'God' cannot derive from sense-impressions, belief is not a voluntary act and unbelief cannot therefore be criminal. To this dull piece of sophistry he affixed the inflammatory title The Necessity of Atheism, printed it, put it in the Oxford bookshops and sent copies to all the bishops and the heads of the colleges. In short his behaviour was deliberately provocative and produced, from the University authorities, exactly the response which might have been expected: he was expelled. Timothy Shelley was dismayed, more particularly since he had received a letter from his son denying he would do any of these things. There was a painful meeting between the two in a London hotel, the father begging the son to give up his ideas, at least until he was older, the son insisting they were more precious to him than the peace of mind of his family, the father 'scolding, crying, swearing, and then weeping again,' Shelley laughing aloud, 'with a loud demoniacal burst of laughter'; he 'slipped from his seat and fell on his back at full length on the floor'."
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