A Twinge of Conscience

Peter Ustinov - United Kingdom
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, April 23, 2010
Peter Ustinov

Oscar-winning actor Peter Ustinov didn’t have much use for organized religion; he found it oppressive and depressing. Preferring individual freedom of expression, Ustinov says he arrived at his faith after reasoned thought rather than divine inspiration.

Age Group: 30 - 50

I must admit at once that I am one of those people who reach their conclusions about faith by a process of elimination rather than as a result of an opening of private heavens. I am aware that there are conventions which believe faith to be as blind and beautiful as love, and even if I cannot subscribe to this, I feel that people like myself, even if incapable of mystical frenzies, have the consolation of being far less dangerous to our fellow men.

Organized religion as such depresses me, in that I can never accept the idea of the church as an agency of God, with different denominations as active in claiming the attention of the layman as are those corporations who jockey for position in the world of commerce. When this practice of agency reaches the pitch of deciding a child’s religion before it is born, I rebel, or rather, my conscience rebels. Parenthood is not a selfish investment. It is a happy accident by which human beings can perform the miracle of creating a character, a conscience, and a mind, the whole served up with identifiable features. I believe that the parents’ function is to allow the young mind full rein, so that it may grow up with the dignity of doubt rather than with the servility of imposed convictions.

I resent attempts at conversion by any slave to a sense of mission, be he political or divine. I have nothing against the hermetic mind so long as it is not allied to a moralizing mouth. My grandfather, whom I never knew, was converted from Orthodoxy to Protestantism. I believe that had he not done so, I might easily have taken the same step, although, as I said, I find the habit of religion oppressive, and an easy way out of personal thought. It is, in any case, a temperamental difference in the believers which separates the churches, and not a religious difference. If I can’t put up with the interfering dogmas, I am prepared and proud to be called a Christian, because it is a convenient and beautiful adjective with which to label the grain of virtue latent in the human conscience.

I believe in doubt and mistrust conviction; I believe in liberalism and detest oppression; I believe in the individual and deny the existence of the so-called masses; I believe in abstract love of country and deplore patriotism; I believe in moral courage and suspect physical courage for its own sake; I believe in the human conscience and deny the right of fanatics or of those with self-created halos to impinge on its necessary privacy.

The mysticism of mortals is an attempt to colonize obscurity for the purpose of religious oppression, while a twinge of conscience is a glimpse of God.

Writer, director, and actor Peter Ustinov had a career spanning 60 years on stage and screen. He won two Academy Awards for best supporting actor, as well as three Emmy Awards and a Grammy Award for best children’s recording. Ustinov also served as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF for many years.