Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

OBITUARY: Prof. Ray Billington (un-edited edition)

In C.Spiby, Obiturary on December 18, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I am sure many readers of The Clarion have committed political heresy at one time or another, but we’ve never had an official heretic in our Obituary column before.

Locally Ray Billington was, to many, the philosophy Professor, former Labour Party candidate and heretic minister who brought rational inquiry to the Wye Valley with his Tintern Philosophy Circle, which continues to meet each 3rd Tuesday in the month at the Rose & Crown pub in Tintern.

Ray became a Methodist minister in 1952. Between ’58 and ’61 he was Chaplain to the SAS, based in Hereford. In 1970 he stood as a prospective Parliamentary Labour Party Candidate.

Then, in 1971, he wrote ‘The Christian Outsider’. This included his belief that a personal God does not exist, and he was thus tried by the Methodist Conference and consequently defrocked.

Ray became head of philosophy at the University of the West of England in the same year and held that post until 1995. During this time he wrote many books, including a standard text book on the topic of ethics and moral philosophy ‘Living Philosophy: an introduction to Moral Thought’ (1988).

His other works continued to look at faith, but without the supernatural elements while allowing room for some kind of spirituality. These works included ‘East of Existentialism’ (1990) and ‘Religion without God’ (2001). My memory suggests that he particularly made reference to Sartre and the Existentialists more than any other branch of philosophy but that does not necessarily mean he favoured them over say, the Logical Positivists, Plato or Bertrand Russell: his passion was rational thinking itself.

He was the exchange Professor of Philosophy at the University of California in 1984/5 and appeared on BBC radio and had written for numerous publications including such diverse sources as The Guardian (in the Face to Faith column) and the RHS journal ‘The Garden’.

Personally, I remember Ray for his anecdotes and jokes; his encyclopaedic knowledge of philosophers and their philosophies; and his passion. Often he would hit his fist into his hand to drive a point home, particularly when thinking of Thatcher, Bush and Blair and the war on Iraq. To me he seemed to occasionally allude to an anarchist bent politically but his life now was predominantly consumed with philosophy: teaching, reading, writing and, most importantly, sharing it.

He died at the end of September at 82 and is survived by his partner Hatti who used to chair those pub philosophy meetings, and of course the Tintern Philosophy Circle itself who continue to seek enlightenment, just as Ray would have wanted.

Ray Billington’s obituary in The Guardian.

CARL SPIBY (Tintern Philosophy Circle participant)

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