I have a mixed family background; accidental, illegitimate offspring of a rich Iraqi student and dirt-poor East London scholarship girl who bumped bones on a mattress in Swansea University. My dad's family is largely secular cultural Muslims, my mum's side tend to the kind of unexamined cultural anglicanism that most 'xtian' british people would probably admit to. I did have one very Methodist aunt, who dragged her family along with her, but she never really evangelised her faith (although she did persuade my folks to send me to a local sunday school for a while).

I went to school in the 70s and 80s; xtian religious assemblies were a common thing, but I think the discomfort and tedium of sitting in a drafty hall on a hard floor listening to a loopy headmaster drone on about xtianity helped to innoculate me against any infection by the faith mind virus.

I went through a vaguely occultist teenage phase, reading up on Aleister Crowley and the like, without ever really believing any of it, but I never really thought about religion, few british people do. The fervent atheist is usually viewed with the same detached amusement as the evangelical religiot.

Then, in late 2006, I read God Delusion and had a kind of atheistic epiphany. Dawkins' view of religion and objections to the special treatment it received matched my own almost perfectly (although he articulated the whole thing much more effectively than I could). Since then I've become a regular lurker on RD.net, developed a taste for downloading and listening to atheist vs. apologist debates, atheistic podcasts and eventually found my way, via Chariots of Iron, to here.

So that's me.

Tags: British, atheist, experience

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Hi Sarah,
In a sense, nothing really changed. Religion is much less prominent here than in the states. Evangelical Southern Baptists are figures of fun to most people, including the few xpians who are still visible. The last census found that about 60% identify themselves as Christian, but it is generally recognised that many of these are probably cultural xpians, with few, if any, actual supernatural beliefs.

I listened to more podcasts and lurked on RD.net for a while, but otherwise I just got on with life.
The English as a cultural group have a number of shared characteristics, one of which is the rule known as 'the importance of not being earnest'. Observance of this rule means that an English person can never be seen to be too enthusiastic about something (such as religion, atheism, politics, etc.). Also, the anglican church, the church of England, is so wishy-washy about its theology that it's often hard to pin down what its adherents actually believe. I think one of the bishops caused an uproar in the 80s or 90s when he admitted that it was not necessary to believe in god to be an anglican clergyman! I've had long drunken discussions with a CoE chaplain I know, and I still can't work out whether he's a believer or not. I sat in on one of his sermons once, at christmas, and he spent it deconstructing the popular nativity myths!
BUT, the dangerous thing about this is that, while CoE innocculates us against the religious meme, it also breeds a certain complacency about the more evangelical faithful. We can no longer afford to ignore them as a bunch of slightly embarrassing, overenthusiastic and altogether too earnest eccentrics.

Fundies are creeping into the national psyche; kids from Muslim families are beginning to challenge the teaching of evolution in schools, the govt. is encouraging the faith schooling sector to grow, Answers in Genesis are working with and through a number of British creationist organisations to try to sneak their beliefs into school curriculums.

The myth of the 'militant fundamentalist atheist' who is 'just as annoying as the religious' is growing. Richard Dawkins is widely perceived as being too earnest and too strident, even by people who otherwise agree with everything he says.

I can recommend Watching the English by Kate Fox, which is a pop anthropological study of English (as distinguished from British) cultural practices.
Welcome to A|N. A few less earnest people would be a good thing. I say that as someone who is too earnest for his own good. Maybe you are the needed good influence!
Hi Lol and welcome to A|N. As a fellow Brit I completely endorse what you say about our 'supposed' xianity. My background is catholicism and they're a sect unto themselves.

I hadn't considered the 'importance of not being earnest' as a cultural phenomenon, but I shall now. I look forward to getting to know you, it's always worth hearing how a neighbour interprets events.
Welcome to A/N. I did a fairly involved survey of atheists a bit back. You are clearly not alone in seeing yourself as a life long atheist. Here are some data in which you might find some interest:



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