My father was the third of five boys, born in 1920, in Highland Creek, Ontario, which is now part of greater Toronto. His mother was from Boston, and when she eloped with a Canadian Scottish immigrant, her father packed up his thriving carpentry business, wife and younger daughter, and joined them in Canada. His grandchildren called him Par, and they all adored one another. Par had an enormous woodworking shop, and all five boys essentially became journeymen carpenters through their childhood apprenticeships in Par's workshop. Par was an athiest, and when he died (my father was 19), the preacher sought out each of the boys to warn them that "the old sinner was in hell, where he belonged," and to urge them to come to church and save themselves. When he got to my dad, my father said, "Par was the best man I've ever known, and if he's in hell, that's where I'm going."

My father had a strong and lifelong aversion to his Pentacostal upbringing. (Par's wife, Granny, dragged them all to church, and the weekly hell-fire and brimstone sermons served to inoculate all five boys against religion.) We were spared church attendance until I was about seven, and my father decided to, intermittently, take us to a Unitarian church, thinking, I'm sure, that he'd better fill the vacuum with something. I was bored by Sunday school, and I didn't give religion any real thought.

My first child was born in 1978, and shortly afterward we took a two-year transfer to what I used to refer to as the boil on the ass of the earth, Lloydminster, Alberta. It was a dry, dusty, industrial, transient town on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. It was founded over 100 years ago by the Barr Colony Settlers, who were revered by the town's old timers and reviled by me. They were a fundamentalist Christian group who's leader dropped anchor in the middle of the bald prairie, several miles (17?) from the nearest source of fresh water, because god told him to. Stupid.

I didn't know anyone, and when, one day, the doorbell rang and the two friendly young women at the door asked me if I was a Christian, I thought for a moment and said yes, primarily because I knew I wasn't a Jew, and I thought a couple of new friends would be nice. They invited me to tea the next day, and I accepted.

They picked me up -- my first mistake -- and took me to someone's house, where about 30 stackable chairs had been laid out in a circle in the living room. We all sat down, me with my toddler daughter on my lap, and had some tea and a cookie or two. And then the weirdness started. Everyone held hands, and the leader started to pray, and then to sway, and then hands were raised and tears began to flow and voices were raised in supplication, and I was so horrified that I fled the room and sat on the edge of the bathtub for 15 minutes until the hubbub died down. Having no transportation, I also had no choice but to rejoin the circle and hear their "testimony." One woman reported, with great excitement, that something new had been found at the edge of the solar system, and she wondered if it could be heaven. Another reported that she baked a cake that morning, and she prayed over it and left it in the hands of god. God was, apparently, now in charge of the success or failure of her cake. I didn't know what I thought about god, but I was pretty sure asking for divine baking intervention was ridiculous. I was never so glad to get home.

I was apparently identified to their pastor as a hot prospect, so he came a-callin' three or four times. That was interesting. My husband had zero interest, yet the pastor insisted on addressing all of his remarks to him. I had questions; the pastor had no answers. "My," he said on one occasion, "your wife certainly has strong opinions, doesn't she?" 

Because of all of this, I decided I needed to educate myself. I bought a copy of the New English Bible and Asimov's Guide to the Bible, volumes I and II, and I read those books, side by side, from beginning to end. And that's how I became an atheist.

 

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