Part One - Becoming Christian
I was born, as every human is, not believing in any gods. I was fortunate in that I wasn't born into a religious family, but nor were they especially non-religious, and it was this disinterest that left me vulnerable to dogma. Neither of my parents are theists, and religion isn't an issue that bothers them hugely, they neither denied or affirmed any religious opinions I generated, believing they were letting me be free to make up my own mind. Sure my brother and I were Christened, but this was mostly a point of tradition, not an indoctrination. It was at school that I was indoctrinated.
In the UK there are several kinds of schools, but most British children go to either Faith Schools (segregation based schools usually Catholic and Islamic, but there are also Jewish, Church of England and other faith schools) and state schools (schools open to all children, where the vast majority of British children are educated). I attended the latter, where I shared classrooms with Sikh children, Muslim children, Buddhist children, Hindu children; you would think that in such a multicultural environment that secularism would rule, but these other kids were by far in the minority. Bible stories were taught like history lessons, only Christian holidays were observed, and every morning all the brown kids had to wait outside while the rest of us were forced to say the Lord's prayer and sing hymns to Yahweh. This "education" begins aged three.
It wasn't the case of me making up my own mind, as my parents had wished. How could I not be Christian? It was taught alongside learning to read, write and count, alongside basic science, maths and other things that made the world make sense. Our morality was being based on horrific legends, the cruel trickery in Adam and Eve, the genocidal hate found in Noah's Ark, believing whole heartily that these things actually happened once. How can a five year old separate fact from fiction when they're presented with it at the same time? Why would a teacher lie?
Part Two - Doubts and Disillusions
These schools are of course required by law to teach actual history and science to it's pupils, and the more I learned about the world the more things stopped making sense. So there were dinosaurs, they all died, then there were cave men... so where do Adam and Eve fit in? So there's the sky, then an ozone layer, then space... so where is heaven? So there's a water system, rain falls, flows into rivers into the seas, evaporates and starts over, recycling the same water... so how did the whole world flood? These questions didn't bother me as much as confuse me, for I had already learned that God had magic powers and could do anything, and for the time that was explanation enough.
But it was my mother, not my school, that cemented my faith solid. I must have been eight or nine when my grandmother (who had lived with us all my life, essentially a third parent to me) passed away. I came home from school, and the first thing my mother said to my brother and I was, "Boys, Nanny's died and gone to heaven." My brother, who is older and much smarter then me, even then, probably already knew that this was said only to comfort us. He didn't take it literally and instantly burst into tears. It took me some time to cry, for as sad as I was, at least she got to go to heaven.
I became very religious, unfortunately just before hitting puberty, not a good time to be burdened by guilt. And guilt is a Christian's best friend. I wanted to attend church or Sunday school, but my family wasn't exactly up for it, when the time came to move to high school I wanted to go to the local Faith school, but was persuaded to go state like my brother, and I became terrified (literally, actually terrified) of going to Hell, and I was convinced I was.
Part Three - Deism in Denial
My fervent christian belief went on well into my teens. I remember the first time my brother told me he didn't believe in god and found the very notion utterly ridiculous. I now attended an all boys Comprehensive school, which still had compulsory morning prayer and church like assemblies. We had RE lessons, which despite not being about any particular religion was only attended by non Muslim kids. We had Christian church leaders and youth workers hold regular special assemblies and all this in an apparently secular school. I remember being made fun of by other kids for bowing my head in pryer properly when the rest just shut their eyes and waited for it to be over.This one time one of the other kids asked after the lords prayer, "But Sir, what if I don't believe in God?" to which the gruff old teacher replied, "I'm not telling you to believe in him, I'm telling you to pray to him."
But I was learning things. I became very interested in Biology and Geography in particular. I remember reading a "Horrible Science" book titled "Evolve or Die", which was the very first time I'd heard of The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. It was amazing. The whole story of how Darwin went to the Galapagos Islands, the vast theory itself, it all made a kind of sense, put things in an understandable context. This man Darwin had actually figured out how God made us, or at least that's how I saw it at the time. Little did I know that I was becoming less of a Christian and more of a Deist the more science I learned.
But it wasn't education that broke my belief, but sin. I was dreadful sinner full of childish pranks and masturbation guilt. I filled my head with images of hellfire and Christ crucified, which wouldn't go away no matter how much I prayed. It got so bad that I lost sleep, sometimes days at a time, because the more you try not to think about something the more you do. This went on for some time.
One summer we went on holiday to the beautiful Isle of Wight, and had such a great time I managed to forget these feelings for a week. On the long drive back to Wales, I started to feel like we were driving back to my troubles. I had a long time to think about it. I remember the exact moment it happened. We were stuck in traffic, I was looking at the clouds, when this idea came to me. What if you just didn't believe in him anymore? The usual voice in my head that would assert this thought to my being a sinful wretch was simply too tired. I was tired. I was tired of constantly feeling unworthy or dirty.Maybe it wasn't me with the problem, but God.
Part Four - Full Blown Atheist
For a while I went around not believing but still sort of believing, because after all, how could you be angry with someone you didn't believe existed? But a weight had been lifted. I moved on and eventually never thought about religion at all, i was in my late teens and had better things to think about.
Me and my group of friends were highly influenced by a very outspoken and funny woman, the mother of one of our friends. She was the one who made me re-examine my beliefs after all these years. When she asked me if I believed in god, I was struck with nervous energy, what if I gave the wrong answer and embarrassed myself in front of everyone? So I was just honest and said, "not really." Too my surprise all of my friends answered the same. She was pleased, and went on an amusing tirade about the horrors of organized faith. And the things she was saying matched what I had felt for a long time.
This was when I became a proper atheist. I didn't "not believe in god" because I simply didn't think about it or out of some childish resentment at an invisible boogeyman, I didn't believe in him because I just didn't anymore. It seemed silly. It contradicted almost every fact I learned from science lessons. Adults who believed in god seemed daft now, like thirteen year olds who still believe in Santa. Not long later 9/11 happened and I became all too aware that having faith is not the same as being a good person. When I went back to school I asked if I could be excused assemblies like the Muslims were, when asked why I told them, "I'm not a Christian either." They made me go anyway, they weren't going to fall for that old one. Of course I was a Christian, I was one of the white children.
So there it is. I took me so long to reflect on the different levels of faith I've had at different times in my life that I've forgotten why I wonted to write this blog in the first place. I just kept coming back and adding things I remembered for about six months til it was done, I've no idea what the point of telling this story was meant to be anymore. I hope you enjoyed it anyway.