Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Losing my religion

I received a state education during the sixties and early seventies. Up until the age of fifteen RE, or Religious Education to give the full title, was compulsory at our school unless you had parents that objected. Mine did not. So along with 99.9% of the other children I was indoctrinated with a belief system based on Church of England teaching. I fell for it hook, line and sinker. I trusted my educators, accepting what they told me to be true. All was fine, I was happy to be burgeoning fodder for the ruling classes; I was addicted to the opiate. That’s how it was until a particular art class at the age of twelve or thirteen. I’m not sure what priceless work of art I was creating at the time, it was possibly a coil pot, but I do remember the conversation in class turned to religion. We had at that time a young and enlightened art master who allowed us to chat in class and who would join in with the conversations. We were an all boys school where the conversations amongst my contemporaries would predominantly be about sport, telly, music, anatomy or bodily functions. Having said that, there was a rump of us who would happily discuss politics or philosophy. For art classes our class was usually split into two and we would alternate between painting/drawing and crafts. One group doing the former whilst the other group did the latter. Our group seemed to be made up of the more creative and rather more cerebral of our class, which is why when on that fateful afternoon the conversation turned to religion no one would have turned a hair. The conversation was going well when Ron Murrell declared himself to be an atheist. It was a word I had heard before, and was just about familiar with its meaning, but it was not a word that I had pondered on greatly. All was about to change. The teacher joined in, saying that he too was an atheist and outlined his reasons for being so. For the first time in my life an authority figure had offered a different perspective on life. One that challenged the status quo. This was a momentous revelation. A teacher had said that he did not believe in God and nothing had happened. Dark clouds did not part and he was not struck by a thunderbolt. Perhaps he had a point. For several days I mulled over that afternoon’s discussions. Could it be that perhaps I was an atheist too? I did not reach a conclusion easily. But eventually I decided that, yes, I was indeed an atheist. The mumbo jumbo that is mainstream Christianity no longer seemed credible to me. To me the scriptures were now just glorified fairy stories. And an atheist was the way I stayed for around the next twenty years; a zealous and committed non-believer.

I won’t go into the details of my religious experience (or awakening) but suffice to say that I no longer considered myself to be an atheist. I wasn’t actually sure what I was but I knew I was no longer an atheist. I became a seeker. After much enquiring I learned of Gnosticism. It seemed to describe how I felt. I did not believe in the existence of God I just knew of God’s existence. I wasn’t sure what I should do with this new found knowledge so I carried on seeking. It was to be another ten years before I found myself a spiritual home. Led there peculiarly by my interest in the Civil War. That home was to be the Religious Society of Friends, better known to most as the Quakers. And there I stayed for the next five or so years; an enthusiastic Attendee, an almost friend. But it was not to last. My world was to be turned upside down when my marriage ended and my Gnostic status severely challenged. I questioned all my beliefs again. Nothing was sacred. I realised that my ‘revelation’ years earlier was probably down to some neurological blip, temporary chemical imbalance or just wishful thinking. The angel of God it most certainly wasn’t. I returned to being an atheist, and whilst I was aware that there were friends who were also agnostics and atheists, I no longer felt comfortable attending meeting. Me and the Quakers parted company. I have been to meeting once since moving to Norwich. It was earlier this year. But I did not feel at all good about it so I’m not sure that I will ever return.

As a born again atheist I am fervently anti-religion now. As I’ve said before on this blog, I don’t object to anyone following the religion of their choice as long as they don’t try to foist it on to anyone else. And, the default position of society should only ever be secular. The older I get and the more pain and suffering I witness in this world, the more I find the concept of a creator unbelievable. If there is a God, and I don’t see how there can be, it must be a very sick bastard indeed. Religion and gods are the invention of man; they are tools of oppression, not based on any real evidence. I like to think that I am now a confirmed atheist and all the better for it.

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