I was brought up in a Church of England family. No, that doesn’t quite do it justice. I was swathed in the church, surrounded by dyed in the wool Anglicans, from the moment I was born. I went to a service at least once a week, every week (even when on holiday). On top of that, I went to sunday school, church youth group and pot luck suppers. I have sung in plays, musicals, carol concerts and outdoor events. I’ve even appeared on Songs of Praise!
It was against this backdrop that I slowly began to perceive other possibilities.
I don’t think I’d ever truly believed. I wanted to believe. I even had, what felt at the time, spiritual experiences. But I think I knew even then that these were nothing more than sensory manipulation – beautiful music, twinkling candles, incense, harmonious voices and shared emotional experiences.
I was educated at a grammar school and was introduced to mind openers such as world history, physics, chemistry and critical thinking. In my late teens, I subscribed to New Scientist and developed an interest in physics. Later, I read A Brief History of Time and, although I struggled with the maths (I’m more of a humanities person), the concept of deep time and the vastness of space fascinated me.
Around this time, I began to see the injustices in the world outside the church yard wall. My social and political awareness was developing at a time of Band Aid, Nelson Mandela, Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, AIDS and a growing awareness of LGBT issues. I also began to perceive discrimination against my own gender whilst listening to the debates over the ordination of women priests.
In my early twenties, I started to pick up bits and pieces about evolution. Having only a rudimentary grasp of biology, I again looked to popular science books and eventually discovered Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale.
These different threads were weaving a pattern in which there was less and less room for a god.
I stopped going to church with my family when I was 18 but it was perhaps another decade or so before I would call myself an atheist. In the intervening years, I read about different religions, humanism, secularism, rationalism, scepticism and feminism. I am “out” to my friends and some work colleagues but not to my parents, although I’m sure they suspect. The reasons, as always with such situations, are complicated.
At present my reaction to religion is similar to that of ex-smokers towards cigarettes. They can be far more vehemently opposed to smoking than a non-smoker would ever be. In the same way, I have a visceral reaction to religions and religious behaviour, especially when I get a knee jerk response from that inner child who grew up in a church.
I am now trying to remove those angry knots and burrs from my tapestry so that it only reflects the beauty and wonder of my one precious lifetime on our amazing planet.