My rational journey began with my grandparents oddly enough. My grandfather was a Jewish journalist in Nazi Germany. Through an amazing stroke of luck, he was on holiday in Switzerland when the entire paper was shut down and employees shipped off to concentration camps. His sister sent him a simple telegraph saying “don’t come back”, and although he managed to get his parents out, he never heard from her again.
Continuing on his lucky streak, he was anonymously sponsored to emigrate to South Africa. It was there that he meet my grandmother, the eldest of 14, who decided that joining the war on the side of the British was far more exciting than being a simple farm girl. Together they did fairly outrageous things as typical upper middle class anti-apartheid activists were apt to do. From secretly inviting Black South Africans into their homes, to my grandmother being one of the founding members of the Backslash in Port Elizabeth, to suing the Church of Scientology for putting a price on her head. (Google the Kotze Report, she testified before the South African Government in court 10 years later).
Unfortunately as amazing as their achievements were, to say that they were shitty parents would be an understatement. My Grandfather was very present but a rather absent father, and my Grandmother was a malicious, vindictive, and emotionally & physically abusive bitch. I shiver when I hear what my mother went through, I honestly think my grandmother was psychotic. It would certainly explain our family’s history of mental disorders, not that they knew much about them at the time. By their current day standards, South Africa was in living in the technological dark ages. They got T.V in 1975 (Do-good-chritstians trying to protect young minds from Satan’s grasp and all that).
So with my uncle, a schizophrenic, and my mother, borderline Asperger’s, the only possible explanation for their anti-social and bizarre behaviour was that they were tainted by Satan, and must therefore be purged of their ungodly ways. It was the only answer my mother had in a country recently hit by sanctions; there was no way out, no way for information to go in. She became a Born-again Christian for the next 20 years. She wasn’t allowed to write; it was unlady like. She wasn’t allowed to act; TV was the tool of Satan. Heaven forbid she become a flight attendant, that would mean she was a whore. That and the whole actually getting a job thing was pretty unchristian thing for a women to do.
Nope, instead to stop married men lusting after her, as a beautiful young women are often at fault for doing, she was arranged to be married to my rather ignorant, but pious father. I suppose I shouldn’t really begrudge the Church this. I mean the only reason I was born was as means to provide a solution to a rather disastrously failing marriage. I didn’t work though. I was born with a strawberry mark on my left cheek; a sign that I was the mark of the Devil, and that my mother was going to hell.
It was at this point that my mother did some really hard thinking. I can’t imagine how much strength it must have taken, but just after I was born, my mother filed for divorce, and was excommunicated from the church. The good Christian judge that presided over the divorce ruled that my father was still my legal parent, and had visitation rights, including final-say rights. Sexist bastard. I was raised a born-again Christian until I was eight, and trust me when I say I had the fear of God put in me. But before I turned nine, my mother did me an amazing service for which I am forever grateful; she suddenly moved, and took me with her. She cut off all ties with everyone she ever knew. Her ‘friends’, her ‘family’, her ‘co-workers’, everyone. And as painful as it sounds, it’s a whole community that’s against you when you defy the church, you just don’t fit in any more.
It wasn’t really a happy ending. She decided that I still needed some moral “backbone” to grow up with and converted back to Judaism (even though they didn’t really have the answers for why she was the way she was). I admit I found myself very, very confused. It was quite a culture shock going from a literal all-seeing-all-knowing-will-smite-you-if-he-doesn’t-like-you God of Terror to an invisible-not-really-around-us-that-much-but-somewhere-watching Creator of the Responsible few. It made me ask a lot of inconvenient questions about who God was at Bible Study class in school until I was excused indefinitely. Being the only Jew at the school had it’s perks despite constantly having to explain to your classmates of why you didn’t kill Jesus. I still had to say the Lord’s prayer though, much to my chagrin.
It was later, when I was 14, that I questioned my new religion. My mother successfully applied for reparation from the German government in my grandfather’s name, and so both she and myself became full German citizens despite never having set foot in the country, and not speaking a word of the language. With a German passport we were allowed live in and travel to Europe, and so we did. We scrapped everything we could and moved to London, and it was there that I completed High School. My best friends were Muslim and Hindu, and our neighbours were Buddhist and Sikh. I remember joining a bizarre cultural outreach group and meeting with a few Baha’i.
I was exposed to so much religious diversity and cultural history. It forced me to question the notion that only one religion could be correct, and that it was the one that I was following. How could I dare say to my best friend, “yeah, by the way, you’re praying to a false idol, and I eat your holy cows instead of pork because I’m one of God’s chosen people. I know this because the Torah told me so, and if you question it I’ll play the holocaust guilt card on you”.
In my vastly superior deduction skill of my teenage years, logic meant that either all religions were true (which didn’t make sense as they all contradicted each other), or that none of them were true, and we were still just as stuperstitious today as we were superstitious in the middle ages. I say stuperstitious as I really found it all quite stupid. We really ought to know better. (I mean we’re living in an age where space travel is possible, yet some of us still believe the earth is flat. How incredibly ignorant is that!)
I suppose having my father contacting me for the first time in 10 years via email also helped solidify this belief. As a devout creationist, he feared for my immortal soul as a Physics lover, as any loving and devoted-but-absent-for-10-years father would. At the same time my mother was formally tested using scientific methods rather than superstition, and finally found out why she was the way she was. Surprise, surprise, Satan was not to blame. She has a severe learning disability that’s border on Asperger’s Syndrome but not quite. She can not lie, and as naive as it sounds, she didn’t realised that people lied until she was 40 years old. But now we know why. (And it’s really a pain in polite social situations when you ask her if ‘this and this’ makes you look flabby, and she gives you the ‘dah’ look while she says ‘yes’.)
Come to think of it, I think my father might also have a learning disability. It would explain why he had such a hard time at school and in social situations; not because of some stupid imaginary devil tainting his actions.
So yeah, I guess this is why I am an atheist. I abhor stuperstition, and love Science for it’s ability to eradicate it like bullets to zombies. I can’t honestly believe in a loving God of such petty stuperstition; who destroys lives by making them be born in the wrong country, at the wrong time, and to the wrong family. Inevitable all this because they are marked by Satan, so that they can never reach their fullest potential… or only be able to start trying now.
My mother will be 60 this year. She has survived an abusive childhood, a indoctrinated adulthood, the PTSD of living in South Africa for 48 years, and now for the first time in her life, has take steps to be a successful author. It’s fucking bullshit, that’s what.