I grew up in Norway, by default born as a member of the Norwegian State Church; a bland form of Protestantism, blissfully ignored by the vast majority of its members for the vast majority of their lives. I expect many still hold some form of belief in god and Jesus, without letting this in any way prevent them from living exactly as they please, but the churches seem to be primarily used for the family traditions that are baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals. The second of these is seen by most teenagers as a fantastic money making scheme, and a few months of weekly bible classes are well worth the ridiculous amount of presents and money this ritual traditionally entails.
As Norway is a traditionally Christian country, it is of course impossible not to be influenced by Christianity in some way. I can’t remember ever believing in Father Christmas (I actually played the character at the age of eight to my then four year old sister), but I did believe in god. And Jesus, although I never really understood what the big deal was with him. God was the man. He had created everything; he decided everything in the whole universe, so why bother with Jesus if I was going to pray for something?
Throughout my childhood I was told by certain teachers and other adults that at least parts of the bible were true, and that Jesus had definitely lived. Seemed plausible to my young mind, and so I tossed off the occasional prayer and was pretty sure that heaven existed. Like most of my friends, I didn’t much enjoy the annual trip to church just before Christmas, but with regards to my belief, this meant nothing. Even though I didn’t spend much time thinking about him, god was real.
Religion was rarely mentioned in my family. I think I found out relatively early on that my mum didn’t believe in god, or at least was no fan of religion, while my dad refrained from ever making his personal views on the subject known. I suspect he did believe to a certain extent back then, although he too now appears to reject all religious beliefs.
When I was around eleven or twelve, I happened to read a newspaper article about religion, in which the then president of the Norwegian Humanist Association blatantly stated that there existed no good reason to think a god existed. I knew by then the issue was somewhat uncertain, but this lady was telling me it was in fact highly unlikely! I had thought it was about 50/50, and that no one had any reason to say otherwise. This was big, and I’m pretty certain it accelerated my final few steps away from belief.
Next came secondary school, which for me turned out to be the real eye opener. Religion classes in primary school had simply been about the contents of the Bible, and towards the end also touching on “foreign” religions. Secondary school, on the other hand, was where we got down to the good stuff. Here I was told how the Bible had been assembled. Turned out it wasn’t actually four guys who’d been hanging around with Jesus, as I had thought. It was a mish-mash of stuff written over at least two centuries, long after Jesus lived (which I was still being told was an irrefutable fact). Also, the different writers had their own different versions of the same events. It didn’t take more than a couple of these lessons before I dismissed the Bible as bullshit, and as this was also the main source of info about god, he swiftly followed. The only mystery that remained about the whole thing, was how anyone who had access to this information could carry on believing any of it – most of all how the guy who was actually providing me with this information was still a firm believer. In other words, it made me feel a lot cleverer than the teacher, and it felt great!
A couple of years later I reached the age for confirmation, and I naturally chose the only option I could: Along with my closest friends I signed up for the Humanist version of the ceremony, which meant weekly classes where we actually learned some useful stuff. There were courses on racism, alcohol and drug culture and -abuse, relationships and sex, AIDS, just to mention a few. At the end of it I did receive my presents and money, and a week later I had bought my first electric guitar. I never denied that this was the main motivator, and I felt morally superior to my classmates who gladly pretended to care about Jesus in order to get their “reward”. I know my grandmother couldn’t bear to tell her friends and neighbours that my confirmation was non-religious. I have no idea if she even believed in god, but she lived in a town full of religious nutters, and it was all just too embarrassing for her. She never told me any of this, and even gave me the biggest pile of money, but according to my mum, she was unhappy about the whole thing and primarily blamed my mother’s attitude toward religion for my choice.
In the years that followed, everyone who knew me would swiftly realise I was an atheist. I would happily tell anyone that religion was bullshit and why. I saw no reason not to, and to be frank, I enjoyed the feeling of intellectual superiority. A big surprise came at eighteen, when a classmate (who drank and shagged more than anyone) proudly rejected evolution in class, because god had created everything, and he certainly didn’t come from monkeys. A brief but fierce argument between the two of us followed, and I walked out of class astounded. I simply assumed everyone I knew accepted evolution as fact.
Even though I thrived in my atheism, I still felt that one should respect religious belief, at least to a certain degree. Through my twenties I would continue to ridicule religion, while to an extent still respect the religious. Like for many others, this mind-set was replaced with firm antitheism in the weeks after the Twin Towers crumbled. Overcoming this utterly misplaced respect, instilled in most of us from childhood by society in general, was the final hurdle. As soon as this barrier was down, it was impossible to overlook the constant negative influence religion has on society, and therefore also my own life and wellbeing. Utter disrespect for religion, including belief itself, felt great and made perfect sense. Still does.