Really, the dumbest.
Back in the mid 1950′s, people like my parents had their children splashed with the mystic water but they didn’t necessarily believe in the hocus pocus that lay behind the ritual, it really was simply something that was expected by families. I do remember being a page boy at the weddings of my much older cousins but I can’t say that any of the ritual made any impression on my three year old self, and these events were the only contact I had with church and religion until I started school in 1959.
The dumb luck comes from when I asked my mum about all the prayers and bible stories at school. She simply said that no-one in our part of the family believed any of what they were saying was true and that was why we never went to church. The best part was that she said to simply ignore it all and, apart from singing a few of the songs (especially carols), that is exactly what I did.
The consequence of this decision remains to this day: I have never believed in any kind of god. Santa, yes. Tooth Fairy, yes. Gods, no. This amply demonstrates what young and impressionable minds can do with parental collusion and the offer of material rewards, especially what happens to these deeply held beliefs when they are permitted to wither naturally. I can’t remember exactly when I worked out that the old man in the red suit didn’t exist but I can clearly remember at least one parent coming clean when confronted with the truth (and the relief at the knowledge that it didn’t actually make any difference!)
It might appear that I am some kind of default atheist but there is something much deeper. I have no means to accept the intrinsic truth of one belief over all others, so I can dismiss them all as easily as I dismiss the existence of Santa and the elves. Having read so many of these pieces I have come to realise just how lucky this makes me. In my lifetime, religion in the UK has never been strong enough to divide my family or the communities I have lived in and I have never faced any opprobrium or discrimination for my lack of belief. I have never had peer pressure to conform to some religious ideal and I have never agonised about fading belief in a religion that I was raised in. I am profoundly grateful for this and sincerely hope that the future holds more people like me and fewer who do agonise and face ostracism from their communities.