It’s probably a sign that you’re doomed to be a heathen when your initial conception of God was not the Gandalf-looking dude from the “Creation of Adam”, but the Fairy Godmother from “Cinderella.” It was easy for me as a child to buy into fictional characters being real. The brief time that I did go to church, and claim to feel something there like angels in the rafters or whatever, was also at about the same time that I was looking for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in sewer grates. Yep, The Almighty, and four mutated terrapins named after renaissance artists were equally plausible to me.
I wish I could say that I was precocious in my understanding, and that I knew, knew, there was no God, or that I had an incredibly skeptical mind for a kindergartner, but it didn’t work that way. It just sort of fell away over time like the other broken fantasies of my childhood. Maybe it was because I had never really been indoctrinated into it. The concept floated around in my head like any other aspect of culture that verged on the fantastic. It just never took hold of me. I wasn’t concerned that I’d be punished when I died at some unknown date in the future. I was more worried about the earthly and very real punishments from parents and authority figures.
I very briefly attended church when I was a kid. It was odd because initially, we didn’t go. No one in my family really did. We usually spent Sundays at my grandmother’s and we were quite happy about it. But I think my mom’s Catholic upbringing (and consequent Catholic Guilt) switched on and she had us start going. Not for long,mind you. We very quickly grew bored and irritated with the mass and those depressing dirges they would sing. I also didn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to get one of the crackers.* I would learn later the reason why, but still. That’s not really the point though. I think what caused us to stop going was because it separated us from our family. We would miss out-of-town relatives, or precious time with those who wouldn’t be around much longer. Churchgoers can talk about the sense of community it fosters, the “City of God” and all that, but if you’re from a family that really doesn’t do church, then it isolates you more. We left, and save for the occasional Christmas Mass that I did out of love and respect for my mother, we never looked back.
*I was hungry and the service was long. Also six years old.
The things that mattered were the values that were instilled in me. My parents taught me to be a good person for the sake of it. I try not to harm others because I don’t want that done to me. It was never about feeling good, or knowing that was what God wanted me to do. It’s about being responsible and decent members of society. People have a tendency to conflate what is ’right’ and what is ‘good’. I rather suspect that there are a lot of people who think their religion is right, and so think they’re good and anybody isn’t ‘right” isn’t “good”. But there’s so much general bastardry in human history that it’s fair to say it’s encoded into our DNA. Being good doesn’t mean you’re religious, and being religious doesn’t mean you’re good. It always comes down to the individual and how they choose to act.