I was born rural, poor and white in western Canada, a region soaked in Christianity in all its rainbow of heresies and home to one wannabee theocracy that ruled a province for some years. Prairie communities might have churches as half the buildings in town. Because the populations were/are sparse, the community villages and towns can’t isolate parts. People have to interact, intersect marriages happen.
Church attendance (at least then) was more important than loudly professing faith, generations of isolated community ‘trust’ values in action. Still, there were boozy dances, ‘premature’ babies, kitchen story telling, socialist politics and rowdy celebrations vying with hard pews, high holidays, and fowl suppers in church basements. Anyone who let church doings get ahead of seeding and harvesting crops while the weather held wasn’t pious, they were nuts. In many ways, it was tougher being new to the community than it was to be religiously lax. We moved a lot in my first few years, work to supplement the family farm a necessity. We returned, but I learned what it was to be the xenophon to my ‘age set’.
I was born a reader. Or nurtured as one. Or both. Reading alone at 3, I was free to ferret out things people presumed beyond me by 4. This is likely where I was fatally corrupted. I had access to dusty ‘old time’ books. Classics of literature, opera, fables, etc. Including bible stories. All illustrated in Gilded Age glory. My brain had nothing to stop it from categorizing the bible magic with the rest of the magical tales. I knew the stories before I ever reached Sunday school. About the same age, my cowboy uncles explained Santa Claus as anthropomorphization for the spirit of gift giving, so there was something to ‘believe’ in=the generosity of people (they even played a recording of ‘yes, virginia’ to me). Note to the wise: do not attempt to explain concepts like this to other kids determined to find things wrong with you.
I was born at the end of the Baby Boom(insert arguments of the date range here). Conformity to prevailing society was being challenged via the increasing communicative presence of tv, while the pace of change lurched out of a century’s slumber and ‘just so’ values. Universal health care was fought for on my home ground and then was enacted federally, with ‘good works’ pastors shoulder to shoulder with unionists, farmers and the poor against…well, look to the reactionary freemarketers and priests yelling now. It hasn’t changed.
I was born inquisitive and developed outlier to community norms. I was leapfrogged grades ahead in our small Elementary because they didn’t know what else to do with me. I had Star Trek and SF, and went through every shelf of books in the small school libraries. I won art and speech competitions. I was considered creepily smart and creepily psychic, which confused me because people told me everything I knew about them(muchmuch later, I learned this is how cold reading works) When Sunday school, the gateway drug, turned to hard core catechism, I learned Sundays now gave me the same sick feeling the rest of the school week did. It was taught by a teacher from school. It wasn’t eternal comfort, it was more ‘you’re not of the body shut-up-because’ censure. Grape juice and bread cubes wasn’t worth it. I stopped going. By virtue of the times, my locale and family stress, I wasn’t forced back.
I was yet another raised by cats. Ostracized from my own species, my feline farm troop raised tail flags and hiked with me into the back forty in all seasons, day and night, teaching me there was more to the world than a homo sapiens sapiens pov.
I was a stargazer. Not a Carl Sagan. Just a prairie kid who, at the age of 5, discovered laying back in a snowbank made for the greatest show not on earth. The harmony of happiness was this; cloudless summer night on the high plains, no artificial sound, no artificial light, a comfortable lay-down, blanketed in a choir of purr, the night countryside going about its business and the sky going about its.
I was still tempted. I was an informal historian, activist and naturalist, but adolescence heightens ostracization from others close in age. Rural communities have few socializing outlets for youth, fewer not run by churches. I was lured into recruitment events put on by the local evangelical baptist college. I witnessed ‘talking in tongues’ and ‘laying on of hands’ and making ‘circles of prayer against demons. I intellectually wanted to believe, to belong to the social majority but I comprehended the love bombing and other trick techniques. I doubted myself enough to think there must be something to it because the collegians and other kids were sincerely swept up in it. I was frustrated because I had no idea how someone let go of wariness. I couldn’t fake it like a few were obviously doing to gain attention.
One winter night, I ended up overcome and went outside to keep my tears to myself. Sensing blood in the water, one of the outreachers followed me. The trigger point? An old friend of mine had died, ancient in years for a farm cat. My comforter didn’t know that, saying the dead were in heaven. I asked about cats. The two statements weren’t quite connected.
And then, in all sincerity, the outreacher said the fatal words. Cats don’t go to heaven. Cats and other animals don’t have souls. Only people have souls. I was looking up at a cloudless, still, northern night sky.
‘Click’. No yearning, no guilt, no pain. Vanished. Done now. Unexamined cruelty being the key, there was nothing beyond the door I needed or was being forced to profess. I was 15. No longing has ever re-emerged, no matter what faith I’ve examined.
Mind, there was this evil (medieval=evil gettit? Which makes Professor PZ’s studies Prime evil) cult I apparently joined years later, but that’s another story, written in cramped handwriting for several doublesided pages from one parental unit to another.
PS: It’s only recently that other members of my family have been comfortable admitting to atheism, and then, only to people they know and trust.