My parents were Church Of England, mildly practicing (more my mother than my father). My grandparents were strongly practicing C of E (as strong as that gets anyway – that is they went to church every week and all that).
However – my father works in oil and his job took him around a lot of places including the Middle East, the Caribbean and now, Louisiana. So there were lots of ideas flying around when I was a kid. My first school was a ‘Gospel School’ (I was the only white boy in the whole school!), and my leaving present was the Good News Bible with a picture of the island the school was on.
So lots of religion. I simply took it for granted that God was up there and was looking over me and out for me. I often had dialogue with him.
My first clash came when that common childhood fascination with dinosaurs and my insatiable appetite for facts came into confrontation with the first page of the Bible. When I brought it up with my parents they explained the basic Theistic Evolutionist position. It took a few months, but I managed to massage the cognitive dissonance away and so it remained until I was about 11 or 12 years old.
It was at this point that I first learned that there were other forms of Christianity, lots of them, and I was told outright that I was ‘Church of England’. It seemed a little odd to be told what I believed in this way, and it seemed odd that there could be so much disagreement about things.
So I picked up the Bible again and started reading. I realized that the book was very very boring. I didn’t care who begat who! Why should I? I put the book down and shelved my concerns under ‘Things other people have figured out’.
Over time, doubts still continued to gnaw at me. Why was I so sure my beliefs were the right ones, what if someone else had it right? Every time I felt these things I was crippled with guilt. I felt myself either being told off by the Holy Father or simply that feeling you get when your mother says, “I’m not angry, just disappointed.”, the feeling was terrible.
So I started comparing other people’s beliefs. My Grandmother, though a dedicated Christian had a veritable library of strange and esoteric Eastern religious concepts with strange New Age stuff. So I read about Lobsang Rampa, and everything ever written by Betty Shine. There was more besides – and these ideas resonated with me so much more than the Christian belief did.
At first I tried to merge them together so that I need not throw anything out, but that became more and more difficult.
Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t sure what religion I was, but it definitely wasn’t Christian and it was oriented more towards the East. Then my parents started talking about a Confirmation ceremony and I realized that I didn’t understand what ‘vow’ it was that I was supposed to be ‘renewing’ and that I didn’t feel comfortable making a promise that I didn’t really understand.
I was also at this time reading other books in my Grandmother’s awesome library, including books on British Law. One such book said that a child has autonomy to choose their religion when they reach the age of 16. This I did on my 16th birthday, advising my parents that I no longer wished to identify as a Christian – I went on to say that I didn’t wish to receive gifts at Christmas etc, but they told me that they would be giving them to me anyway.
I wandered about the map as far as definitive alternatives. I played with some form of Buddhism or another, including a long period in Zen, a long period of New Age Healing/spiritualism nonsense, and then a longer period self identifying as a ‘sannyasin’ via the cult leader Osho.
When I was about 18, a few friends of mine were talking about how they were having combat on the Astral plains and how they were engaged in a spiritual war with various people and melding that with some kind of neo-pagan stuff. It seemed so transparently silly to me, but I realized that my own beliefs were also pretty silly when I held them up to the very same scrutiny. So I went through a confused period once more.
Then I had a divine revelation which lead to me throw away all of the previous beliefs and follow a supernatural variety of pantheism, which was gradually stripped down to straight atheistic pantheism with a brief peculiar blip of believing in Islam (actually it wasn’t really Islam, it was a fake version of Islam).
I self identified as pantheist for a few years, but that seemed to lead to confusion, and then Dawkins started the Out Campaign and I realized that the most unambiguous description for my position with regards to religion was ‘atheist’. Still people get confused – I’ve had friends say disparaging things to me/about me. Things got better after I defended my position without fear, and now the issue is simply not discussed most of the time.