I must have been about five when my brother and I built what we thought would serve as a handy container for Santa’s collection of assorted vintage beers. Apparently we got it into our heads that he was an avid drinker. It was a cardboard box with a cut-out reindeer head taped to the side, a feat of what seemed at the time an achievement of artisan carpentry that could have provoked Jesus to throw his messiah badge away in lugubrious defeat. In retrospect it was probably a bit naff. Our parents were now faced with the question of what to do with it on Christmas Eve. In the end they settled on the plan to forge a note from Santa claiming that he thought is was so good, he didn’t want to separate us from it, and so had it magically duplicated, and kept one of the duplicates for himself.
You could probably imagine our reaction the following day. “Holy f**king shit! This object before me is ostensibly some product of MAGIC! Jesus s**tting Christ! Am I to understand that Santa, patriarch of the expatriate leprechauns, magically duplicated his Christmas present!? I don’t f**king believe it!” Well, I did believe it, but at the same time I was aware of the fact that if it hadn’t been true, I would still be faced with the exact same spectacle. And why for that matter did Santa think I would have any need for a beer crate? I didn’t drink; I was five! In fact, as far as lets-make-our-kids-believe-there-is-an-obsessive-compulsive-inverese-burglar charades go, this was spectacularly lazy one. But anyway, I’m veering off topic.
It was probably only a year or so later that I learned that none of it was real. Rather than being disappointed or confused, I was rather relieved. Never having witnessed magic before, that Christmas served as a sort of experiential anomaly. It may have been round about this time that I realised there could be no such thing as magic.
So where does God fit into all this? Well, to tell the truth I wasn’t all that interested in him. My father was (and is) a geologist, so I grew up with tales of Palaeozoic fauna, rather than burning bushes, and never questioned the possibility of the Genesis myth, not that I had any idea what Genesis was. When I was eventually introduced to religious myths they were treated no differently to Grimm’s fairy tales. It was only in my early twenties that I discovered that as someone who didn’t believe that this bollocks was true, I was in a minority. But having been brought up in a devastatingly secular environment with a scientist for a father, I guess there wasn’t a chance in hell that I would be anything but an atheist.
So my descent into atheism wasn’t all that interesting; nothing involving a priest, a discarded and bloody candlestick and a weathered note from a long-lost, presumed-dead relative. In retrospect, it was a rather dull affair and probably not worth recounting. Oh well.