When I was very young, my Dad combed my hair. I don’t know why; perhaps I was hilariously bad at it. But it meant that we had a few minutes one-on-one in the morning before he went to work and I went to daycare or the like. We would talk about whatever was on our minds. It was on one of these morning that we broached the subject of first cause, or, as a young child would put it, where everything comes from. He explained about the Big Bang and the Primordial Point. I don’t remember the words, but the image in my mind is vivid.
It must have been a few years later that our household acquired the big, beautiful National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe, with which I spent many a happy hour. We also had a copy of The Joy of Sex, and between the two of them all of my big existential questions were answered for a long while.
This didn’t leave a lot of room for religion. My mother was religious, but not very. Church wasn’t a regular thing in our house. Around the age of 6 or so, I went to Sunday school for a few years. I knew I didn’t believe in it; memorizing bible verses was basically a trivia competition for me. I clearly remember the day I said I wasn’t going back, though.
The church was some sort of Pentecostal-flavored evangelical. Not quite holy-roller, but they would get excited. One Sunday, I was sitting in the back of the pews, waiting to go home, when I heard something a little louder than usual, and I looked up. On stage, the preacher was shouting something I didn’t quite catch, waving his arms above his head — not in emphasis, mind you, waving them like he was flagging an eighteen-wheeler to a stop — and hopping around the stage on one foot.
Hopping around the stage on one foot.
I told my parents that these people were crazy, and I wasn’t going back. They didn’t make me.
I’m under the impression that at my mother’s request I was later baptized, although this is a foggy memory for me. If it happened, it didn’t matter much to me. And when I joined the Boy Scouts, it took us a few tries to find a troop that would allow an atheist member, though we finally did and I made Eagle. As a Cub Scout, getting the Arrow of Light badge required obtaining a religious emblem, for which I attended a Unitarian church briefly. They didn’t seem to insist that I believed anything, which suited me fine, since I didn’t. I got the emblem, hung around for a bit, didn’t see any further point, and left again.
(You might wonder why my mother didn’t pressure me more. For one, my brother is religious, which no doubt helps. For another, she might have if she felt that I was endangering my soul, but if I understand correctly she thinks that only 144,000 are going to be saved, so I suppose she considered it unlikely to work. One day I asked, and she said no, she didn’t think she would be among them. That made me deeply sad. My mother’s a good woman, no saint but a good woman, and someone made her think she’s damned? She’s become more active in church in recent years, and while I’d rather she was atheist, given the choice of two delusions I think I’d rather she feel saved.)