My Story

My apologies to anyone who thought the title would lead them to a kiss and tell story in some sleazy tabloid, that’s not what this is. It’s gonna be a fairly long and possibly boring entry, I’m afraid, but I think it’s all got to be put out there. This is the first time I’ve said a lot of this stuff publicly.

Religion has always been strange in my family. My mum’s side is Catholic, and my dad’s is Protestant, including a CofE bishop in Dorset. The three kids of the family were brought up Catholic, since my dad wasn’t practicing. My siblings and I all went to the same Catholic primary school, and my younger brother and I went to an all boys, Catholic grammar school formerly run by a brotherhood called the Christian Brothers (an international brotherhood, several of whom have been found guilty of child molestation), whilst my elder sister went to a Catholic comprehensive.

Strangely though, this affected us all in different ways. I was a pretty devout Catholic. I didn’t believe in sex before marriage for a long time and I was opposed to abortion rights and stem cell research when I first learned anything about them. I didn’t interpret the Bible literally though, although I’d read it cover to cover several times. Because we were a Catholic school funded in no small part by the Diocese, we took Religious Studies rather than Religious Education, which was compulsory in some form right from Year 7 to A Level. The only difference between the 2 subjects is that our friends in other schools were learning at least a little something about other religions, whereas our curriculum only covered Christianity. This was the subject where I first encountered abortion and stem cell research, and was given a pretty one-sided argument over why it’s bad. The only argument was over the different Christian perspectives and why some believed one thing on the issue and others believed something else. There was very little counter-argument, especially not from the science side.

Anywho my pet steed, Tangent, is getting tired, so I’ll get back to the point. Whilst I was a happy and deluded Catholic, my brother was a non-believer. I use the word non-believer rather than atheist because the reason he didn’t believe had nothing to do with the belief itself, he was just too lazy to go to church or do anything really, and it was a form of backlash against school, which he hated. He’s now an apprentice, learning electrical engineering and he’s doing very well. He still occasionally goes to mass with my mum on special occasions, which I refuse to do on principle. Last Christmas she cried when I told her I wasn’t going to mass, which was very difficult for me, but I think it was necessary. I’m certainly not going to make it look like there are more practicing parishoners than there actually are, and my mum seems to be getting used to the idea. I still have no idea what my sister’s religious beliefs are, but she was certainly shocked when I told her I was an atheist.

So what happened? Gradually as I learned more, and became more liberalised through my contact with druggies (:P), I changed my stance on the more controversial issues like abortion and stem cell research, but I still had a very stable belief in God and Jesus, and still went to mass. The really big changes came around 18 months ago, Easter 2006, when I started realising I didn’t agree with a lot of organised religion. I started questioning a lot of things, such as why during mass on Ash Wednesday, even though the gospel for that service says we shouldn’t wear open signs of our faith, show off with our generosity, and that we should pray secretly, that’s the very same day Christians get a big giant black mark on their head. What’s that about?

That Easter I went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes (which a surprising number of people have never heard of) with my school and a charity called FLAME, helping look after disabled people on their pilgrimage. There, I saw and heard a lot of things I didn’t understand. I asked a lot of questions about religious doctrine and how it relates to the real world, to many members of the clergy including my own parish priest, a bishop staying in our hotel and other priests that were with us on the trip. None of them gave me any satisfactory answers other than the modern equivalent of “the Lord works in mysterious ways”. I started extending my questions to fundamental matters of Christianity, including the existence of God himself, and I decided to stop wasting my time and do away with it all. It wasn’t by any means an easy decision, and I’m not ashamed to say that I spent a long time crying by the grotto over it (while we’re on the topic of the grotto, that was so disappointing. Before going to Lourdes I was under the firm impression that it was an entire underground complex. In fact it was little more than a large dent in a wall with a natural spring coming out of it). For me, I’d lost the one thing I thought I’d never lose. Following that, several events in my personal life, including the death of a classmate, further supported my disillusionment.

Now this was something of a problem. I was the Vice President of the school’s SVP society, a Christian charity, and adult helper of the Year 7 group. Not least, I had been elected Head Boy at my Catholic school, and was supposed to be a role model, even though I disagreed with a lot of the things the school stood for, and I was watching a lot of the younger boys going through the same things I did. I decided that I’d carry on as normal, and try not to make it too obvious, and not challenge other people’s beliefs. If prayers were said, I would simply not join in, and if I was expected to lead them, I’d get someone else to do it. And in the meantime I tried not to offend anyone.

So I muddled through school and discovered Dawkins, particularly The God Delusion, which I literally didn’t put down until I’d finished. After my university applications and exams, I became much more confident with my disbelief, which became another problem as some of my best friends from school were still devout. I had a reputation for wearing funny slogan tee-shirts, and many of these slogans naturally started bringing religion into it, such as “blasphemy is a victimless crime”, “Godless > brainless” and my own personal favourite, “if Jesus comes back, we’ll kill him again”. To my anger, my dad only told me now that pretty much the whole side of his family, including himself (and excluding the aforementioned CofE bishop) was atheist. He didn’t really have any contact with his family because either he was estranged from them, they were dead or they lived too far away, so I was totally unaware, and it hadn’t been a viable option for me to grow up with no religion, which angered me, understandably.

When I came to university a couple of months ago, I went to the societies fair to see what might interest me. One that caught my eye was the Humanist Society, which was new the previous year and so had a fairly small membership. I’d never heard of Humanism before, but since then I’ve become a much more active member, learning more about the principles of Humanism, and attending talks and debates on related topics, including most notably, creationism. It’s all quite new to me and so far, I’m enjoying it profusely. I’m thinking about everything in a much clearer and more rational way than before, and I now can’t believe what crazy illogical things I used to think when under the influence of religion.

Listening to: Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love

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