My brush with religion

While listening to the most recent episode of Two Smokin’ Hot Freethinkers in which Reed and Sam discussed their journey from theism to atheism I started to reflect on my own brush with religion in my childhood years.

I wasn’t raised in a religious family. Mum and Dad never went to church and as far as I know, neither did my grandparents. In fact, my folks never brought up the topic of religion at all. I’ve been inside a church for non-sight-seeing purposes perhaps three or four times in my entire life, usually for weddings.

At the age of about nine I became friends with a kid in my class at my primary school who, I soon learned, was religious. When visiting his family’s house I noticed pictures of JC on the walls, Bibles strewn throughout the house and other religious paraphernalia. I was curious, so I asked what it was all about. I already knew about the concept of God, but my friend filled me in on all the details concerning JC, the ten commandments, heaven and so on. He also told me about hell.

This hell place didn’t sound too pleasant. I started to think more about death and what would be happening to me ‘on the other side’. If I didn’t want to be cast into everlasting fire it seemed I would have to start paying a bit more attention to all this.

At about this time I asked my Mum about which religion (specifically which Christian denomination) we belonged to. The reply was that we belonged to no religion, and that it was a matter for me to decide and for me alone. So I decided I was a Christian.

Somehow a Bible came into my possession around this time too. I don’t recall where I got it from – perhaps it had been dropped off on a Saturday morning by one of God’s door-to-door salesman, who knows. Anyway, I started to read it, and even though I couldn’t make any sense of it, I thought the big guy upstairs would be pleased. I’d also started praying, and even though I was sure I was doing it wrong, I was confident that it was a case of ‘it’s the thought that counts’.

This went on for perhaps a year or so. The thing was, as time passed, I’d forget to look at my little pocket Bible for weeks on end, and would fall asleep mid-prayer at night. I was thinking the big guy upstairs wouldn’t be too impressed by all this, but I’d also been told that if you say sorry he always forgives you. So that made me feel a little better.

At about this point I became acutely aware of the existence of religions other than Christianity. I started to ask myself questions. “How do I know I’ve chosen the right religion?” “What happens to the people who choose incorrectly?” I also started questioning elements of the religion I proclaimed to be a member of: “If this God loves us so much why is there so much human suffering in the world?” “Is there really a crime worthy of eternal burning agony?” “How can one be absolved of their wrong-doings by the self-sacrifice of another?”

It must have been at the age of ten or eleven that the friendship with my religious mate came to an end, and not on good terms. My religiosity had already started to wane a little by then, and in our arguments I would taunt him with claims that I no longer worshipped his God but the Devil instead. Saying you worshipped his nemesis would be a sure way to get on the wrong side of God I thought. Then I realised something – I no longer feared or revered this God character. In fact, I simply didn’t believe in him at all anymore. It seemed as if I realised I’d been playing Pascal’s wager the whole time.

I wouldn’t have called myself an atheist at that point – I was probably more of a deist, as I thought I still needed something to explain things like the origin of the universe and life. I found religion in general to be quite suspect, and I certainly didn’t believe in some kind of deity that took an active interest in human affairs. But even the idea of an benign deity that simply got the ball rolling didn’t hold for long. I realised that a more intellectually honest answer to questions about life and the origins of the universe at that time for me was “I don’t know”.

Throughout my teens I probably would have described myself as agnostic, but I’d pretty much lost all interest in the God hypothesis. I’d heard about evolution by then, but it had always been described in the crass fashion of “humans came from monkeys”. Later, I came across The Blind Watchmaker and by the time I put it down the final traces of belief in the some kind of deity had withered away. The theory of evolution by natural selection was so much more elegant and compelling than any creation story, and a clear understanding of this amazing advance in human knowledge led me to be what Dawkins describes as “an intellectually fulfilled atheist”.

Just thought I’d share that.

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~ by Sammy Jankis on May 23, 2008.

2 Responses to “My brush with religion”

  1. I didn’t know that about you, SJ: thanks for sharing!

  2. It’s funny when I look back on it now. I’m not sure if I can say I was religious because, as I said, I realised I only really “believed” out of fear. So I was a faux-Christian I suppose.

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