Having a personal religious history – one of my own choosing, rather than one born of family indoctrination, it has been a difficult process to free myself from the mental stranglehold that superstition and dogma have had over me. At times, this struggle has been relatively smooth, whilst at others, it seems that I am losing the fight against the religious voice within me. Habitual thinking seems to have a stronger control over my mind than logical arguments and reasoning.
Coming from a family, where religion played no part, or was even discussed, perhaps my early search for religious truth was as a reaction. Turning firstly to the Bible as the familiar religious text of my cultural heritage, I believed as a teenager, that God was speaking personally to me, and that I had found my truth within its pages. Further research led me to the story of St. Francis of Assisi, and I came to the conclusion that God was calling me to this particular path. Writing to the Franciscan order, aged 16, I was determined that being a monk was the right way to go. However, after recommendations from my mother that I complete my A Levels before making any such decision, this way of thinking slowly subsided.
After a couple of years, and still pursuing my own spiritual journey, I encountered the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, following one of their regular knocks on the front door. This seemed to come at the right time for me, and I began regular Bible study and took my place twice a week in the Kingdom Hall. Eagerly waiting for the coming battle of Armageddon and the resurrection of the dead, I began to see signs in almost everything I read in the newspaper or saw on TV. Even Emmerdale scripts seemed to evidence what the Bible had predicted all those centuries ago.
After a few years of waiting, it began to slowly dawn upon me, that Jehovah was being exceedingly slow in fulfilling his promise. Feeling guilty about questioning the Lord my God, I nevertheless began to research the history of the religion and was surprised to discover that the elders had prophesied the end regularly since the nineteenth century, with every date foretold passing without occurrence.
Disappointed, I moved away from such beliefs and from former associates. Left with the feeling of a traveller staring at a never-ending desert, without any idea in which direction to set out, I turned to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and went religion shopping, reading about the beliefs of many Christian denominations, hoping to find a comfortable niche. That which most appealed to me was that of the Society of Friends (Quakers). After telephoning my local meeting house, I decided to attend one of their meetings. There I encountered some very friendly and surprisingly liberal Christians. Quite the opposite of the zealousness of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I found a people who didn’t profess the “Truth” of their own religion, but instead recognised the validity of all religions, believing that all religious paths ultimately led to God. This was appealing. At least for a time. Unfortunately, when I was supposed to be meditating upon the Inner Light at meetings, I couldn’t prevent my mind from wondering. ‘Had I left the oven on?’ I asked myself. Or ‘Should I buy those shoes?’ which although vulgar, I rather liked. Finding the Holy Spirit producing little effect upon me, I quickly realised that perhaps this religion too, was not the one for me.
Throughout my long search for God, I had for the most part, managed to merge the story of creation with what I had read about Darwinian evolution. Except for my time as a Jehovah’s Witness, when my beliefs necessarily included the rejection of evolution and its replacement by the intelligent design argument. Whilst this provided a neat trick of a solution, I was never entirely satisfied by its simplicity, or the fact that I knew it went against all fossil and anthropological evidence. Previously, there had been no reason to deny evolution, but my desire to find a spiritual meaning meant, I was willing to do so, if this resulted in my finding the one true god.
Free from the constraints of Jehovah’s Witness theology, I was able to research further into the facts of evolution, and came to the conclusion that religious belief and scientific facts simply were not compatible. I could either believe in one, or the other. I then decided that study of biblical history might provide some clue as to why biblical text was at such odds with experiential and experimental evidence. The obvious answer I concluded, was that the Bible, from which I gained my view of reality was not only historically inaccurate, but was also incompatible with modern views of equality. Containing misogynistic, racist, homophobic, and illogical reasoning, I began to realise that life as an atheist was the only rational option.
Nevertheless, my desire for some form of spirituality never disappeared, and I found myself against my better judgement attending my local Spiritualist Church. Although I knew of the fraudulent history of this movement, I couldn’t help being attracted by the hope it offered of eternal life. I knew that life as an atheist allowed for no such belief, and I am not particularly enamoured by the thought of my future non-existence. I therefore went along with any new field of study presented by this church. Psychometry, tarot card reading, crystal healing, alien visitations – I gave them all consideration. Holding some personal object in my hand, I attempted to give the owner a reading. I even thought I had succeeded on several occasions. There seemed to be clear correlations between the images produced in my mind and events in the lives of the people receiving my reading. Encouraged by these perceived successes, I seriously considered the possibility that I was being called to being a medium. There does seem to be a theme running through my life of believing that I am being called by God in one direction or another.
Attending hundreds of Spiritualist meetings, I listened keenly to mediums, who claimed to have the spirits of my deceased loved ones lining up to give me some message. This usually involved suggestions to drink more water or to take more exercise. Hardly the earth-shattering evidence I had hoped for. I listened too, when mediums told me that my aura was aquamarine, which apparently is very good, or that in my previous life, I had been a dog from another planet. I was less than impressed. ‘What the f–k am I doing here?’, I asked myself. Of course, I knew the answer. The same reason, why I had sat in the Kingdom Hall or Quaker Meeting House all those years ago. I knew that I was destined to die, and I railed at the idea. I needed some sort of god, anyone would do, just as long as it prevented me from owning up to my mortality. But, it just wouldn’t do, I had finally to admit to myself – this believing in insubstantial creations of the mind, or resorting to supernatural explanations for entirely natural phenomena. Admitting, that my fear of death was no excuse to cling to irrational hopes was not an easy task, but was a necessary one. This has been greatly aided by watching many lectures and discussions with Richard Dawkins, which have provided me with the rationale to escape the grip of paranormal thinking. Youtube has proven to be a lifesaver in this respect.
However, learning to let go of God, has not been entirely successful. Whilst I am now totally convinced of the atheistic argument, and argue vehemently against the theist and creationist, I have yet to relinquish the old morality, based upon my former religious belief. My moral compass is still one based upon Christian doctrine, and moving beyond this is proving very difficult. Also, when things are going wrong, I find myself instinctively saying ‘Help me God!’ So, although religious ideology is entirely learnt, it seems to have become innate for me, and no amount of inner logical argument has yet achieved the breakthrough I need to move forward to an entirely rational world view, free of any internal morally paradoxical or linguistic battle. As a result though of the very sensible arguments provided in favour of atheism by Richard Dawkins, I am at least willing to “come out of the closet” concerning my newfound atheism, and am less willing to let unreasonable assertions based upon religious dogma go unchallenged, no matter how uncomfortable such arguments are for me.