Not long after I was born, in South Africa, land of the Dutch Reformed Church, in 1940, I was given the customary compulsory circumcision, though I thought little of it at the time, though I am peeved to have discovered recently, that it is only appropriate in sandy, desert environments.
Later at school I was involved in a tug of war situation between a Catholic convent , my fathers Calvinist faith, and the Anglican Church. I well remember in the Anglican Church we attended how the “whites” occupied one side of the Church, and the “Coloureds” the other, separated by the centre aisle. They we mostly dressed in virginal white, while the “whites” were mostly in funereal black, which I found rather confusing. It was of course strict Apartheid; so much for Christian togetherness.
At College, by now in England, we had morning religious service in Chapel every week day, and Sundays meant dressing in a formal suit, wearing a silly straw hat called a “basher”, and having to attend school Chapel both morning and evening for an hour each time.
I was a member of the Choir at this time, and I recall being disillusioned by the antics of fellow choir boys, indulging in what I considered the most unholy behaviour behind their benches. I must have been a sensitive soul, for I promptly left the choir, and joined the Choral society instead, which was secular.
Another turning point came when our RE instructor, the ugliest person I have ever known; blue chin, pebble glasses and bat ears, gave us a copy of a tract “The Heart , Mind & Soul of Communism”, which had precisely the opposite effect to that intended. After that at medical school, I prayed earnestly to pass my first exams, and promptly failed, which did not give me much confidence in the Almighty; though by my own efforts I caught up eventually. While dawdling in the London Student's Union Library one day, I came across a copy of the Freethinker magazine, issued by the National Secular Society,-and obviously left there for me to find by Satan. It changed my life-as they say. I found that other people thought like me also.
Around this time I went home for the weekend to visit my parents, and was greeted by the following announcement from my father: “Gawd has punished us, Gawd has punished us”!- apparently the water tank in the loft had burst, and flooded downstairs.
Presumably anyone else but a devotee of the Calvinist Church might have called a plumber instead of calling on God. My Anglican mother thought that if one liberally laced all her sentences with “Jesus”, rather like some people do nowadays with the F-Word,- this made her a Christian. She took great pride in being a “fighter”,- having had a hard time with her family, and also trying to earn a living in London during the Depression. As a result of this she imagined that she was “God's Avenging Angel”,- with Righteousness on her side. This made her a very dominant personality. I remember in the days when we went to Church, I would notice her staring at my lips to see if I was singing the hymns heartily enough. This of course immediately made me clam up, being rather shy at the time. When my father died, we were standing by his open coffin in the Chapel of Rest,- instead of being allowed to pay my respects silently in my own way, I was virtually ordered to shed tears,- which once again made me clam up completely, and contributed to my inability to express emotion ever since. Incidentally, I mislaid our car keys on that occasion, but on returning to the Chapel of Rest found them inside my father's coffin where I had dropped them!
The continual emotional scenes between my parents all my life, with me in the middle, did not help either.
Some years later, I was enticed into a Scientology emporium and conned into during a two and a half hour questionnaire on Dianetics. The conclusion reached from this was that I had an extremely low emotional response capacity; something I knew already. This helped to enable me to think clearly and rationally about the God question, without being diverted by emotive belief aspects of it, and helped to reinforce my budding disbelief.
Even before this time I was a confirmed atheist, and any misdemeanour, real or imagined, drew from my mother, “what else can you expect from an “aerthist”?, ( which was her version of “atheist”).
During another religious confrontation she accused me of hurling “foul epitaphs” at her, (Rest in Peace?). I expect she meant “epithets”. After all this I was quite glad to have left home. I was still only eighteen when I embraced atheism, and at the age of 65 now, I can confirm that I never looked back.
Reginald Le Sueur