We met yesterday in Inverness at Eden Court Theatre. How's the throat by the way? Hopefully you're feeling a little better and will now have some time to rest and recuperate.
Your busy schedule recently can't have offered you much in way of recovery time after such a nasty cold.
I wanted to thank you. The discussion yesterday was both enlightening and entertaining and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was delighted to see such a varied demographic,
including I have to add specifically, a young couple seated next to my partner and I with a 3 month old baby. I felt you handled some of the more 'colourful' audience members
extremely well; and if the roles were reversed I'm unsure I could have handled the situation with as much patience as you did.
We met briefly afterwards during the book signing, and the smile you gave me when I explained that for the first time I was comfortable saying 'I Don't Believe in God' absolutely
made my day. Thank you for that.
You encouraged me to write in to Converts Corner, so here it is my story. Apologies in advance it's a long one!
I was raised a Christian; and by 'Christian' I'm not talking about your run of the mill Sunday worshipper, who enjoys the social aspect of church and enjoys singing a few hymns.
No. I'm talking about the full-blown 'Repent-And-Be-Saved-Jesus-Is-My-Saviour-Happy-Clappy-Holy-Spirit-Filled' sort of Christian who believes in the laying on of hands and
the power or spiritual healing.
My parents became Christians when I was very young, about 3 or 4, I think. My Mum was 'converted' first, after the death of her own mother I believe, and my Dad followed
shortly after. Therefore, Christianity was all I'd ever known. There was no choice to be made. I was a Christian, simple as that.
I attended church twice every Sunday, prayer meetings, youth clubs, summer camps, conventions, church picnics my whole life revolved around the church.
I officially “Gave my life to Jesus' when I was 12 years old, becoming a baptized member of the church in a public 'dunking session'.
I squirm with embarrassment when I think of that zealous little girl. Proclaiming proudly to her school friends that she believed in Jesus, arguing with teachers about the validity
of Evolution, challenging children her own age, and adults alike, with the threat of hell and damnation, should they fail to give their lives to Jesus and be saved just as she had been.
That same little girl was bullied relentlessly by her peers, allowing the teasing and alienation to continue because she felt she should follow by example. Jesus was shunned for his
beliefs after all, right? In fact he was crucified for her sins, suffering on the cross to redeem mankind. What was a little bullying in comparison to that? She had the promise of heaven
and eternal life to look forward to, what did it matter that life was miserable in the here and now?
It's strange; now, at 29 years of age, I can look back and realise that I always had my doubts. In hindsight I can recognise myself as a precocious child asking the awkward questions
no one wanted to answer, challenging my fellow believers with questions asking 'Why?' and 'How?'
My elders merely dismissed my concerns and questions as immaturity or lack of understanding, assuring me that if I had faith there was no need to question, that I should trust God
and submit to his will. I was taught to believe that questioning God was wrong, that it indicated a lack of faith rather than an inquisitive mind.
I won't deny that the church offered me a sense of community and that I enjoyed the social aspects of the church in general. But in many ways I missed out on the normal elements
of childhood, and feel robbed of some of fundamental experiences a child should be allowed to have while growing up.
As I became older I began to see the things I was missing. I wasn't allowed to celebrate Halloween (it being a pagan festival which encouraged devil worship) or similar 'secular'
holidays, so dressing up, attending parties and 'Trick or Treating' wasn't permitted. I remember one occasion when, being a member of The Girl's Brigade, I requested permission
to go to the fancy dress Halloween party that was being held. My parents permitted me to go, but I was only allowed to attend wearing my normal uniform. Imagine that little girl,
standing alone in a room filled with brightly costumed children, wishing she had stayed at home as she fought back the tears.
Certain movies were off limits
I've never seen Michael Jackson's Thriller for example, although some might say that's no bad thing. I wasn't interested in the natural world and
had no understanding of science or Biology. Much to my shame I even wasted my higher biology classes arguing the case against evolution!
The church had few youngsters in my age group, meaning that I usually socialised with teenagers or even young adults almost twice my age. The church afforded me an opportunity
to mature faster than my contemporaries but it also meant I felt isolated and frustrated with my age, or lack of, and the constraints it seemed to have. It also meant that at age 14 I was
dating young men much older than I, some as old as 21; which is in hindsight exposed me, a child, to potentially very dangerous situations. My Dad was obviously concerned by and
unhappy with my relationships with older men, but felt safe in the knowledge that these young men had faith in God and knew right from wrong. Although I'm sure he battled very
hard with his natural fatherly instincts to pin these lads against the wall and give them a good hiding for going anywhere near his little girl.
I suppose its unfair to say I completely missed out as a child, for we celebrated Christmas with all the usual trimmings, presents, Christmas tree, big roast dinner, chocolates, etc. But the
birth of Jesus was always the main focus of our celebrations. In fact Jesus was always that unseen, extra guest at any celebration, event or family meal.
I am painting a terrible picture of my parents actually. Which is unfair. They loved me very much, and still do to this day. I have a healthy relationship with them and they are aware of
my beliefs, or rather my lack of. They would do anything for me and we enjoy spending time together. I accept their continued belief in God; although I can no longer honestly say that
I respect it but I have no doubt that they raised me in the way they thought best and right. Which I suppose is only natural for caring parents. But I desperately wish I had been given
the option to choose for myself.
Jesus continues to be an unwelcome intrusion in our relationship. One which adds distrust and frustration to an otherwise healthy family unit. It's a sad state of affairs when a daughter
cannot trust the comfort of her mother's hugs without wondering if prayers are being quietly offered up for her salvation.
The basic fact of the matter is that I believed out of fear. I was taught from an early age that a lack of faith in God resulted in an eternity of hell and damnation. I was terrified of dying,
terrified that my 'sins' would not be forgiven and that I would be sent to hell, wailing and gnashing of teeth included. I think every child experiences the realisation of their own mortality
at some point or another, but with my own personal discovery came the additional terrifying fear of what lay after death. I remember being frightened to go to sleep on many occasions in
case I died in my sleep and hadn't been good enough to warrant an entry into heaven. The idea of family members and friends spending an eternity in hell used to make me physically sick.
And everything I did, every prayer I said or hymn I sang, was out of a desperate desire to ensure my own safety, and the safety of those people I loved most, in the after life.
So, did I really believe? Probably not. I've learnt that doing something out of fear is a far cry was doing something because you actually believe in it.
When I reached 16 years old I finally plucked up the courage to leave the church. I can't say I no longer believed in God at that stage, more that I had too many doubts and unanswered
questions to continue down the road of an active Christian. I hated the hypocrisy of the church was typical teenage zeal and rebelled stupendously. I began to enjoy all the things that
I used to look down my nose at. Partying with my friends, the whole works; sex, drugs and rock n roll! I became a very angry young woman, but with that anger came the guilt.
My parents mellowed with age. Allowing me, as a young woman, to make my own choices, and indeed my own mistakes, with the normal parental guidelines in place of course. For that
I'm grateful. But behind everything was this incredible sense of guilt.
At age 16 I was diagnosed with Anorexia and would regularly cut myself. Often feeling dirty, disgusting and useless without really understanding why. Since then I have continued to subconsciously punish myself in almost every aspect of my life. Although I recovered fully from Anorexia and no longer feel the need to physically hurt myself to relieve the sense of
guilt that follows me, I still feel this inexplicable need to apologise for everything all of the time. My partner and I often try to make light of it by saying that when I die my gravestone
“Here Lies Rachel She was Sorry.”
I recognised myself in something you said yesterday. You mentioned that most people who begin the journey of 'de-converting' from a religion tend to look elsewhere for answers before
finally coming to the conclusion that there is in fact no God. This is true of my own journey, I've dabbled in just about everything from paganism to the paranormal; but I'm tired now.
I'm tired of feeling guilty, of feeling worthless and apologising for my thoughts and feelings.
I realise that I am only now starting the real journey of deprogramming and that the road ahead will be a long and difficult one; but with the encouragement of scholars and scientists
such as yourself who are willing to share their knowledge and understanding of the universe to aid me, I'm sure it'll be an exciting one. I can't wait to learn more about science and the
physical world around me. I was never encouraged to learn about the universe why did I need to? God did it, right? So I need to start from the very beginning, re-teach myself the
basics from a different perspective.
A colleague at work today asked me how I had enjoyed your lecture yesterday and I explained that for the first time I was able to say “I Don't Believe in God” with a real sense of
conviction. They looked a little surprised and commented
“You say that as if it's an achievement.”
Well, I say it is an achievement. One that has taken my entire life to realise.
With Warmest Wishes