As the subject of this email suggests, I need to write down something that's in my head, and I thought you were the very chap who may appreciate it.
I am now 39 years old, and for the first time ever I can confidently declare myself to be an atheist.
I was born to a catholic mother, and CofE father, in 1969. I was baptized, and sent to a catholic school. It is important to note at this point, that although my mother wasn't (and has never been) a practicing catholic, she believed that for me to be educated as a catholic was the right thing – purely because that was what the rest of the family had done. So from an early age I was bombarded with catholicism. I try not to use the word brainwashed, but looking back there is no other word for it. Of course I took it all in. I took communion, got confirmed (whatever that means) and basically lived the life of a catholic child. All my teachers were strict conservatives, and insisted that God made me, and everyone else, and everything else – and I believed them (why wouldn't I?).
Up to the age of 11 I had no knowledge of the geological record, and fossils were just pretty stones. Without questioning it, I had formed the opinion (or had the opinion formed for me) that God existed. Carefully picked stories from the old testament were recited in religious education. However, I had no reason or inclination to question the morality of Abraham being prepared to kill his son, or God 'smiting' the Egyptians because Moses couldn't get his way. I just accepted it.
It's funny how some things, which at the time seemed inconsequential, stick in your mind for so long. At about the age of 11, I was watching, of all things, Sale of the Century. One of the questions was, “What does Bishop Ussher say happened in the year 4004 BC”. The creation of Earth said the contestant. “Correct” said Nicholas Parsons. So that was it, I was sorted. That was all I needed to know about life, and the planet. Very tidy and uncomplicated, and without contradiction. David Attenborough's Life On Earth was, as far as I was concerned, a demonstration of what God had thrown together.
I gained a scholarship from my primary school, and was sent to a private catholic secondary school. Quite an achievement apparently. I didn't go to church (except when at school) but what I did do was pray every night before bed. My teachers had told me to do this, so I thought I'd better just in case (more about praying later). Half of the teachers in my new school were priests, so I continued to get catholicism drummed into me. I enjoyed school, and wasn't bad at it, but I always felt something was missing in my education. At the age of about 13, Geography involved rivers and glaciers, and how the face of the earth was formed over millions of years. After a little bit of head scratching I dismissed this 'anomaly' and didn't choose Geography as one of my options. I wasn't very good at Biology, Physics or Chemistry, and dropped all of them as soon as possible, whilst taking nothing in during my early years at secondary school.
I continued to say an Our Father and a Hail Mary every night, but was starting to think it was just a habit I had formed. After leaving school with significantly less qualifications than was expected, I moved around a few jobs, and at the age of 24 I had a serious accident in my car. If it hadn't been for the skill of the paramedics, and the speed of the air ambulance, I would have died. Over the ensuing 6 months I had various people tell me how lucky I was to be alive, and that maybe it was God's will. Fair enough I thought.
Once fit again, I decided that I had underperformed at school, and decide to go back and get a degree. Ironically, I had gained an interest in Geography due to my brief stint as a surveyor, so my degree was a joint honours in Geography and Environmental science. For the next 3 years I learned about the geological record, plate tectonics, geomorphology, photosynthesis etc etc. Hold on a minute! What's all this 4004 BC nonsense? To cut a long story short, I graduated with a 2:1, and at the age of 28 I had started to question the scriptures. Now you have to understand that my catholic schooling had etched something in my conscience which wasn't allowing me to admit that the evidence for the existence of God was ropey to say the least. But look at all the bad stuff that was happening in the world, why was God letting it happen? I decided that all that bible stuff hade to have some element of truth. Surely?
My nightly prayers continued.
I got married (to an Irish catholic – although not practicing), and had two children. Something told me that to baptize (or christen) them was wrong. When they are older, they can decide, I thought (thankfully).
It was about 10 years ago when I converted to agnosticism. It wasn't easy, as I found it very difficult to delete some files from the hard drive in my conscience. I decided that, although the idea of a personal God who listened to our prayers, watched over us, controlled everything, and made everything, was ridiculous, there hade to be some sort of higher intelligence to allow all the laws of physics to come together to produce it all. I was willing to believe that this was the case, but a bit of evidence would have helped.
Interestingly, I continued to pray every night.
I've never been a big reader, but started to read alot more about 18 months ago. I read all of Stephen Fry's books, all bought through Amazon. For some reason, Amazon decided that because I'd read Making History by Stephen Fry, that I would enjoy The God Delusion (still not sure now why that is the case). Anyway, I eventually ordered the book, and have just finished reading it. Now I don't pretend to possess the intelligence to declare that I understood every word, but it was like finding the final pieces of the jigsaw that I had been looking for, for 30-odd years.
I stopped praying every night about 2 weeks ago. I know, incredible isn't it. When I think about it, I haven't really believed in God since I was 11. But unfortunately the almost indelible ink of catholicism would not allow me to dismiss it. The fact that I could not stop praying is, as far as I can deduce, all about superstition. I actually think that I was scared not to, even though I knew there was no God. Does that make any sense?
I guess what I'm concluding here is that the power of 'education' at an early age is immense. If you get them young enough, you've got them for life. Unless of course somebody puts a bit of effort in, in which case after about 40 years, you may, errrr, see the light!
Thanks for listening.