Please let me share a bit of my life story with you… in some circles it might be called my ‘spiritual journey’ or ‘pathway to conciousness’. I was raised in a ‘Christian family’. Before I was five I remember telling my mum to read Revelations, Job and Proverbs from the Old Testament to me. She obliged and was proud of her devout little Christian daughter. I used to run around wearing a skirt on my head pretending to be a nun (even though we were protestant, Mum thought it was cute). My father was Pentecostal which translates roughly to ‘crazy’ and when our hippy friends (AKA Christians-to-be) used incense with Hindu gods on the packaging my father informed me that they were demons.
Of course just because we were Christian it didn’t mean we were functional. My mum was an alcoholic (recovered now thanks to a book called ‘Rational Recovery’ which I know little about) and my dad has manic depression (of which he hasn’t had an episode for many years). My brothers and I were homeschooled so biblically speaking we knew more than the average kid and even though I couldn’t write until I was seven I had a reading age of fourteen when I was nine and a half.
Even before I entered a state school I had my questions about what my mum and dad were teaching me. Both physical questions like how old is the world? And more religious questions for instance why did God let his servant Satan punish Job for being good? If God knows everything what did God have to prove? “Yeah, Mum, Satan is a dickhead but God could have just said no… if Satan told him to jump off a bridge…” But my childish reasoning could not stand up to my wise mother and the lessons that she taught about Jesus and spirituality in general. She was hateful toward homosexuals, Muslims and Hindus (not Jews, however, who she basically thinks are just uninformed Christians) and she had zero tolerance for the New Age stories that I would be told by the friends of the family. It wasn’t all bad and hypocrisy.
My mum wasn’t racist and so that concept was foreign until we socialised more and observed others engaging in it. That seemed senseless even while mum’s abuse of witches and heathens seemed reasonable. My Christianity taught me some very valuable lessons. Like seeking the truth. I didn’t know who Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny were until I was eight and enrolled into state school, when I asked Mum why she’d never lied to us about Santa she told us that she didn’t see the point of lying to us. Obviously my mum genuinely believes in the scriptures.
Anyway, as a teenager unfortunate consequences led me to leave my mother and father (who had already separated before I started school) and live with my grandparents in the city. Now this was a new experience. My grandparents were equally devout but walked the walk, not just talked the talk. They also would foster lively theological debates and philosophical debates and all the questions I had they would do their best to answer. I didn’t want to attend church so they compromised and said I could choose Church or Bible Study so I chose bible study and discovered I was more biblically literate than most of my congregation and could give my minister a run for his money. I attended church, youth group and was enrolled as a Soldier of the Salvation Army which is full membership and involves signing a covenant. I wrote on my school bag ‘Im a Christian, don’t let me forget’ to keep myself accountable to Christian behaviour at all times.
I had debates with my brilliant atheist friend and used my favourite line ‘God can do whatever the hell God pleases’ (I believed God was either bisexual or asexual, these misogynistic bastards calling God ‘He’ left out half the population). I noticed that the whole bible was riddled with racist, religiously intolerant, homophobic, sexist shit so I decided that I had nothing against homosexuals, Muslims, Hindus or the New Agers and probably neither did God, it was just a twist added by the scribe, no doubt.
When I was in my last year of high school my twin brother died. Id made a deal with God. “My brothers are precious to me. If you would keep them safe and healthy and happy until the end of my lifetime at least then I will be the jewel in your crown so bright will my faith be.” I didn’t think about what the consequences would be if God didn’t keep up its end of the deal. So I still believed but I stopped loving God and actively sought other gods to flirt with and worship. My little brothers debated with me, they couldn’t understand how I could believe in THE God and now they couldn’t understand why I held onto the idea of a deity at all. I think I mostly did it because I was still part of a church and married to a Christian man who only just tolerated my New Age explorations and although he is very clever he doesn’t really think about his spirituality as anything more than an inherited part of his identity.
Then I was having dinner with my husband and grandparents and I noticed your book the God Delusion sitting in their bookcase. I asked if they had read it and they replied that they had not. They had pinched it from my uncle and intended to read it so they could use it against him and hadn’t gotten around to it. I asked if I could read it and I have. Within the first chapter I gave up any notion of reconciling with God or finding a new one. I felt utterly free for the first time and was baffled that I could live in denial for so long (Im twenty three so it’s comparatively not that long). I was unconvinced that I would find it hard to be an atheist in my Australian community, however, since I am friends with so many atheists. Well. That was a surprise. My grandparents shush me when I imply in the church hall that I dont believe in God so why on earth would I sing hymns to it.
My mum calls my little brothers to inform them that their big sister is a heathen (they responded amusedly and very unsympathetic to poor Mum). My husband argues that it’s uncool for me to declare to my friends of mixed spiritual persuasions that I want to raise my children as atheists (not the label just the answers to their questions will not involve a god). My husband tells me that I am basically a devil worshipper and that there’s no point to me existing. He took it back (a bit) but it hurt. The people that know me better than anyone and they censor me, libel me and dismiss me. Im not likely to turn back now. The same stubbornness that let me remain a Christian despite my better judgement will serve me even better now that I have reason on my side too.
The interesting thing was when I told my friends the catholic replied that she would try to reconcile evolution and intelligent design, she was more a deist than a theist, my atheist debating partner said he’d been raised to believe what he wanted and chose atheism and my agnostic friend criticised me and jumped down my throat with the cry ‘wont you let them even have the choice?’ The choice to what? BE DELUDED? No thank you! I happen to love my non existant future kids more than I love my non existant past god.
Thank you, Richard, for being there for all of us.
Melissa. Perth, Western Australia.