An atheist’s childhood (in the UK)
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13-08-2012, 03:57 AM
An atheist’s childhood (in the UK)
Many of you will have had a religious childhood (due to family influences) prior to your eventual awakening into the atheistic mind-set. I just thought that I’d share my own experiences as a kid, as it will differ to your own experiences… and you might just be interested in what it was like for a life-long atheist.

Now, I wasn’t raised as a strong atheist, indoctrinated into the viewpoint that there were no gods. My parents were weak atheists or, as a term that I’ve sometimes used, apatheists. It wasn’t that they rejected the idea of gods… it was that the entire concept didn’t register on their thoughts on a daily basis. When it came to religion, they had nothing but apathy towards it. Religion was what other people did. The only times our family would go to church were for hatches, matches and dispatches (christenings, weddings and funerals). Even then, christenings were done more for “traditional” purposes than anything else. My brother was christened, but my sister and myself weren’t.

I have a very vague memory (I would have been 3 or 4) of once being told that we were going to church, one Sunday. I have no idea why, as I never thought to ask (when I was old enough for my curiosity to ponder the reasons)… perhaps my parents thought that it was something that they should do, or one of them had befriended a Christian, or had had a brief affection for the idea. I have no idea. All I remember is my reaction to the news (which, much later, I saw re-enacted in the film The Omen, when Damien was being taken to church). I had the sort of temper tantrum that only a 3-4yr old can do (with conviction). Again, the distance of time makes it unclear as to why I would have reacted like that, but I think that I’d been inside a church and found it less than pleasantly cheerful.

My parents didn’t own a bible. Neither did both sets of my grandparents. As I’ve said, it was what other people did, not us. In the UK, this is a very common occurrence; at least in modernity. My great grandparents are more likely to have attended church… but religion has been in a great state of decline in more recent years. I’m sure that academics and historians can provide a more accurate breakdown for the reasons for that decline. Personally, I put it down to the after effects of World War 1. A lot of widows didn’t get their prayers answered and a lot of veterans lost all interest in praying to a god that allowed such horrors to take place.

But anyway, I’m going off on a tangent.

I knew that religions existed and that other people had those beliefs. One of my nursery schools was adjacent to a church and, in hindsight, either run by the church or supported by it. Perhaps that’s why I knew that I didn’t like churches and perhaps that’s why my parents thought that it was a good idea to attend one… this particular one. At the nursery school, I remember playing Joseph in a nativity play, but I was more interested in the eventual appearance of Santa; and I did believe in Santa, until my brother cruelly crushed that notion at far too early an age.

Much of my school-life was pretty uninterrupted by the whole notion of religion. We would have school assemblies once per week that would always end with a short prayer. I would bow my head and close my eyes, the same as my school mates, but I was just following form rather than doing anything but wait for the eventual “amen”. Even that notion of conformity was a policy that I would eventually abandon.

The closest I ever got to theism was when I was 12. My mother had been ill for a couple of years, with regular stays in hospital. One day, after getting home from school, I was told that she’d be coming home for good as the hospital could do nothing more for her. Leukemia was soon to add another tally to the scoreboard.

My bedroom was in the middle of being redecorated, which (understandably) was put on hold. The walls were bare of wallpaper and I had nothing but naked plaster surrounding me. As an aspiring artist, I had taken this as a good excuse to decorate my walls with drawings. Above my bed, I drew an elaborate celtic cross. Well, it was more tribal than celtic, but it was very stylistically done with a great deal of effort… as I thought that it would show a level of seriousness that a simple 2-bar cross would lack. I kept “praying” to this cross-on-the-wall that my mother would get better. Or, at least, I tried to pray. To me, it felt a lot more like begging.

As I maintained this superstitious begging, my life was absorbed by other nonsense things which my young mind thought might help. If you can think of a superstitious action, I was probably doing it. When I walked anywhere, I made a special effort to walk on the paving slabs, never on the cracks. If I walked on the cracks, my mother would die.

When she came home from the hospital, my bed was moved downstairs to the lounge, which was where she spent the last of her days. I was in my undecorated bedroom, sleeping on an inflatable mattress, surrounded by naked plaster and a hand-drawn cross. I kept begging to the cross, despite me being inwardly outraged (if I had been wrong all my life and there was a god) that my misery could somehow be assuaged by repeatedly begging for my mother’s life. I never felt a “presence” or found my mind creating an inner voice that it fooled itself into thinking was a divine being.

One day, home from school, I was told that my mother “had gone”. My mother’s deathbed returned to being my bed. The walls of my bedroom were decorated and the cross disappeared under a couple of coats of sky-blue paint… and I stopped avoiding the cracks on the pavement.

In school, during the weekly assembly, I stopped bowing my head and closing my eyes. I sat upright, looking around at my 1200 classmates sat cross-legged on the floor, and all of the teachers, sat in chairs surrounding the walls of the hall. And the headmaster, up on the stage, babbling his nonsense babble. Every single person was oblivious to my teenage rebellion. In a way, it is the perfect “crime”. If you are ever caught, the person who catches you is just as guilty as you. But guilt was not something I ever felt. Despondency was something that I felt… as, not once, did my eyes catch anyone else’s glance during those times of prayer.

And, by “prayer” I mean “begging”.
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14-08-2012, 12:27 AM
RE: An atheist’s childhood (in the UK)
(13-08-2012 03:57 AM)Red Celt Wrote:  Many of you will have had a religious childhood (due to family influences) prior to your eventual awakening into the atheistic mind-set. I just thought that I’d share my own experiences as a kid, as it will differ to your own experiences… and you might just be interested in what it was like for a life-long atheist.

Now, I wasn’t raised as a strong atheist, indoctrinated into the viewpoint that there were no gods. My parents were weak atheists or, as a term that I’ve sometimes used, apatheists. It wasn’t that they rejected the idea of gods… it was that the entire concept didn’t register on their thoughts on a daily basis. When it came to religion, they had nothing but apathy towards it. Religion was what other people did. The only times our family would go to church were for hatches, matches and dispatches (christenings, weddings and funerals). Even then, christenings were done more for “traditional” purposes than anything else. My brother was christened, but my sister and myself weren’t.

I have a very vague memory (I would have been 3 or 4) of once being told that we were going to church, one Sunday. I have no idea why, as I never thought to ask (when I was old enough for my curiosity to ponder the reasons)… perhaps my parents thought that it was something that they should do, or one of them had befriended a Christian, or had had a brief affection for the idea. I have no idea. All I remember is my reaction to the news (which, much later, I saw re-enacted in the film The Omen, when Damien was being taken to church). I had the sort of temper tantrum that only a 3-4yr old can do (with conviction). Again, the distance of time makes it unclear as to why I would have reacted like that, but I think that I’d been inside a church and found it less than pleasantly cheerful.

My parents didn’t own a bible. Neither did both sets of my grandparents. As I’ve said, it was what other people did, not us. In the UK, this is a very common occurrence; at least in modernity. My great grandparents are more likely to have attended church… but religion has been in a great state of decline in more recent years. I’m sure that academics and historians can provide a more accurate breakdown for the reasons for that decline. Personally, I put it down to the after effects of World War 1. A lot of widows didn’t get their prayers answered and a lot of veterans lost all interest in praying to a god that allowed such horrors to take place.

But anyway, I’m going off on a tangent.

I knew that religions existed and that other people had those beliefs. One of my nursery schools was adjacent to a church and, in hindsight, either run by the church or supported by it. Perhaps that’s why I knew that I didn’t like churches and perhaps that’s why my parents thought that it was a good idea to attend one… this particular one. At the nursery school, I remember playing Joseph in a nativity play, but I was more interested in the eventual appearance of Santa; and I did believe in Santa, until my brother cruelly crushed that notion at far too early an age.

Much of my school-life was pretty uninterrupted by the whole notion of religion. We would have school assemblies once per week that would always end with a short prayer. I would bow my head and close my eyes, the same as my school mates, but I was just following form rather than doing anything but wait for the eventual “amen”. Even that notion of conformity was a policy that I would eventually abandon.

The closest I ever got to theism was when I was 12. My mother had been ill for a couple of years, with regular stays in hospital. One day, after getting home from school, I was told that she’d be coming home for good as the hospital could do nothing more for her. Leukemia was soon to add another tally to the scoreboard.

My bedroom was in the middle of being redecorated, which (understandably) was put on hold. The walls were bare of wallpaper and I had nothing but naked plaster surrounding me. As an aspiring artist, I had taken this as a good excuse to decorate my walls with drawings. Above my bed, I drew an elaborate celtic cross. Well, it was more tribal than celtic, but it was very stylistically done with a great deal of effort… as I thought that it would show a level of seriousness that a simple 2-bar cross would lack. I kept “praying” to this cross-on-the-wall that my mother would get better. Or, at least, I tried to pray. To me, it felt a lot more like begging.

As I maintained this superstitious begging, my life was absorbed by other nonsense things which my young mind thought might help. If you can think of a superstitious action, I was probably doing it. When I walked anywhere, I made a special effort to walk on the paving slabs, never on the cracks. If I walked on the cracks, my mother would die.

When she came home from the hospital, my bed was moved downstairs to the lounge, which was where she spent the last of her days. I was in my undecorated bedroom, sleeping on an inflatable mattress, surrounded by naked plaster and a hand-drawn cross. I kept begging to the cross, despite me being inwardly outraged (if I had been wrong all my life and there was a god) that my misery could somehow be assuaged by repeatedly begging for my mother’s life. I never felt a “presence” or found my mind creating an inner voice that it fooled itself into thinking was a divine being.

One day, home from school, I was told that my mother “had gone”. My mother’s deathbed returned to being my bed. The walls of my bedroom were decorated and the cross disappeared under a couple of coats of sky-blue paint… and I stopped avoiding the cracks on the pavement.

In school, during the weekly assembly, I stopped bowing my head and closing my eyes. I sat upright, looking around at my 1200 classmates sat cross-legged on the floor, and all of the teachers, sat in chairs surrounding the walls of the hall. And the headmaster, up on the stage, babbling his nonsense babble. Every single person was oblivious to my teenage rebellion. In a way, it is the perfect “crime”. If you are ever caught, the person who catches you is just as guilty as you. But guilt was not something I ever felt. Despondency was something that I felt… as, not once, did my eyes catch anyone else’s glance during those times of prayer.

And, by “prayer” I mean “begging”.

Good post and somewhat quite sad as I know exactly how you felt. Thank you.

It also reminds me a lot of my life...Sleepy

Humankind Dodgy (a total misnomer)
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