If there’s one lesson that travelling’s taught me, it’s never to offer my personal opinions on partners, politics or religion, especially when drinking. So, when the only other English speaker asked me why I didn’t believe in God, I’d fobbed him off with a generic answer and quickly changed the subject. But, his question had intrigued me.
For all of my adult life I’ve consider myself an atheist, but, I’ve never really investigated the root of my non-belief. My parents were certainly Christian, Methodists, and at an early age I attended Sunday school, and perhaps, that’s where my journey towards atheism really began.
Before I could walk, I was christened, and as soon as I could talk I would kneel at the side of my bed each night and recite this simple prayer: Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look upon this little child, pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to thee. It’s safe to say that being christened wasn’t a personal choice, and the words of that first prayer had actually scared me. Why did I want ‘pity’, pity was for people who had worse lives than me, and why would I ever want to ‘suffer’ for anything?
Throughout my time at junior and secondary schools, I’d struggled with reading and writing - later diagnosed as dyslexia - but I’d known that I wasn’t an idiot and actively tried to prove that point by asking lots of relevant questions in class. In general my questions were welcomed by the teachers, but at Sunday school, well, the ministers weren’t quite so accommodating.
At school, my physics teacher had told me that the universe was almost fifteen billion years old and measurably expanding, and that planet earth had been around for at least four billion years. As I’d questioned his reasoning, he’d pointed me towards an entire section of scientific research material in the school library and encouraged me to investigate the evidence and to draw my own conclusions. In social studies, they’d introduced me to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and shown that recognisable humans had inhabited the earth, specifically Africa, for at least 200,000 years. If I wanted further evidence of evolution, I should visit the Natural History Museum in London and evaluate the evidence for myself. So, at the age of twelve, we spent our summer vacation traipsing around London on an amazing voyage of discovery: The Science Museum, The Natural History Museum, The British Museum and the Planetarium.
For my inquiring young mind, the school teachers’ responses to my questions were appropriate, but in church my questions had seemed neither reasonable, nor in most cases, answerable. I’d been told that God created the earth, and that five days later he created Adam before taking a day of rest. But, if Adam came two thousand years before Abraham, and Abraham lived two thousand years before Jesus, wouldn’t that make the earth, and therefore mankind, at the very most six thousand years old? When I’d innocently questioned the Sunday schools teachers’ timeline, they hadn’t pointed me towards scientific papers, to independent research or to physical evidence in various museums, they’d simply pointed me to their book, the Holy Bible.
The Bible wasn’t an easy read, but I’d struggled through a few random chapters and what I’d found had disturbed me far more than that early childhood prayer. At the time, many of the words had been beyond my comprehension, like ‘Apostasy’, but being told by a loving omnipotent God that if members of my own family ever cease believing in him, I should stone them to death, had seemed more than a little harsh. When it comes to wavering belief in God, I also discovered that the name Thomas had history, and I’d decided that it was time to stop asking questions, and, to stop attending a church that actively discouraged scrutiny.