I was raised in a quasi-religious household. I say ‘quasi-religious’ because religion wasn’t really a topic of discussion at home, but my sister and I attended a Church of England school and the Salvation Army Sunday school.
English society is quite secular for the most part. We have a lot of churches, and we celebrate Easter and Christmas as public holidays, but in everyday life, religion isn’t a major influence. This is a stark contrast to America where, despite having an officially secular government, religion seems to be more in-your-face.
As a child, I took my religious belief very seriously. At Sunday school, we did Bible studies, and I asked a lot of questions. I was eager to learn more. My sister and I even went on to become Junior Soldiers, which is a formal dedication to the church and Christian life.
I stopped attending Sunday school when we moved to a new town when I was nine, but I continued to believe and study the Bible: one of my prized possessions was a small brown New Testament with gilded page edges, given to me by my grandmother.
Science education in the UK is generally pretty good, and so I was living in a culture where scientific ideas such as the Big Bang and evolution are accepted as fact. In my mind, this didn’t conflict with my religious views, because the Genesis account was treated as an allegory. I didn’t even consider the idea that the Genesis account was literal until the Jehovah’s Witnesses started visiting us.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are Old Earth Creationists, which means that they say that the Genesis 1 account of creation is literal, but they have to warp it to such a degree that it means something completely different. The goal is to make the Bible appear to conform to modern science. For instance, they explained to me that when Genesis 1:16 talks about God creating the Sun on the fourth day, what it really meant was that the early Earth’s atmosphere was full of dense clouds and that on the fourth day it had cleared enough for the sunlight to be visible for the first time.
Ironically, studying the Bible with the Jehovah’s Witnesses only served to make me question it more. By my early teens, I had lost biggest part of my belief in Christianity, and religion didn’t really feel like a big part of my life anymore. I still spoke with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, because I found the subject interesting.
In my mid-teens, I converted Wicca and explored my own beliefs more freely. The neopagan community, despite the fact I no longer share their beliefs, at least foster an environment where people can think for themselves. I was able to explore my views on morality, nurture my love of nature, and my concept of a god became steadily more diluted, moving from a personal deity to pantheism to deism.
In my early 20s, though I still held vague pagan beliefs, I was no longer practising, except for celebrating some of the festivals. For a while, I didn’t really think about my beliefs at all.
By my mid-20s, I was struggling to rationalise my beliefs. In every other aspect of my life, I was trying to assess things rationally, but when it came to my religious beliefs, I was accepting things for which I had no evidence and coming up with elaborate explanations of how things might work.
I began to wonder whether or not the things I believed were really what I believed or whether they were just what I wanted to believe. After a lot of introspection, I concluded that the latter was true. With this realisation, all of the rationalisations fell away like a ton of bricks. At that moment, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. I was an atheist.