MY SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
If any one of us doesn't understand something it doesn't mean that that something is untrue. I, for instance, don't fully (or even nearly fully) understand the origins of the Universe and I don't think even the most big-brained and well-informed scientist does, but that doesn't mean that the Universe didn't have an origin: of course it, did, or it wouldn't be here!
The same might be argued about all the major religions. Just because an old atheist like me says he doesn't believe a word of any of them doesn't reduce their validity to those who do believe in them.
It's all a matter of what is real and what isn't real, and with something as esoteric as religion who can have the remotest idea?
So I thought I'd trace my own thoughts regarding the only religion I know anything about, the Christian one. I was brought up in a Christian family by a single mother who knew it would be foolish for her to blame God for taking her husband from her when their marriage was only a few years old. Instead she (wisely, in my opinion) always blamed the cigarettes he smoked.
As a boy I had no doubts. God was in his Heaven and if I was to continue being a good boy I'd go there one day, when my time on Earth was up. I didn't even get any doubts about his existence when he failed to answer a prayer regarding giving real life to my knitted grey elephant. I was a small boy and didn't yet understand the limitations in the artifice of the deity I was consulting, and part of me knew it.
I was sent to Sunday School and, in later years, a Youth Group run by the Baptist church – the church physically closest to the large post-war council housing estate where I spent my childhood until the death of my mother when I was 19.
I always knew I was tone-deaf so in order to hide it from myself I sang the hymns most heartily, hoping to swamp the more tuneful melodies performed by the others. I was a very holy person and not one iota of doubt regarding the deity I prayed to on a regular basis had been given so much as a moment's thought by then. Everything in the world seemed to fit in with what I was being taught.
Then, in my early twenties, came doubt. An avid reader, I chanced on a book that ridiculed the stories in Genesis. It sniggered at the possibility of incest between Eve and her sons – how else could they have bred, it asked? It found it laughable that if a deity could create a world and everything on it in six days, why he had to take so long? I mean, if it just takes a word of command, what's wrong with moments rather than days? Then there was the conundrum of the fossil records that undoubtedly exist and had been dated to such a long time ago there wasn't any chance of there being any kind of Adam and Eve around for millions of years. So how could all life have been created in anything briefer than millions of years? And I got to thinking again. Or maybe not again – maybe for the first time in my life, thinking without blindly and mindlessly accepting what I had been taught since the moment of my own birth. And it was more than what I had been taught: it had to do with what proliferated in the world all around me. Look at a country village and all you see is a cluster of cottages snuggling in the shadows of a church steeple, small and shivering against its sky-touching pinnacle. My whole world had been centred on the existence of the God of the Bible – and suddenly there were serious questions that needed answers.
At first I concluded that yes, there were faults in Genesis, but those faults had more to do with the understanding of the writers of the book rather than the facts within it. Maybe, I considered, they meant six stages rather than days. And maybe each stage was as long or as short as it needed to be. And maybe the first people, the famous and naked Adam and Eve weren't the first actual people but the first Jews... Maybe when their sons went to another land and found wives amongst pre-existing other people it cut out the dangers of incest having been a factor in my own first history. Then I got muddled about the concept of those Jews being God's chosen people, and I wasn't one of them, so not chosen, not part of the big family that would become reunited in the skies...
And then my mind, slowly rather than instantly, snapped to its conclusion ( things can snap slowly, take my word for it).
And I concluded that once upon a time there had been a nomadic tribe of stone-age men who had struggled to understand their environment and their place in it, and because they had no written language the stories they told about their understanding of their universe were passed down as a kind of oral record. And they were passed along countless generations, stories that were enhanced by the imaginations of a whole series of long-forgotten story tellers. And then they were written down. Long, long after their origins were first mooted.
Then I realised that if you drew a long line representing human life on Earth only a tiny part of its length was covered by Biblical events. It is a fact that analysis of the lives of the individuals and kings of the old Testament together with the years since the baby in Bethlehem only amount to around six thousand years. A mere six thousand out of so many? What of the activities of God in all the majority of human history, the unrecorded part?
Or maybe the Old Testament is wrong in more ways than the factual?
At that point I knew I'd been duped since my birth, and to start with I felt angry. I'd seen boys punished at school for failing on this or that matter of Christian dogma in class. I'd spent countless hours of my childhood and youth being good so that I could gain entrance, eventually when my time came, into Heaven when all I really wanted was to be good for the sake of doing the humanly right thing. I'd been born during a dreadful global war when God, we were told once it was over, had been on both sides.
And all around the world those who tell the strongest stories of faith and God and Heaven and Hell by some spooky happenstance have cellars of bejewelled caskets and precious things that would, in one fell swoop, solve the starvation of millions. And buildings. They have buildings that reach to the skies, plots of real estate worth unbelievable sums in the modern world, more medicine for the needy poured away because sacred bricks and stones and mortar mean so much more than human life.
In short, I became a convinced atheist. And that's my spiritual ride, but it doesn't have to be yours.
© Peter Rogerson 26.02.13