A new Facebook friend asked how all her atheist friends came to be atheists… So here it is for me, a series I wrote on atheism and first published on my old blog. Although I’d mentioned my atheism in passing before that, this was my first attempt at writing about it. This was originally published on 16 January 2014.
I’m publishing the original four parts here, separated by 30 minutes between posts…
A short intro: Sometimes I have entire entries, right down to the paragraph level, maybe one or two puns or wordplays or some other deliberate ambiguity to keep things interesting, as well as the summary with some sort of smart-ass comment, all in my head before I write a single word. That is, the entire structure is predefined and I know exactly what I want to say, which means that the only thing not preset is individual words making up the clauses to link everything together. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I just write. This is one of those times, so I don’t know how long it will be, or whether there will be more parts.
I’m an atheist. You should already know that by now. But I wasn’t always this way. I started out as a good little Catholic boy, and somehow ended up here. How did I get here? I am interested in what makes me tick, and hence what makes other people tick. The psychological journey, of myself and of others, intrigues me. Thus my objective here is to remember “out loud” how I got here, in anecdotal form. (I recently discovered I’m good at writing anecdotes, so hopefully it will be interesting.) I must warn you that it may not be interesting, so if you find yourself getting bored… Sorry! Just go read something else.
Wind back the clock to 1978, when little six-year-old Jerome started Sunday School. Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, I was too quiet and shy, and struggled to fit in. At six years old, I was probably at about the furthest point from fitting in. I had few friends, and preferred to be alone. I lived in my own world most of the time. This was years before virtual reality, but in my universe, something just like it already existed. In the stories that went around my head as I played, everybody owned a game system, similar to a PlayStation or console system, although no such items existed yet. In my universe, you plugged into the game and became somebody else, either a super-hero here on Earth, or a character on some other planet or space-ship. You could work yourself up, and eventually rule planets. I’m making this sound far more sophisticated than it was… None of my characters even had names because it was a visual game in my head. When they spoke to each other and used names, they would be mumbled, so everybody was called Hmmmph or Ergh.
The point is, the little Jerome who arrived late for that very first Sunday School lesson was a boy who struggled to relate to other children. I hated the Disney-style movies that everybody else loved, like Freaky Friday, because I thought they were false and just too sweet. So when I walked into the room and everybody else was singing “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”, followed by “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so”, which I had never heard before, but decided immediately I disliked, I was completely out of place.
I did grow to love the place though. The old lady who taught the little ones and ran the place was called Aunty Penny, and she made me think of tea and cake, which was my primary objective when not living in my own world. So when we were all encouraged to go to Mass (“It’s a celebration”), I told my parents and ended up going to Mass alone for the first few weeks. (More on that in the next part, including when and why the rest of the family joined me.)
I didn’t know what they meant by celebration. I hoped it would be like a birthday party, with lots of tea and cake. So when I attended that first Mass by myself, I was sorely disappointed to find it was just a normal boring church service, like the ones we (the family) attended at Christmas and Easter. Everybody seemed to know what was going on and had a Sunday Missal, except me, but there were hymn books on the benches. I soon caught onto the pattern of the Mass, and knew when to stand up, or sit down, or kneel, and repeat the mumbo-jumbo like everybody else.
What I did not get was how you were supposed to know what hymn to sing. I was in my first year of school, and so had begun to learn to read. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could make out most of the words and read the hymns without any difficulty, but the mystery of knowing which hymn to sing eluded me for the first two weeks. Then it came to me… Aunty Penny (the sweet old lady who had, in my mind, tricked me into attending because I thought I would get tea and cake) was changing a series of numbers on a wooden board at the front, and those were the numbers of the hymns. I was very happy to have figured it out, but the numbers were often bigger than I could count, and singing didn’t really interest me, so I didn’t actually sing the hymns.
The rest of my team has arrived here at work (the testers), so now I have work to do, and besides, this is about long enough, so here ends part one. There will be a second part, but beyond that, I don’t know.