Picture the upbringing. Daily bible reading (very selective) and prayers at home. Daily prayer and homilies at school. Church on Sunday. Social life revolving around the church. Harvest suppers and silly games. Visits to hear Billy Graham and Gladys Aylward and the like. Embarrassment on the toilet because God sees us everywhere – all the time. I still remember the terror I felt when one day I accidentally dropped my Bible.
Every letter received was carefully perused by my parents. I was never sure what they expected to find. A school friend lent me a copy of a Bertrand Russell book and its reading was forbidden.
We were aware of other beliefs. Jews were nice people but misguided, Catholics superstitious and, oh, the parental pursed lips when I came home saying I had learned who Mohammed was!
On to university and boyfriends and some debate. I heard the question, “Do you believe in God?” It is hard to credit but it had never occurred to me that there were people who did not. (I know – I find this hard to believe as well.)
I stopped attending church simply from boredom at first, but retained some type of unconsidered beliefs. I married in church but, becoming increasingly doubtful, faced down opposition and did not have my daughter christened. She was brought up without god at home, but he was still a big presence in both her primary and secondary schools. I felt a vague permeating sense of guilt. Should I at least take her to church to give her the chance to make up her own mind?
Years and years of slow decline in belief followed. I read the parts of the bible that had not been selected, and realised what a vicious and vindictive god I had worshipped. Yet I still missed the ritual, the carols at Christmas and the ready-made social life. The whole package is very hard to shake off, especially the feeling that is instilled that those who do not believe are wicked.
I cast around for something else, but I will spare you the details!
I had heard of Humanists, but had met only one or two and knew next to nothing about them. I started reading and talking, and realised this is where I fit. Humanists believe that as we only have one life it is essential to make it the best we can. For ourselves, and of course for others. It came as a massive relief and a revelation akin to St Paul’s that it really is OK not to believe. That there are thousands of people who do not and with better education these numbers would undoubtedly grow.
I feel sad for those who retain weird beliefs, but I understand how easy it is not to question. It is their prerogative to go on believing, but they have no right to inflict this on others in any way, particularly on children.