Monday, February 22, 2010

Seventh Child (New Zealand)

My upbringing as a Christian and turn to Atheism is sort of an odd one. Though in hindsight I kind of prefer it to the alternative of just being raised Atheist.

My family was quite poor. I had three siblings and was the eldest male but younger than one of my sisters. Just after I started school my mother was running into financial trouble so she made the decision to send me off to live with my grandparents. I visited my mother every other weekend or so.

My grandmother is very religious and whilst living with her I had to go to church every Sunday, pray before every meal (Karakia) etc and all the rest of it. Her place was filled with religious items and Bibles of various types. She ran a very Christian household. (I think she is Anglican just for the sake of detail)

As time went on I eventually went back to live with my mother, though we, as a family, still spent a significant amount of time with my grandparents.

Around when I was 9 or 10, we moved to a very small town further south. Our two options for schooling there was either a long drive to the next town over or a 5 minute walk down the road; to the local Christian School that was situated in the town's church. It was off the regular national curriculum as we later found out, but school was school. Only alongside learning maths, English, science and the like, we also had to memorize bible phrases, attend prayer each morning and learn the books of the bible. So as a young child I got a decent indoctrinating.

However there were quite a few experiences that just didn't quite add up.

1. The dichotomy between my grandmother and my mother. I spent a relatively equal amount of time with both of them in my very young years. To my grandmother, religion was extremely important. On the flipside religion didn't factor at all with my immediate family. It's not that they were against religion, it's just that they didn't seem to care or even acknowledge it. Apatheist might be the word to use.

2. As a young child I was quite bright for my age. I applied this to God and Christianity as much as I did in other things and this seemed to evoke the wrong responses from people I trusted. My grandmother would praise me for doing well in school and would tell her friends about what a smart child I was. They would act proud and impressed when I showed my knowledge in English, math, science or history, but if I tried to question God they would either tell me I'm just a stupid child or (my grandmother's favourite) would actually insult my intelligence (Smart Alec, smart ass, "You think you're so smart" etc).

3. My interest lies in computers. I also had a great interest in science as a child (which sadly, I lost throughout high school) and carried around a little pocket book of general science. I once attended a big mass of sorts with my grandmother. They went off to listen to boring adult sermons whilst I was put in a room with a bunch of other Sunday School Students from around the city. I had never known of the arguments between science and religion over the subject of Earth's creation, but this is what they were teaching us in Sunday school (Just standard indoctrination I suppose, "The scientists will tell you this, DON'T BELIEVE THEM"). The exercise they gave us was to give us a floppy disc and break it to pieces in any way we could. Then we put it inside a plastic container and shook it around a bit, then poured the contents out on the floor. The Sunday School Teachers (One of which was an adult I trusted a great deal, they were from our church) proudly proclaimed that if science was right about how the earth and life was created, then shouldn't the floppy disc have emerged fully formed?

Even at this young age, particularly because of my knowledge and love of computers, I thought this was nonsense. I knew how floppy discs were made, and how they worked and it just seemed very silly that they should expect this to work. Furthermore we had just wasted dozens of perfectly good floppy discs.

At the time someone had also (I think my mother or maybe from a Reader's Digest magazine) gotten the words "Primordial Soup" into my head. I think (in hindsight) that it was referring to theories of abiogenesis and particularly experiments that involved charging up concoctions of water and organic materials to simulate lightning striking an earth otherwise devoid of life, but as a child I just liked the words 'primordial soup'. I raised my hand and mentioned this theory, partly inquisitive and partly proudly showing off my knowledge again, as children like to do. Her response was just, "Yeah but it still wouldn't have worked."

It wasn't what she said, but how she said it. It made me feel like what I had done was wrong. I wasn't meant to question, just follow orders and I had hurt her by stepping out of line. I immediately felt embarrassed and shut my mouth for the rest of the lesson.

4. I think the final nail in the coffin was when I attended the Christian school. We had gathered in the auditorium and one of the teachers was discussing miracles. It was something about how even today we can still see miracles all around us. They then asked us (the students) for examples of our own miracles. A few classmates offered up some examples and, not to be outdone, I tried to think of one too.

Like I said earlier, my family was quite poor. My mother had managed to get a job working at the school we attended, but the majority of our money came from government payouts for my solo mother. It had been something of a rough patch before that class, but my mother had received some money from the father of my (half) brother and sister to help out. I told a story of how our family had been in financial trouble and then a few days later we had received a cheque in the mail. Entirely true.

But then she asked "and when that happened, did you know it was God that had helped you?". I said, "Yes." But I was lying. Not lying because I was deluded that I thought God had actually caused the money to be sent, not rationalizing and saying "Yes, I believe God asked my mother's ex-husband to send us money." I knew the full story and had just decided to lie. When I realized I was lying to others, I thought that maybe they were also lying to me, maybe I was lying to myself and maybe they were lying to themselves as well.

That made me feel embarrassed (even as I told the class my story, my cheeks were burning). Whenever the issue of God came up, I felt embarrassed. At the time my computer's screensaver (thoughtfully donated to the family by the same ex of my mother that had instilled in me my love of computers) was that well known image of Jesus the saviour, but I removed it. There wasn't any big coming out or anything, I just slid God under the rug. I do recall some nights of actively wondering. Asking God if he could show me some sign (Actually there was one experience there that almost had me believing again).

By the time I reached High School, all my Christian Indoctrination had just washed out of me. Like my immediate family, I just didn't care anymore. I adopted the term "Agnostic" when I learned of it and remained that way for most of my life past the age of 13 or so.

I never critically considered the issue again until recently. Someone had linked a QualiaSoup video, not to me but in response to someone else. It was all "downhill" from there. I loved the video, it made me think, was incredibly interesting and I wanted more. I watched all of his videos, moved on to others like cdk007 and Thunderf00t and eventually to Richard Dawkins own YouTube account. After watching those videos and coming here I officially adopted the term "Atheist" (Although I still append the term 'Agnostic' to it, for the sake of being specific and slightly less antagonizing to the religious, though I think most would feel it is assumed in any case. Agnostic Fairyist etc).

I haven't read the God Delusion yet but I will very soon, my girlfriend still hasn't finished reading it. I've already read Greatest Show on Earth and am currently reading Unweaving the Rainbow. I'd forgotten how interesting and amazing science can be.

Anyway this post was a lot longer than I had intended, sorry for the wall of text. My indoctrination was probably a great deal weaker than what many others would have received but I still found it a very interesting experience, especially as I was essentially being led down different paths at the same time by different people.

I'm from New Zealand, I've always thought it was fairly secular, and sure it is, but then I realize people like Brian Tamaki and even Ray Comfort are from here too.

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