I grew up within Catholicism since the age of 6years during the 70's, my parents were not practicing religious folk, they were freethinking in all respects. Like all good parents they wanted to send me to the best school, this was a roman catholic school with nuns. My journey was obviously very separate to my parents beliefs. These things, at this age was not spoken about. In fact now my mother is into Daoism & my father before his death found inspiriration in the Buddhist way of life. So it wasn't my parents and their influence that thrust me into Catholicism it was the school I attended. I can only imagine children with parents who were practicing Catholics may not of even had the mindset to even think differently. Guess this is what dogma is all about.
Being a good girl
Prayer & weekly worship was a way of life. My sister dared to do a ouija board outside of school with friends & got suspended. I was never convinced by the religon around me, from my early years I just didn't believe in it all. I just wanted to be myself, at one with nature, climbing trees & enjoying the outdoors. Without religon I was still a good person, I thought, but society dictated I had to be part of a religious group. From early on I just wasn't convinced, something wasn't quite right.
I remember going to confession after our weekly mass & making up that I had hurt my sister, just so I could have my sins forgiven. I had to be a sinner, I didn't feel I could say 'Yes I've been a good girl this week!'. 10 hail mary's later I still didn't feel any better about it. All around me were people that just weren't good, sinister undertones of hyprocricy, not oodles of love or selfless giving. I didn't like the priests either, not the warm father christmas type men you could relate to.
Going against these beliefs or asking questions would make me an outcast. People would treat me differently, like I wasn't good..and I was. Children wouldn't of been allowed to play with me. It was enough my mother was French and foreign, but she made good food, different to the sausage, egg & chips my friends had. The point is different was not good, being an individual was not good and being a girl was not good. The school kindly gave us the skillset of typing and sewing so we could make our way in the world. If we didn't want to get married and wanted a working life we always could be Catholic secretaries that sewed socks!
Being a Christian
It was my mindset for a long time that if I was born in England I was Christian. It was like being English. Any form I filled in or when I was asked, I was a Christian. What else was there? The whole empire was built on Christianity. If you came from Europe you were Christian, if you came from the middle-east your were Muslim. It was that cut & dry.
I left school at 15, it was like a weight lifted from my shoulders but felt I still had to conform. I still had to be Christian to conform with society, if you were an athiest you were bad. Then started my journey into spirituality influenced by mother. Now she hadn't been an influence spiritually to this point, I guess she was on her own journey and probably went through the exact same experience I did at school. I became interested in buddhism thinking it was my only route out of religon. This continued throughout my twenties, trying to find myself, going to mind, body & spirit fairs. Investigating the holistic approach to life. But at the end of the day on that piece of paper I was still Christian.
Throughout my twenties & into my thirties I labelled myself as agnostic. If I didn't believe in god & if he was real then what would I do?. The possibility of ending in damnation was a real one. So many believe right? what if I got it wrong? I would debate with my friends & it would always come down to 'but how do you really know?' and I didn't. I still didn't have the answers to those important questions even if I did believe in god. I was still a Christian on that piece of paper.
The transfomation begins
The internet is a wonderful thing, so much knowledge at your fingertips, I was always curious & loved research into subjects about the human journey & ice ages. I remember writing about how our fear of nature during catastrophic events & natural disasters moved us to worship nature, which turned into religon. All this stuff got me thinking.
I started to look up the definations of labels such as agnostic, humanist & atheist. I went to google one day & typed in 'is it ok to be an athiest?' and started watching videos on youtube of Richard Dawkins & Carl Sagan, this is when I knew it was OK to be an atheist!. I cried. All these great scientific minds who are atheists! It gave me validation.
But that wasn't the end of it. ok now I'm an atheist, so as an example, does that mean I can't celebrate Christmas? I had so many questions, and now begun my settling in years into atheism. So much of our society is built upon Christianity, an atheist still needs to find their place within it. This may have been the toughest time yet. There isn't an atheist handbook. In time I sought answers, loosened the belt of fitting in a box. I could enjoy Christmas & didn't have to have Jesus involved. I became a militant atheist hating all things religious, seeing people who were religious as weak. I then started feeling sorry for them, then after came acceptance.
Life is a journey
life is a learning journey for everyone, an evolution. Just as religon is part of the human journey of evolution. Do I wish I could have been an atheist when I was younger? yes most definately, it's a way of life I would have been so comfortable in. Perhaps if humanity had stuck with nature we would still be there. The truth of the matter is,no matter what we believe in we are all human & from the same place.
More spiritual as an atheist
Years on into atheism and I'm over 40 years old. I'm older & wiser now and have embraced atheism like a comfort blanket....and it's cosy & warm. There are some great minds that campaign for atheism. Being atheist means I can get rid of the rubbish & look with reason at all the information we have now. I can embrace my life & humanity with passion. I see us and the universe as all connected, all living things coming from the same place. There is an overwhelming amount of beauty in nature & science. I have all the answers to life that I need. And it's not cold, it's not dark, I'm not an outcast & I'm still a good girl.
The next generation
The battle and the cycle begins again...
Now this is the bit I was cringing about and you'll see why. My daughter started school last year, we live in the country with one local CofE school, the nearest non-religious school is an hour away, I also work. My choices were home-schooling or an hours travel. My daughter is an only child & needs other children around her, she also gets very car sick 10 minutes down the road. She has grown up with the children of the village that attend this school. They do daily prayers, religious assembly, teach creationism & evolution only in later years <rolls eyes>. Could this of been the same struggle my parents had?
After a huge amount of research I knew my legal standing, I entered her into the school as a freethinker & wrote to & spoke to the head mistress before she started there. I'm glad to say it's nothing like my school was, despite being a church school they are open-minded and good people. My daughter has options and doesn't have to be a part of any religious prayer or ceremony. What's different also is me as a parent, my daughter understands God is a story. But I still get a pit in my stomach feeling from time to time when I think of the indoctrine that comes her way. When they tell stories like Noahs ark, a story of mass genocide no matter how sweet the animals are. Or when I ask her teacher if she believes in creationism and she says yes. What kind of 'intelligent' teacher is teaching my child? <rolls eyes again>
Needless to say, to this day I still have one foot in the school and one foot considering home schooling. Only time will tell. However with a mum like me I hope to be enough of an influence to waft away any lasting harm indoctrine can inflict.
I'd like to see church schools get rid of prayer in the classroom because a classroom is for teaching . My experience suggests to me that at least half the children that attend & their parents do not practice their religon or go to church, but they still put down Christian. This is where it all starts. Maybe if they didn't it would come down to supply & demand.
BUT in this generation I'm pleased to say it's OK to be an atheist!
And what about that peice of paper? ...I put atheist or none of your business. I am no longer Christian!