From: Kate Distin (email@example.com)
Date: Tue 17 Jan 2006 - 12:55:20 GMT
Chris Taylor wrote:
> Ahem (deep breath)...
> I'm interested in your perspective: The Dad thing (thanks btw) wasn't
> (I'd argue) actually formative for me in my religious rejection as it
> took a couple more years before I was aware enough of stuff to make a
> choice (I started Catholic through vertical transmission and went away
> from it just before I'd have been confirmed) and is some 27 years
> distant now; I do think though that I know roughly what my path to my
> own variant of screaming atheism was.
> It started with my being slightly alarmed by the text of the mass (once
> I stopped chanting and listened): Sort of like the icky feeling when one
> hears the root of most common nursery rhymes kids recite, which are
> mostly quite unpleasant (the rhymes not the kids). Narcissism (no other
> gods, and keep the praise coming) not that I knew the word at the time,
> vampirism and cannibalism (transubstantiated or not), the presence of an
> altar with its associations (how very OT). Then I was probably like most
> in that I saw a lot of 'evil' as I watched more news. The death knell
> came with things like the mistranslations in the bible, the range of
> qualitatively different faiths and of course science. Evolutionary
> biology (my thing once upon a time) has a history that starts with
> clerics and ends with loads of atheists :D
> Anyway I wonder what confirmed and sustains your faith in the face of
> what made me so very different in outlook? This is by definition
> probably quite personal but if you can sanitise it I'd feel privileged
> to hear it as you are clearly in possesion of well-developed critical
> Btw I didn't misunderstand I don't think, but I was already building up
> a nice head of steam and so wasn't so clear myself: I am genuinely
> intrigued by what gets under the wire as not absolute (objective
> scientific) proof in the sense of God on TV saying 'Chris start saying I
> rock or you're in for an eternity of fire boyo' but yet is more than gut
> conviction or a response to the possibility of god? I'm repeating the
> above request essentially.
> Cheers, Chris.
Ok - I don't know whether you'd classify what follows as "sanitised",
but this is my background.
[Note added later: this is a pretty long post. It really is just about
my history. Don't plough through it if you're looking for stuff about
religious evidence. I'll do a separate post after, about that.]
My Dad's an atheist and Mum not really anything. They never went to
church. We moved around a lot but always the village schools were
Church of England so I got the odd Harvest Festival and Bible story
thrown in; but that was about it, really.
Then I boarded in my late teens and had to go to church every Sunday I
was at school. I loathed it. There were bits of the Communion service
I could not bring myself to say (the bits about not being worthy to
gather up the crumbs under God's table, etc.) I took O level Religious
Education, which actually was mostly ethics with a few bits of Scripture
for decoration, and spent the entire course in fierce debate with the
school Chaplain, who taught it. I could not believe that someone as
bright and sensible as him could *really* believe this stuff. I felt
the same about my best friend at school, a devout Christian who ended up
at Oxford University and is now a barrister. How could people so
intelligent turn a blind eye to the facts in this way? At about this
time I first read The Selfish Gene, and was so embedded in my own
atheism that I didn't even notice it in Dawkins's writing.
At Cambridge I became even more embedded in my views. Christian Union
members didn't help, lurking around every corner in the hope of a
conversion. (That is seriously unfair, in retrospect, and frankly I
didn't bring much joy to their lives either. But it was how it felt at
the time.) Afterwards I ended up in the Philosophy Department at
Sheffield, doing an MA and then PhD, and as we all know Philosophy depts
are bastions of atheism. I felt very much at home.
Then, partway through my MA, I had a bit of a personal crisis. Other
people's crises are never as interesting as they think they are, so I'll
refrain from the gory details. The relevant bit to this story is that,
in a moment of sheer desperation, I prayed about it - to what, to whom,
I didn't know, but I was pretty desperate. (This may seem pretty
feeble, given how I've described my atheism; but desperate times call
for desperate and apparently even shameful measures.) And then, shock
horror, it *seemed* that my prayer was answered.
Now, shock horror really is how I felt. I was apalled. I admitted it
to nobody. But I had to admit to myself that something had happened
which, if I was really serious about being open-minded and seeking the
truth, I could not ignore. Tentatively, I prayed again - and again
there was either a huge coincidence of timing or the prayer was answered.
So I thought it was time to find out which it had been: coincidence or
answer. I'm not very good at doing things half-heartedly, so I began to
look into this Christianity thing in some detail. I talked to Christian
friends; read literature written by Christian writers including
scientists who are Christians; read John's Gospel for the first time. I
already knew the arguments *against* religion - you can't study
philosophy for any time and not! - but I realised that I just wasn't
familiar enough with what Christianity said to know about the arguments
in its favour. I also subsequently looked into lots of the other world
religions (I taught multi-faith RE for a while, after my PhD). I read
some bible study notes that encouraged the reader to pray at the end of
each reading. I tried a couple of church services, and talked to the
clergy afterwards (was that 'talked to' or 'interrogated'?).
Throughout this time I decided that I had to consider myself on the
fence, religiously speaking. I wasn't prepared to ditch my atheism on
the basis of one answered prayer/coincidence. I did the rational thing
and retained my faith in it, you might say, while I investigated this
new piece of evidence. I continued to read the anti-theist literature,
too; and to talk to other atheists - mostly philosophers, but some
scientists - about this stuff.
And then there came a day when I knew I had to get down off the fence.
It was a complete bloody nightmare. All these years I had been so
publicly, so definitively, so rabidly atheist. What would my Dad say?
My friends? Oohhh - groan - my fellow philosophers? But either God
exists or he doesn't. The claims of Christianity are true or they
aren't. I had to come to a conclusion at some point, and really by now
I knew what it was. So I made my decision. I came out about it. Peals
of laughter rang out around the Philosophy deparment. Life went on.
And the evidence that convinced me? I'll stick it in a separate post,
as I said above. This is much too long already.
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