Here is another account in my series of real-life deconversion stories. They are often painful, psychological affairs, as you can see from the various accounts. Mine isn’t, though.
Please check out my book of deconversion accounts, edited with Tristan Vick, which can be bought from here, or by clicking on the book cover. The previous accounts can be found here:
There is nothing groundbreaking about my deconversion because I was only really nominally religious in a typical English sort of way. There are a few elements, which I have mentioned before on this blog, that I think are of note.
I was brought up in a household that really didn’t ever talk about religion. My parents were religious. I think. My mother claims she isn’t anymore in that simplistic “religion causes all the wars” type approach that I don’t have the energy to deal with. My parents were both in the Royal Navy, my mother leaving before I was born. My father is religious in that sort of traditional sense, where it’s wrapped up in cultural identity. He occasionally goes to midnight mass and is a Freemason, increasingly reading more and more right-wing news sources and was a dyed in the wool Brexiteer.
We have some fun conversations.
But as a child, religion was never ever mentioned.
I went to Sunday school, but it bored me and I kicked up a fuss and my mother pulled me out before I was five (earlier as far as I remember).
Being from a naval background, and eventually moving around the world every few years, this meant that the RN paid a boarding school allowance. My two sisters and I were lucky enough (or not, depending on what you believe) to go to private boarding schools.
This was, I believe, one of the keys to my deconversion.
At “Scripture” lessons at my prep school, I did not really interact seriously with any belief or theology, preferring to graffiti in my Bible. I still have it and it is funny how little I cared for the stories we were being fed to us (in quite a noncommittal way). The school was nominally religious, but I cannot overtly remember really believing anything religious before I left there at thirteen.
My next school, from then until the age of eighteen, was more religious by point of fact we had chapel on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (one wasn’t particularly religious, more of a presentation by children on different subjects), Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings upon return to school. The chapel was impressive with the biggest sandstone altar in the UK, if I am correct.
At the age of fifteen or so, I was confirmed. This was a pretty big thing and I would clearly have identified as a Christian. The bishop laid his hand on my nervous head and I was in the club.
To be fair, looking back on it now, I didn’t even vaguely understand Christian theology. I had some kind of bastardised version of Christianity whereby I prayed to God for comfort and to ask for things, but I didn’t understand that Jesus was God incarnate. I didn’t know what “incarnate” meant. I thought, like so many people I speak to now, that Jesus was the physical son of God.
Jesus died for our sins. Sure, I was told this, and could thus parrot it. But I didn’t have a clue what that meant.
I still don’t. Because it makes no sense.
I wore a crucifix. I think it was a sort of virtue signalling. That said, I barely ever talked about religion outside of…well, my prayers.
Religion wasn’t even debated. As kids, it just didn’t feature. As British kids, even less so.
Because of this nominal upbringing from both my parents and my schools, I never felt pressured to believe, and I never had overt religiosity shoved down my throat. Despite the grandiose-looking chapel, and the hymns, and the vestments of the choir, and the ritual, the whole religious thing was distinctly CofE English. Just part of the background, but at no point driving life and actions. Prayer was about asking for things or for a tired chat when falling asleep.
With schools like my second one, where there was staid religious ritual forced at certain times of the week, children are more likely to eventually reject such religion. It is given as a framework, but that framework is empty or flimsy. It has no meat, and is forced upon teenagers who are clearly more likely to reject it. Having to drone out some hymns whilst listening to some uncharismatic chaplain sort drone on whilst you are busy pissing around on the sly with your mates in the pews is no way to keep anyone at that age religiously engaged.
Quite the opposite.
Being sent away from my parents was a real delight. I say this in the context of psychology. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. As a teacher, I see how similar children are to their parents. Genetics and environment conspire to replicate. But when the apple is hurled across the world, even though it has distinct appleness, it grows in a very different way. The light is different. The climate unique.
In short, I really feel I was able to become who I wanted to become. Or, I was really able to become a much different person given the larger impact of my environment than if I had lived at home during my childhood. Living largely abroad (Hong Kong, Lancashire – felt abroad, and Gibraltar), and being schooled away from my parents the entire time, my childhood was fertile ground to play with ideas and think differently to perhaps what my parents would have me think. There was no pressure to conform to any kind of thought, and even in the context of privileged private school, I was certainly iconoclastic – I was always liberal and certainly not authoritarian, and was almost certainly in the outgroup!
Giving up what weak belief I did have remains lost in faded memories. I think it was during the final stages of school, or shortly thereafter. I went backpacking around the world, and can’t ever remember thinking of religion at any point. I remember stopping wearing my silver crucifix, but not exactly when.
What pushed me into unbelief? Well, I think it was broadly the problem of evil. Going around the world and seeing different religions, different inequalities, different systems, different sufferings – it all seemed incompatible with the classical God of monotheism. That said, it wasn’t until university and living with four engineer mates and all the late night quantum and cosmology conversations that I really kicked back against religion. From then on, it was an inexorable drive towards a more strongly held atheism. God seemed unfair and I saw no need for God. The concept played no functional role in my life because the environment around me had not conditioned the idea of God to do so. All those functions that God provides for so many other people around the world were instead provided by people, by myself, and by my understanding of how the world worked.
I have always been an inquisitive and iconoclastic person and I think this was the genetic vehicle that interacted with a fairly religiously vacant environment that led to where I am today.
So this is probably the most uninteresting deconversion of the whole series I have run here, but I think there is something of value in the lack of overt belief conforming environment right throughout my life that played a large part in my present unbelief. It also means I am not psychologically pushing back at anything out of some feeling of resentment or lost time in my life. My atheism is about the ideas.
Please read through the series and submit your own account to be posted here.
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