My mother dutifully went to church on Sunday and sent us to Sunday school where we were taught about baby Jesus and sang hymns like ‘All Things bright and Beautiful’, which told us God has created us in our place (i.e. as rural working people at the bottom of the social ladder - but at least we weren’t black like those unfortunate sub-human African and Asian people).
All we had to do to get to Heaven when we died, was to know our place, to work hard for our masters and betters and say sorry to God for being such awful sinners. If we were very lucky, God would forgive us and we could go and join baby Jesus.
But I learned to read.
I read anything and everything. I read every book in the house, including anything about nature – animals, birds, plants, fish – you name it I read about it if I could. I asked for books on birds for my birthday.
And I read ‘history’.
In those days schools had radios and the BBC broadcast educational programs for schools. One of these was history which, bizarrely, included Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology. We learned of the wooden horse of Troy, of the battle on the Plains of Marathon, where Pheidippides heard God Pan talking to him. We learned about Jason and the Argonauts, where gods frequently spoke to men.
We heard about Zeus and Apollo and Ra and Isis and how men fought for and died for their gods and how gods directed the affairs of man. I loved Greek and Roman ‘history’ with its heroes and mythical beasts and talking gods and people who believed in them and obeyed their commands.
But they were wrong, obviously, weren’t they? There is only one God and only the Hebrews knew about him. Only the Hebrews had the correct version of history. The Jews had been chosen by God so only they knew the real truth. All those other people? Well they were obviously wrong because they weren’t right. The Bible said so...
But THEY thought they were right; THEY heard their god’s voices, just as Abraham and Moses, Job and David, Mary and Elizabeth and Paul and John had...
So how do we know the Jews got it right, and correct in every detail, when all the others got it wrong?
And we haven’t even looked at the Hindus and the Buddhists... We’ll, they can be dismissed because they’re inferior humans unlike the noble Romans and Greeks... and the Egyptians before they became Arabs.
But still, they believed it, didn’t they?
Obviously they were wrong because they weren’t as civilised or intelligent as the English... but then nor were the Jews, were they?
Nope. It didn’t make sense. Obviously we had it right and they were wrong. No question about that. We’re English after all...
Then one day, when I was nine, the Anglican school I went to had an end of term service at the local church. Sitting there listening to a vicar droning on about something or other I noticed a stained glass window. It may have been some saint or other but I thought it was God. He was wearing a purple Roman toga, as they do.
Suddenly a light switched on in my mind.
How come they believed they were right and we believe they were wrong? Obviously we can't ALL be right!
No, but we can all be wrong! Easy. Christianity is just another Roman myth!
The God of the Hebrews and the Bible is no more real than the gods of Pheidippides and Paris; of Hector and Jason. It is just another myth. (Tweet this)
It was an exhilarating feeling; suddenly everything made so much more sense. We lived in a world not full of things which we couldn't understand, but a world full of things we could understand. All we had to do was find things out. The greatest liberation of the mind comes from discovering that we don't know everything; in fact, we know very little.
I have been an Atheist ever since and have never stopped finding things out. Everything I have learned about biology, physics, chemistry, history, politics; of art and music and human culture; of moral development and memetic evolution; of cosmology and quantum physics, has reinforced that sudden realisation.
God is just another myth.
God merely fills the gap in the minds of the ignorant and provides a means by which the unscrupulous control and exploit the credulous and gullible. God justified the class system which had held back my people for generations and prevented them getting above themselves with ambition and by questioning their betters. God "created the high and lowly and ordered their estate".
Did he chuff?! Jack is at least as good as his master!
And God gave us dominion over the animals, the birds, the fishes and the plants so, if we couldn't eat them, wear their skins of hunt them for sport, they were vermin to be exterminated.
No! I don't know where she got it from, but my mother, who seemed to know everything about birds, animals, wild flowers and trees, taught us that everything has a right to life. Even spiders were caught and gently taken outside unless it was very cold, or wet, then they were allowed to stay in. No one owns nature. We just share the same planet.
God justifies behaviour and attitudes which could never be justified by humanity and love for one's fellow beings and for the planet upon which we have the great good fortune to experience life.
God justifies the worst in Man.