Home > Autobiographical, Personal > Personal: No Gods or Kings, Only Man

Personal: No Gods or Kings, Only Man

Andrew Ryan may be fictional, but that's still a fantastic quote.

People have a tendency to edit their memories, especially when we change our minds about something or receive additional information that alters our perspective. We have trouble accepting that we ever believed something that we now find almost incomprehensible, because it stands to reason that we could never be so wrong about something (this post about Hindsight Bias at You Are Not So Smart is a good read on the subject).

I’m sure that’s how it is with my atheism, because as far as I’m concerned I’ve never believed in any gods, which can’t be true.

England isn’t a particularly religious country, at least not as I’ve experienced it in almost three decades here. I’ve known very few people to actually go to church every week or who treat their faith as something that has a major impact on their lives. As children God is treated as a fairly matter-of-fact being along with the countless other childhood myths, and it would be rare for an adult to just tell a child that there is no god or afterlife or things of that nature. I’m sure then that at some point I did believe in the Christian god, but I can not remember doing so or what it would feel like to ‘know’ that such a being exists.

My only significant childhood memories that concern religion are both based in non-belief. The first was in primary school (so somewhere between ages seven to eleven and probably closer to the latter), when my friends and I were trying to organise doing something at the weekend. For some reason Saturday was no good, and when we started talking about Sunday one of my friends pointed out that he couldn’t do anything Sunday morning because he had church.

I recall being surprised that somebody I knew went to church and started questioning him about it. Did he really go every week (“Yes.”), did he really believe in God and Jesus and all that stuff (“Of course.”) and other things along those lines. I remember being stunned at the realisation that people really believed it all, despite going to a school where we sang hymns every day that praised Jesus and which had close ties to the local church (and has even named itself for a saint since I left). So by about age ten then I definitely didn’t believe and didn’t even remember having done so.

My other religious memory concerns the census that the government sends out every ten years. The most recent was just a few months ago so this memory must concern the 1991 census, when I was nine years old (putting my atheism even earlier), as it definitely wasn’t the 2001 census. I remember looking through the questions and being surprised to see my mother had listed our religion as Church of England, seeing as we had no connections to the religion at all. When I asked her about it she said that it was just what people always put down and that it didn’t mean anything. There was a campaign this year saying the opposite, that people stating they were part of a religion they didn’t actually follow gave the wrong impression in the census data, causing religion to look more popular than it really is and which affected the level of funding and importance religious groups received. This time we all put No Religion for our beliefs, and my mother didn’t even remember ever putting Church of England down in the other census.

My atheism has always been fairly casual then. No struggling deconversion, no rift with religious friends or family, just a sort of defaulted-to position when no other belief was presented as a valid alternative. Having something of a background in science means it’s something I became more passionate about as an adult, especially when hearing about how religious groups in the United States try to undermine science education, and reading about the way certain religions treat women is infuriating and heartbreaking.

On a personal level though the non-existence of God isn’t something I’m passionate about or that I’ve had to fight for, it’s just how things are. There are no gods, and I don’t remember thinking that there ever were.

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  1. August 5, 2011 at 19:02

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