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Kate’s life story

April 28, 2011
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Geek

Dad was always a geek.

Or at least, he was a 70’s maths teacher, before he went into the Church.  He was a computer teacher back when the school’s computer was the size of a fridge, and would add and subtract 4-digit binary numbers, on punchcards.

Going into theological college (vicar training school) when I was 2 didn’t stop him being geeky.  His interest in science, maths and computing continued at full stretch.

He also inherited an interest in mathematical puzzles from his own father, and they used to compete over issues of Tough Puzzle magazine, or over the crossword.

I am the oldest child.  Looking back, it is clear that a lot of the games Dad played with me as a kid were actually training in maths, logic, science, and other such geeky subjects.  He coached me for exams, and supplemented the maths training my schools weren’t giving me.  I got my first computer – Sinclair ZX81 – at 12, and learned to program it in Basic.  We went to science museums together as a treat.

All of this obviously warped me considerably, and made me the woman I am today.

It gave me a devotion to truth, logic and evidence which I still have today.

Christian

However, at the same time I was growing up in Christianity – and in Evangelical Charismatic Christianity, at that.

[Don’t worry, I’ll explain later!]

Now, many people will tell you they were brought up Christian.  Often this turns out to mean Sunday School, Christmas, Easter.   Marriages and baptisms in Church.  I often have difficulty explaining to people that my Christian upbringing went somewhat further than that.

My Christian upbringing was deadly serious and all-pervasive.  My parents were and are dead serious about their faith, and brought us up the same way.  The Christian faith, and its associated values and ethics, were absolutely central to our family life at all times.

We were brought up on concepts of God’s love, Jesus’ sacrifice, sin and redemption, Heaven and Hell, angels and demons, temptation and steadfastness.  All of these were considered day-to-day realities.

Evangelical Christianity, briefly, is a cousin to fundamentalism.  It involves taking the Bible literally, and requires that each individual should personally accept Christ as saviour and invite him into their heart.

Charismatic Christianity is rather harder to explain to anyone who hasn’t had experience of it.  The Bible shows several examples in the New Testament of believers being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and developing spiritual powers or gifts as a result.  These can include supernatural healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy, discernment of spirits, etc., just as set out by St Paul.  Charismatic Christians believe that God still sends these gifts to believers, and pray to receive them.

So I grew up in a family, and in a church, which believed and applied both of the above.

  • Christ died to save us, and the only way to be saved is to accept Him
  • The Bible is literally true and the arbiter of behaviour and belief
  • God is active in the world, and intervenes, either through His people, by answering prayers, or by sending gifts of the Spirit.
  • Many things are sinful, including homosexuality and extramarital sex.  Men are divinely ordained as heads of their families.

My parents also believe(d) that demons were real, and sent to tempt Christians or destroy Christian achievements.  I remember, for example, that an illness of a family dog was set down to demonic intervention.

Dad was intimately involved in all of these teachings, first as a curate (trainee vicar) and later as a vicar in his own right.  He was generally in a leadership position in any Christian event I went to.  He was also spiritual head of our family, and of course led the teaching I got at home.

I always tried really hard to be a good daughter and a good Christian.  I fervently believed everything I was taught at home and in church about the faith, and I accepted Jesus into my heart.

In fact, I accepted Jesus into my heart repeatedly.  I never felt as if I had done it well enough the first time.

I went to Christian youth groups and holiday camps and summer schools.  I learned everything I was taught and applied it assiduously.  I kept on and on trying.

However, I never received a gift of the Spirit.  I never healed anyone or spoke in tongues or prophesied.  All around me people were doing this, transported in ecstasy, but not me.

Cognitive dissonance

As I got older, the two sides of my upbringing – the geeky logical side and the Christian side – came into conflict in my mind.  I started developing independence, and applying logic and evidence to the Christianity I saw around me.

Mostly this made me confused and miserable.

I saw contradictions in people’s beliefs and behaviour.  I was often cleverer than visiting preachers, and could pick holes in bad arguments.

I watched Charismatic Christian services and behaviour, and I stopped being able to believe that every claimed experience or gift was genuine.  I started putting many phenomena I had seen down to mass hysteria and wishful thinking.

But my early teaching held strong, and I clung to the faith.

University

When I went to university I learned more about the world, and more about other points of view.  For my first year I used the extremes of the faith to give me something to cling to in the new uncertainties of the wider world, and I became more and more dogmatic.

The first chink in my beliefs came when I met real life gay people, and discovered that they were not evil, and were not really different to anyone else.

[I think I hurt at least two people in my initial shocked reactions, for which I am still deeply sorry.]

I was unable to construct a logical argument to my own satisfaction which would allow me to believe both that God created us and loved us, and that gay people should have to choose between celibacy and sin.

I was repelled by some of the words and actions of the Evangelical Christians I met at university.

By slow degrees, my beliefs became more and more liberal.  I gradually left Evangelical Christianity, and became a liberal Christian.

Liberal Christianity allowed me to reconcile the two sides of my life much more easily, because it is less dogmatic and more flexible than Evangelicalism.  It allowed me to fit in with the progressive social life at university and afterwards.  It allowed me to continue with my studies and learn more about the world, without bringing that new knowledge into conflict with my faith.  It allowed me to keep all the emotional and social benefits of being a believer.

Only one problem remained.

Truth

I said at the beginning that I was taught to value truth and evidence above all else.

There came a time, at age 26, when the weight of evidence against Christianity became overwhelming.  I had over the years given up one tenet of faith after another, but still kept that core belief in God, and sense of having a relationship with Him.

One day, however, that belief was not there.  The seesaw had tipped under the weight of evidence.

I was absolutely devastated, but I had to face the truth.  Neither my upbringing nor my own core values allowed me to go on acting as a Christian when I no longer had the faith to support it.

The experience of losing my faith was deeply traumatic.  I spent about a week in tears – coincidentally, in a week of professional turmoil as well.

[My devastation may seem incomprehensible to anyone who didn’t grow up with this sort of heartfelt faith – but imagine a combination of a bereavement and a relationship breakdown.  The most central relationship of my life turned out to be with someone who never existed.]

Dealing with the fallout of this meant renegotiating most of my friendships and relationships, all of which had been built around the Church.

However, I could not look back.

For the ten years since, I have been an atheist.  I went through a mourning period for my faith, but I cannot regret leaving it, because it is not true.

Now, the idea of religious belief is nearly incomprehensible to me.  I cannot imagine being there again.

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