I’m not a Christian. I’m an atheist from a pair of atheist parents.
With a love of drama and performance (you see where this is going, right?) I did, however, attend after-school Christian clubs when I was a child.
My best friend in the early 1980s (I moved around a lot, so best friends came and went) was Ellen, and she was from a very very Christian family. When my love of acting and reading became evident, her parents invited me to join Treasure Seekers, an after school club run by the Methodists in Thetford. My parents put up no objections, so I went.
I loved the theatre of it all. The plays, the musicals, the recitals – even a basic, dull Treasure Seekers involved someone (hopefully me!) being called up to the front to read something. Did I ever actually believe? Probably not. The Methodists tended to assume that, if they’ve got you there, the work is done. Kinda like the Sally Army, who pump time and money into feeding and sheltering the homeless THAT SHOULDN’T EXIST IN 2012 and take the singing of a hymn beforehand as the entire price they charge. The actual saving is left up to Jesus or their god to take care of: they just do the bits needed to get people within shouting distance.
The theology of it all didn’t touch me. This was A Good Thing really, because the theology of any religion makes the geeky scientist in me take a step back and start observing the anthropological specimens in front of me with ever more distance. When the BBC moved Doctor Who to a weekday night that clashed with Treasure Seekers, I stopped going to Treasure Seekers. The opportunity to act in front of an audience was nothing compared to the opportunity to watch Doctor Who and thus be the ideal person for the BBC to cast as the sixth (too ambitious), seventh (a teenaged Doctor? Yeah), eighth (they wouldn’t cancel it OBVIOUSLY) or most likely ninth (beware, Eccleston, you stole my role) Doctor. My big role, despite a lack of (a) drama school and (b) talent, was on the cards.
Clearly this didn’t happen, for the good of Whoers everywhere. I was left with a very shallow imprint of Christianity instead. This was enough to make me benevolent to all religions for most of my life. If you look at the headline rules that Christians, Jews and Muslims believe in (and, basically, all the other religions) then you get a set of rules that we should all work towards. Love, peace, integration, generosity, openness, happiness – every religion is based on these things. And so am I.
Time passes, with me generically benevolent to religion.
And then I’m invited to the Christening of Kate and Tim’s first child. My partner of the time was a Christian, as were Kate and Tim. The Christening was a Methodist one. Nobody batted an eyelid at inviting the atheist gay lover of a parishioner to take part in the audience/congregation/whatever. The thing I saw was that we were welcoming a new member of the human race into our society – a good thing.
It turned out that that day was also whatever the Methodists have as an equivalent of a Mass. Dealcoholised wine was passed down the pews. When it reached me, I took it and, with a small smile, handed it on. The woman next to me was SCANDALISED and made it very clear how disgusted she was I hadn’t taken part.
My respect for religion shrivelled in her glare. Exactly what part of her god’s plan for us all involved a look of sheer hate and disgust at someone who felt they couldn’t take part in their ritual? Suddenly, I started to see all religion as simply ritual – and rituals are by their very nature ridiculous. I said then I would never again go into a church voluntarily.
This is all a long way of saying how religion – ritual religion – decided to alienate me for not taking part. I was never really going to be caught, but the opportunity to keep me in orbit around religion existed; the opportunity to not make an enemy of me was there. People with religion didn’t take it – they would prefer that I indulge in an unfamiliar ritual rather than try to adapt even by a millimetre the ritual itself.
So they alienated me from religion. They pushed me from being “agnostic” (in this case, agnostic meaning “it’s bollocks, but it’s your bollocks so that’s fine”) to being atheist. And then they (you know who I mean) started saying that my atheism itself was A Bad Thing and that I was a “militant” and a “fascist” and a “communist” for being an atheist. Of course, it didn’t help when someone of limited metal acuity like Baroness Warsi tied her boat so firmly to that freak Nick Griffin’s mast in an attempt to unite religious people (which includes neither Warsi nor Griffin) with “normality” (which includes neither Warsi’s followers nor Griffin’s).
They have labelled me a militant atheist. And so I now am. Fuck your rituals, you sad deluded proto-humans. Fuck your religions too, despite the whole love-care-forgive-include stuff that they say but you don’t follow. And fuck your attempts to foist your insane, backward, racist, sexist, homophobic views on the rest of us in the name of what your so-called god requires of you. Fuck off, the lot of you. And then read this, from a man who is celebrating the holding back of the tide whilst admitting that you people have doomed yourselves.