The Evolution of an Atheist
I was an atheist from a fairly early age.
Like perhaps the majority of the Western World’s greatest sperm, I was born. As such, my geographic location just north of London meant my dance with the divine began in an old, cold building with a white man in a dress putting his wet finger on my confused baby head.
He splashed me a bit, read something from the best-selling book of all time, and a lot of older people I would later become aware of smiled cooperatively while pretending not to care that they could have been three or four Bloody Marys happier somewhere else.
At that moment, even though my cognitive function was not yet developed enough to avoid shitting myself all day, I apparently earned the rite of passage into one of the world’s more diluted forms of the Christian Church. If you think it was exploitative that I had no apparent free will when entering such an important spiritual contract, don’t worry. I can honestly tell you, at the time, I didn’t give two milky tits about it.
In fact, Christianity worked out great for years.
This God character, despite being all-knowing and all-powerful, generally seemed to keep His nose out as I thundered around nursery school, falling over and bonking girls on the head with a big rubber hammer. He didn’t stop me making faces at the teachers, or peeing on the toilet seat, or putting my dinner in my hair. I liked Him, and it seemed pretty obvious that He liked me too. He let me get away with loads of naughty stuff; sort of like a cool, hip dad that let’s you drink some beer if you promise not to tell your mother.
Indeed, there was one time when all of the adults went out and I was misguidedly trusted to look after a dog. On that occassion, God even let me take a decorative Shaolin sword off the wall and try and slice an apple in half with it, just like in all those movies I wasn’t supposed to be watching and getting ideas from. To my naive surprise, the apple didn’t splice in two, cleanly separate, and slide apart like I had expected. It fucking exploded. I spent hours frantically cleaning up an incredible amount of apple matter from the walls, floor, ceiling, furniture, sword, and dog.
There was almost definitely a commandment about not doing that kind of thing, I was sure of it, but it still didn’t seem to matter — I got away with it again.
Me and God, we were mates.
Not far from this time, then, did it seem entirely silly to the increasingly thinky thing inside my head that the World might just revolve around me. Boring adults were always telling me it didn’t, of course, especially whenever I did something obviously clever like eat all the jelly… but how could they prove it? I certainly couldn’t. For all I knew, adults left the room and suddenly disappeared. On the other hand, I knew that I existed because I could smell myself. Plus, when I went to bed, the whole world went away just because I wasn’t awake to look at it. Then it magically came back again exactly as I finished sleeping. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Then I got thinking about that definitely real, true story that I was told about Jesus. The world revolved around me, so I must have been told that story for a reason. I was told he was due back any minute now, apparently, but nobody knew exactly when.
Well, I was the only person that I knew definitely existed, and I also seemed to me like a pretty nice kid, especially when you ignored all those times when other people thought I wasn’t…. well, you know, couldn’t I be Jesus?
With all those songs they made us sing about being God’s children in primary school, no wonder the idea occasionally fluttered on the nose-picking periphery of my subconscious for a while.
I was a good lad. When I was punished, I remember, it was always unfair. Whenever I did something wrong, it was never my fault. Whenever I was bad, it was only an accident. There was certainly no way in Heaven that I deserved to go to Hell. Burning, flaming, awful, unbearable torment and torture for all eternity just because I found swearing hilarious in school, pushed a wardrobe down some stairs, crashed a golf cart, threw fruit at cars, lied about kicking a mirror while practising karate, and occasionally stole a chocolate bar? Yeah, right, I thought as I planned out my dream mansion in the clouds, complete with Sega Megadrive game library, Pop Tarts at every meal, and my beloved Right Said Fred tape on endless repeat.
It was around this time, though, that God stopped doing Himself any favours.
On one hand, He kept making me taller. This I liked, especially for the immediate benefit of being able to reach more stuff that I shouldn’t. On the other hand, however, he was giving me a bigger head. There was literally more brain in there, and it was using all the extra space it had annexed from the outside world to do more thinking. By the age I was falling out of trees with frightening regularity, I started to understand that not everyone in the world believed the exact same things about God, life and death as I did.
On other parts of the planet, apparently, people didn’t think that Jesus was the virgin-born son of God who could save your eternal soul if you loved him telepathically, or that all animals exist because two of each species got on a boat with a 600-year-old farmer and survived a genocidal flood sent to cleanse the blood of humanity, or that evil exists in the soul of all people because a woman made of dust and rib talked to a snake then ate a forbidden fruit from a magic tree. No, these other people believed in all kinds of nonsense.
By my fingers-and-toes counting estimations, there were at least thousands of people on the planet, and the majority of them, it turned out, followed entirely different religions to the one I did.
There were ones that sat down a lot, some who wore bed-sheets or hats, others who didn’t like women very much, some that pointed in a specific direction every day, ones that wouldn’t eat burgers, and another lot that knocked on your door to smile at you.
At first I thought I was pretty lucky to get the right God, but then my increasingly pesky head started to think that it actually seemed a bit strange that most of the world’s population were going straight to Hell just because they weren’t born in the right country, continent, or hemisphere.
How could so many people believe such different things and still believe they were definitely right?
It started to seem to me that there were more gods than Pokemon, and they couldn’t all be in the sky, surely, otherwise there would be no room for the birds and the aeroplanes and Superman and Santa? I was young, but I was starting to figure out something that some of these taller humans seemingly hadn’t.
Either nobody was right, or my friend God, the ultra laid-back babysitter dude who once let my young cousins and I entertain ourselves by throwing live crabs into traffic, was not really giving everybody a fair chance. To create a world and universe just for People, then send the majority of them to Hell just because they weren’t born in the right place to read His autobiography seemed a bit devious to me, especially when it was Him who chose to create them in the first place. It was sort of like hiring a teacher, stealing all their clothes, and spraying them with lighter fluid, then hysterically blaming them for being a dangerous, flammable pervert that ruined the school carpet.
So, like any kind of smartarse kid (who only just figured out He wasn’t Jesus) would do, I started getting a little brave with the Almighty. Testing him. I called him an idiot at first. Then a sky idiot. Then a pretend, useless flipping cloud-twat.
I opened my eyes. No lightning… no boils…
So I swore at him, ‘God, you dicky dick… you tossy dicky tosspot.’ No floods… no plagues...
… No consequences.
It was then, somewhere between the age of seven and whenever I figured out how to swear properly, that I realised the World was the same colourful, silly, chaotic, fun, strange, dumb and indifferent place whether He was there watching it or not, and, quite obviously it seemed, He wasn’t.
Before I even knew the word, I’d become a simple kind of atheist.
Despite this, there were still times as a child that I would get scared, and my faith in my lack of faith would suddenly seem less certain; perhaps on stormy nights, with coloured, cartoon covers bundled to my chest, or when the looming anxiety of getting caught for something particularly bad would creep under all defenses and grip me like a vice; when I felt entirely powerless to prevent the unfolding of some frothing, plotting future, I would still pray.
“Please, God, help me… please… I promise if you help me not get caught I will believe in you again… please… I promise, God, just help me.”
I knew it wouldn’t change anything, I think, but if I did get what I wanted there was still one last thought I couldn’t help but direct towards that expansive sky with no one in it.
“Haha, tricked you again.”