I did not grow up in a religious household. My mom and dad were raised Catholic and both hated organized religion because of that. I was never baptized. I was even born out of wedlock (gasp!).
Despite all of this, I was not raised as an atheist or agnostic. I had a vague notion of belief in a god that came in large part from my maternal grandmother. My mom once told me she thought one or the other of my grandmothers was going to kidnap my siblings and me and get us baptized.
I lived with belief in a vague idea of a god for the first 11 years or so of my life. Reading became my passion, and, looking back, I realize I read children’s versions of Bible stories in much the same way as I read fairy tales like Cinderella, with no particular reverence for them (more reverence for Cinderella because she got to be a princess). I do not think my child self ever believed in the Christian god.
I did believe there was a god, a male god, who was looking out for me. Until I started praying, that is. I prayed like I saw children pray on television starting around the time that my parents split up, which was a traumatic event for my ten-year-old self. I never noticed any change from praying. I did not really feel comforted. Nothing bad happened to change my opinion on the existence of god, but I started to feel like it was pointless to pray. In fact, I felt a bit silly and realized I was talking to myself – no one else was listening.
My mom always did her best to teach my siblings and me to think for ourselves. I think, even at a young age, this had a profound effect on my thought processes. I did not feel bound to any particular set of ideas.
Phillip Pullman broke the last chain, so to speak. I was skeptical of religion, but reading his Dark Materials trilogy (which I received as a gift on my 12th birthday) really made me think. A lot. It’s not that the book itself encourages atheism, but it certainly encourages thought about society and about what people believe. It also encourages thought about the many, many possibilities and the incredible amount of self-obsession that Christianity encourages in terms of making people think they and their religion are the center of the universe.
Anyway, the Dark Materials made me think, “The story in these books makes more sense the the religious stories I have heard.” I may have known about evolution at this point, I can’t really recall when I first learned about it. But it wasn’t scientific ideas that convinced me that there was no god and no higher power. Instead it was thinking for myself and critically examining (as much as an 12-year-old is capable of that) my surroundings and the world that I live in.
I label myself an atheist, but the principles of freethought are extremely important to me. I would not change a thing about my religious education. I do not think it’s right to teach your child to be an atheist or a Christian or a Muslim, etc. That I was allowed to decide for myself is, I think, absolutely ideal.