Over at the Friendly Atheist there’s a meme about the Ages of Your Religious Transformation. I thought it sounded like an interesting meme but I’m changing the title because it assumes that you have come to your identity as an atheist from a prior religious belief which isn’t always the case. Without further ado I present my ages of atheism and invite any others to do the same.
0 – 6 years – I am welcomed as part of my local Quaker Meeting which my parents attend. I attend with my parents but there isn’t really any preaching or talk of god involved with the services.
7 years – Listening to a tape and idly thinking, I stumble across the realisation that there isn’t anything after death except nothingness. Slightly disturbed by this thought I go find my father and ask him about this. He confirms that this is indeed the case and gives me a comforting hug. I’m still attending Quaker meetings with my parents.
9 years – I think it’s around this time that my older brother introduces me to the term ‘atheist’. In my memory, it goes a little something like this: “Sister, you know there’s no god, yeah?”. “Yep”, I nod. “Well, that means that we’re atheists. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in god”. “Okay”, I say. “Atheist”, I think, “interesting”. I’m still going along to the Quaker meeting with my parents. Belief doesn’t seem to be something that is explicitly discussed or required, it’s more of a personal thing and it never occurs to me to stop going.
10 years – My brother is introduced to the idea of humanism during his lessons for (compulsory) G.C.S.E. Religious Education and explains to me that there are people called humanists who don’t believe in god but they believe in being good. So now we know that somewhere out there are people like us, somewhere out there.
11 years – I join my brother at our local comprehensive school which is a Church in Wales high school. My brother has already done the whole ‘learning the Lord’s Prayer and chatting with a priest’ to pass the entry requirements so I follow him there with an automatic sibling place. My brother chose to go to the school because it’s the local school where his friends would also be and my reasoning is similar. I learn the Lord’s Prayer too, experience my first Eucharist services and I get to sing in the Choir which I really enjoy.
11-16 years – During this time I am attending and eventually help organise Quaker youth weekends where groups of teenagers from different places in the UK camp out at a Quaker Meeting house to play games, make friendship bracelets, talk about ‘life, the universe and everything’, make close friends and generally run amok in a friendly fashion. I don’t recall any real of talk of god, we do our own soul searching.
16 -21 years – I stop attending Quaker stuff because it feels hypocritical as I don’t believe in god. I am told that this doesn’t really matter anyway. I try to look for something about humanism in the central library. I find an impenetrable newsletter and some old, old book titles in the library catalogue. I consider myself humanist but am deterred from any further search for the time being.
21 years – It occurs to me to try looking on the internet now that it does actually have a fair amount of content. My search is successful and I sign up to the British Humanist Association!
I’ve given a quite detailed account but others have responded using just one or two lines per ‘age’. If you want to give a brief version of your development as an atheist (or as a religious believer!) in the comments or link to a fuller version elsewhere I’d love to read it!