Before anyone reads this, I'd like to point out that I've been told I'm not overly sensitive with my phrasing on certain issues - scratch that, on *most* issues. So if you're a religious person or hold sympathies of that manner, I'd advise that you skip this.
Right. Now that I've lost a few people, I'll continue.
Okay, here I go.
I haven't believed in God, or any other deity for as long as I can remember.
I have a very vivid memory of being pretty young - maybe 7 or 8 (most of my memories from early primary school get lumped into this category, so it's altogether possible that I was either younger or older at this point, but not by much, because of the location).
It was 'play-time', and generally, in my school, those girls who didn't particularly love skipping or messing with each other's hair would sit on the wet concrete in big circles, talking. Personally, my own favourite habit was to curl under the window ledge of one of the classrooms and think about things (or read), but the teacher had on this day forbidden me from doing that - and anyway, I remember being fed up of people coming over, day after day, and asking if I was okay (I always was, I was just a slightly odd child who entirely preferred my own company than that of others - I'm mostly still the same the vast majority of the time).
Anyway, I'd found myself a cosy little spot nearest to the tree that I liked to climb up on to watch the road outside the school (and where I once observed the aftermath of a motorbike accident we weren't supposed to have known about). I remember the conversation had turned to the subject of what we were doing in the upcoming holidays, and some girl in my class had pointed out that her little brother/sister was getting christened. They were discussing what that meant.
'They pour water on your head and you're supposed to say that you love Jesus or something,' some kid said.
I'd never been to a christening, but I was fairly familiar with the process from the descriptions of others and it sounded rather baffling to me.
'Then they give you a bible and it proves you love God forever, and then you go home and if you die, you go to heaven,' the girl finished.
I remember thinking for a second, then replying, nonchalantly, 'That's stupid,'
The look of outrage on the girl's face was obvious.
'No, it's not! It's the only way you get to go to heaven. Don't you want to go to be with God if you die?' she asked.
I shrugged. 'I don't think I believe in God,' I said.
This time, the entire group gasped. 'You can't say that!' a boy said, rising to his feet. 'That's naughty. I'm telling.'
I remember the whole group leaving together, and going to the teacher who was on duty at the time. 'Miss, miss! Jodie says she doesn't believe in God! I telt her she can't say that, miss. Won't she go to hell, miss?'
I'm not entirely sure that I was ever told off for the comment - in actual fact, I'm fairly sure the teacher was quite relaxed about the whole thing. But I do remember shifty looks from my classmates for a while (more than normal, anyway), and the odd comment from people when I was intrigued enough by a toy that someone had brought from home that 'I couldn't play with them because I was bad.'
It's very clear to me that this reaction only made me turn away from religion more. I was the sort of kid who, while not being overly badly behaved, constantly questioned everything. The fact that I was being told that I couldn't question this...thing people spent a lot of their lives doing, made me intrigued. What sort of power did this religion hold for people? Why was it intrinsically wrong to even begin to think that some of it might be wrong?
A problem I had at the time (which still plagues me to this day) is that I could not, and still can't, accept anything at face value.
'The earth goes around the sun. The sun doesn't move,' a teacher once told the class in a science lesson. My hand went up.
'Mr H., my book says that the sun moves too. It's got an orbit. Isn't that right?'
I remember the look of mildly amused exasperation on his face. 'Yes, Jodie, that's right. But for now, let's pretend, for the sake of these exams that you're sitting in a few months, and for the rest of the class, that the sun doesn't move. Okay?'
'Yes, Mr H.....'
That was my issue with religion. Even though my teachers grew exasperated with my questions about the accuracy of their teaching, they never told me that I couldn't ask my questions - just to wait. With religion, it was an entirely different matter, which brings me to my next point.
Religion requires faith. Essentially, faith is the belief in something without, or despite proof. Faith requires the human mind to take a leap beyond that which is currently proven in the paradigm of science and hold on to something slippery and non-concrete.
I don't feel confident accepting the idea of faith.
People often question this assertion. 'You have faith that your family loves you. You have faith that if you are hungry, and you eat something, you'll feel better. You have faith in modern medicine to at least attempt to help you if you're injured or sick.'
No, I don't.
Of these things, I have something entirely different. I have PROOF.
The proof that I have for my family loving me is the fact that despite my oftentimes very difficult behaviour, they still continue to give their support, talk to me, provide me with shelter and love. The proof that I have that if I eat food, I'll feel less hungry is the empty bag of crisps I stuck in the bin an hour ago. The proof that I have for the workings of modern medicine is obvious in the thousands of people who are currently better off (or better, still alive) because of the tireless work of people in the NHS and other medical systems around the world.
Yes, it may not be entirely fallible, and I'm entirely biased, but within the network of information that makes up my brain, these things are at least mostly unquestionable.
There is no logical proof for the existence of any higher power with any consciousness or interest in human affairs.
There simply *isn't*.
Yes, religious people, you can give me countless examples of miracle healings, the 'power' of prayer, and the instances where you felt saved by God. You can point out the beauty of the natural world, or examples of extreme suffering and note them as the work of God. But I will always feel that there's a rational explanation hidden there somewhere, waiting to be discovered. No, we don't completely know exactly what triggered the Big Bang, but we're closer than we ever were before, and believing in hidden deities to starve our curiosity by putting every brilliant, marvelous piece of this fragile Earth in his hands, and down to his work, is not getting us any closer.
What's getting us closer is SCIENCE. The exceptional perseverance of human mind and body. The constant drive of people everywhere who examine their life, and their world in the tiniest of details to make sense of it. Using God as an explanation might not take away the wonder, but it certainly does take away the necessity. It makes everything on Earth seem worthless - pointless, even, with the understanding that God is much more perfect in every way, and heaven is so perfect that it makes our world look like a stinking pile of mouldering flesh.
Which brings me to my final point. Earth is all we have. Belief in heaven strikes me as incredibly greedy. If you believe that you'll go on to somewhere a million times better than what we currently have, you'll squander any precious time you have in the futile search for a utopia quite unlike our planet.
Why can't *this* be enough?
We have Milton, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Watson and Crick, Sir Issac Newton, electricity, telephones, laser eye surgery, antibiotics, flushable toilets, aeroplanes, mint flavoured tooth-paste, vibrators, millions of language variations, venus flytraps, electric guitar solos and Sherlock Holmes.
For me, just being here is wonderful, and I'm not in need of something more to explain it all away in one fell swoop of illogic.
Yes, we're far from a perfect world, but I'm so enamoured with what we have right now, and how far we've come, and our bright future ahead of us that you can keep your God, your Jesus and your little stories.
I'll take my cues from humanity, thanks.
And that, my friends, is why I am an atheist.
Current Music: The hum of a laptop fan