As a bona fide atheist, I am constantly questioned about my beliefs, or rather, lack of, and how I live each day without having to live with the supposed consequences that are supposed to keep typical humans within the boundaries of humanity and its moral values.
Other theists, mainly the more fundamentalist sort, would probe further, hoping to find traces of religious/sexual abuse, disillusionment, backsliding and everything that has to do with visiting a bad Sunday school church filled with naked dancing girls and sex orgies (All of this would have kept me from leaving church.......but ah well, that is another story for another day.), and other anal-probing questions.
Perhaps then, I would attempt to put all these questions to rest, with my deconversion tale.
My Family Background
Perhaps a little elucidation on my family's religious background would give a little hint with regards to my religious upbringing.
Unlike other atheists who have deconverted from Christianity, my family was not distinctively religious. My father was more of a pagan worshiper who would be just as at home with Chinese pagan Gods as well as Buddhist Temples. To him, God is a Santa Claus who delivers good tidings; respect, rather than blind faith and love, is the centre of his theistic view.
My mum's religious views are a little vague; I have never really questioned her with regards to her religious faith. All I know was she attended the odd Chinese festivals, carried out the rites only when she was required to, and was mostly silent about her faith, until cancer caught up with her two years ago, and she was somewhat leaning towards a Taoist faith which her friend had introduced to her.
Consequently, as a result of such a non-Christian upbringing, I was never subjected to any form of Christian brainwashing, until my Christian aunt turned up and brutally changed my rather religious-free world view.
My Christian Aunt Makes Her Move
When I was about five or six years of age, my Christian aunt, who had hitherto been just an utter stranger in my life, suddenly took it upon herself to lead my otherwise non-religious life into a world of supernatural piety. Mom was, well, neither supportive nor ambivalent about it. Dad was too busy to really care, and so it was up to me to make that choice.
Unfortunately, when you are that young, a little intimidation and cajoling can go a long way, and it took all of five minutes for my aunt to convince me that church was really kind of a fun place to hang out with (At that time, I thought Ninja turtles were fun to hang out with, but to my chagrin, it wasn't to be, according to church doctrine.).
Being a teacher at Harvester Baptist Church, she was duty-bound to subvert kids with Baptist-based, biblical teaching, and I was about to be her latest enterprise of kiddy indoctrination.
My First Day In Church
My first impression of the Baptist church was not what I had expected. It looked more like a modest home than a church. Located in a quiet suburb with rows of private terraces along a stretch of road (Eden Grove), it didn't have the grandeur nor sophistication that today's seemingly high-tech, mega-churches pride themselves with today.
My first day in Church was, well, to be frank, uneventful. I got lost amidst a bunch of other kids, and couldn't find my way to class. And to sum it up, my rather forgetful aunt had forgotten about me after every kid was safely transported home by church buses or their family cars.
I was left alone, one small scrawny five-year old, standing at the assembly point, and bawling my lungs out. So much for my first day in Church.
In a way, it was a sign of things to come: I was never really going to fit in.
Church Class: The Odd one Out???
Although I was five at that time, I was posted to a class of four year olds in Sunday School, primarily because of my "lack of" bible knowledge, which at that point, didn't really make a whole world of difference, since kids can't really tell the difference between Luke and John at that kind of age anyway.
On hindsight, I felt that it was more to do with my inability to sing Christian kiddy songs that led me to my first downgrade, and really, it was disheartening when boys of the same age were in a higher grade than you.
Naturally, the younger lads didn't really take on with me: I was taller, stranger, and worst of all, my parents never attended church.
I wouldn't say it was discrimination, but no one really talked to me at that time. I had nothing in common with them, and they knew it.
Ninja Turtles: Too Much Violence???
Being a young boy in the 1980s wasn't as fun as it was in the 1990s: The computer age hasn't really hit the market on any sort of scale, and TV was about the only real enjoyment for us lads.
And to be simply told that cartoons are products of the Devil was something that really could hit us thrice in my face.
Within the first few months of my joining Harvester Baptist Church, we were taught that cartoons, particularly those pertaining to the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", were not suitable programs for kids like us, and to support this insurmountable evidence, a newspaper clip that was written about kids in a US school being caught hunting for ninja turtles in some sewer was plastered on the Church Bulletin Board.
I think, at that point of time, I made my first evolutionary leap towards logic and rationality: Not every kid who watches Ninja turtles turns up in sewers looking for mutated turtles every other weekend!
If a five year old kid could figure this out, one wonders why the Church pastor who pasted this bulletin couldn't.
Maybe the word "Mutant", which alludes to Evolution, didn't sit well with the Church. Who knows? Its just a bloody cartoon, for goodness sake!
My Kindergarten Years:
My beginning forays in church coincided with my first two years in kindergarten.
At that time, I was kind of enjoying school in kindergarten, and to be frank, it was far better than Sunday School: I had friends whom I can still remember their names even today, they had far more in common than the kiddy stooges in Sunday school, and better still, they were able to relate to me in ways that seem devoid of the burdens of religious upbringing, which I was suddenly thrust into.
I think, as a child who is constantly undergoing indoctrination from religious authorities, you tend to breed two kinds of adults: The deep-seated fundamentalist type, or the other end of the scale, the ultra-atheist.
As I progressed on both fronts, my relationship with my fellow classmates in Sunday school didn't exactly thaw. I thought it became frostier in a way, because of my failure to adapt to the fundamentalist environment. It was at this time too, that some of my pagan aunts and uncles began to voice their objections at me being subjected to this kind of indoctrination, but my aunt seemed to have a stronger will power, and they backed off.
The Age of Realization: 7-12 years old
At this stage of my life, I began to embark on an odyssey of learning.
As I came to know about science for the first time, Sunday school also became a more formal place for bible studies, and strenuous efforts were made to convert us into hardened Christians, in the hope that we may someday take up the Church's mettle and spread the Word of God.
On weekends, we were told to read Christian publications, and even though I had reservations for this imposed-upon belief, I felt that reading could at least alleviate some of my pent-up frustrations in church. I was, in a way, tied by fear: A fear of my imposing aunt, and the instilled fear that my soul would have to spend an eternity in hell. Come to think of it, my aunt was the scarier of the two! (No Kidding!!!)
As time flew, Sunday School also began to take a more serious turn. Somewhat anticipating that secular authorities would have begun teaching Science at this point, Pastor Hunnicutt, the chief Honcho in the Church, formulated classes to teach us about the purported "ills" of evolution and the "truths" concerning Creationism.
In one session, he had a bunch of lego bricks placed on a table, and asked if evolution or the Big Bang could possibly bring about a change in these inanimate objects, in an apparent bid to debunk the evolutionary theory that "life springs from non-life".
At that point of time, I wasn't well versed in science, but I could begin to detect the first whiffs of steaming bullshit rising towards my nostrils in a rather obnoxious way.
Still, despite all my reservations and doubts, I remained committed, and in a way, I was progressing more and more towards the path of Christianity than atheism.
Somewhere towards my 12th year, I repented, but did not opt for Baptism, for reasons I felt to be personal. Baptism to me was a formality which I felt wasn't important, and for once my Aunt didn't push me into it.
The Gradual Loss of Faith
By the time I was 14, my faith in God and the Baptist teachings had taken somewhat a different turn.
I had enrolled myself into a Catholic school, and was actually further exposed to another form of the Christian faith (Some would consider Catholics as separate entities from Christianity, which to a certain extent I do agree with).
Although I would consider myself Christian (I repented of my sins, but I didn't go for baptism), I was reading stuff that neither my aunt nor the church knew anything about. Science, particularly evolution, was of particular interest to me, and when I was 15, I received a prize for being the best biology student, and had the dubious honour of participating in an inter-school science competition, in which we got thrashed in the first round!!!
Science became an object of my passion: I love biology and physics to the point of obsession. I love the fact that honest endeavor could yield so much data, and that truth, as it began to dawn upon me, was not the result of religious fiction, but the end product of hard work and scientific learning.
In short, I wasn't really into religion all that much: I read the bible because I had to, not because I wanted to. I was rapidly losing my faith without even realizing it.
And then came along one evangelical Christian group, who had the temerity to proselytize outside a Catholic school! I was wondering then, if a Crusade was about to erupt right outside the school gates, but evidently, it didn't happen.
These bunch of Christian hippies, well, to be blunt, were not particularly bright. They attempted to convert myself and three other friends, and being a "backsliding Christian", I suddenly realized how irritating the bible was, and the presence of these bunch of tongue-speaking, hippie-talking Christians made me realize that this very faith that I had been induced since I was five was beginning to feel like a thorn up my arse.
Add to that, the constant burden of going to Sunday School, plus the ad hoc Mass sessions in school.....well, you can imagine the religious hell I had to go through.
In the end, enough was enough. My church attendance on all three fronts disintegrated, one after another. The Evangelical loonies soon found my presence irritating: I was more into extolling about the virtues of pretty nymphs in my class than the wondrous works of God, and they sort of left me alone after a while. My attendance in my aunt's church became rarer and rarer, and it began to dawn upon her that she was fast losing me.
Dangling the job of pastor/Sunday school teacher, she had hoped that I would undergo the same training as she did. I refused. I couldn't see the reason why other children had to go through the shit hole which I had to undergo, and frankly my conscience wouldn't allow me to do it.
Catholic Mass was another big bane: I made several high-profile get-aways, and at that time it was mandatory for all senior boys to attend Mass. I found it an absolute bore and a dreadful waste of time: My youthful exuberance was more at home in the science lab than the throes of a pitifully archaic ritual of Jesus-eating and blood drinking cannibalism.
Towards the end of my secondary school days, I made it an effort to read about Christianity from a secular point of view, because I felt I had lingering issues towards religion, particularly of the Baptist faith in which my mind was still somewhat entrenched into, and in the end I was reasonably convinced that faith has never been my cup of tea.
The End of Faith
By the time I had enrolled into a local polytechnic, I was a true-blue heretic, and since then, I have been an atheist, and have no desire to seek any form of religious discourse.
To this day, I have no regrets with regards with my decision, although I wished I had the balls to dump religion far earlier. Part of it was my aunt's rather overpowering aura, the other part was simply the unwarranted fear of hell, which even today exhibits a kind of lingering fear in me, a kind of throwback remembrance some people may experience when hearing the stories of monsters lurking in cupboards and under their beds.
In the end, my love for rationality and logic triumphed. And I couldn't be more happier because of it.
(To visit the website of the Harvester Baptist Church, click here.)