The Road to Rationalism - part 1.

I said in my introduction that I would give reaons for my atheism, and so I shall now begin.

As I said in an earlier post I have been an atheist for more than half of my life now, and that prior to this I had simply followed (although extremely loosely) the religious ideas that were taught to me by teachers at my C of E primary school.

As a child I was fascinated by dinosaurs (many small boys are) and loved to collect books about them. I would draw them, trace them, and during play pretend to be them. I thought at the time (with typical childish conceit!) that I must be the only six year old who could spell 'palaeontologist' and want to be one!

Of course it never occured to me that there could be any conflict between the life processes and time-scales explained in my dinosaur books written for children (any way, I was just interested in the pictures at that point!) and the word of the Bible, which was at that time the only religious book with which I was familiar. I think this will be a common experience for children of that age, as they are not equipped to recognise, let alone decide between, competing explanations for such important matters as life itself.

The first time I noticed there could be a conflict was at age seven or eight, when searching for dinosuar books on a day out to town (at least I was, I suspect my mother had different priorities, lol) I said to my mother 'look, there's a bookshop there, lets have a look' and she replied 'I don't think there'll be any in there, its a Christian bookshop.'

I didn't understand what she meant, but didn't question her either. I think I briefly wondered why they would have no books about dinosaurs and then just starting looking forward to the next shop.

My interests changed, and although I remained keen on dinosaurs, for some reason I wanted to be a botanist instead and started asking for books about wild flowers, for which I avidly searched the nearby country lanes at weekends, when the weather was nice!

So religion was never a big part of my life. I prayed occasionally, went to church for Christmas carols and at Easter, and because I was no longer so interested in prehistoric life I had no reason to question or think about it very much.

As I said I didn't come to question it until I came to my early teens, when we began to find out more about the world at school. I was keen on geography, and although I found religious education dull or amusing I could not escape the obvious fact that different cultures around the world have different religions, and that in many cases the practice of rites and ceremonies in accordance with these religions form the basis of whole ways of life. Clearly therefore, religion was for more important to many - if not most - people around the world than it had been to me during my early years.

This fact interested me and it was obvious of course, after thinking about it for a short while, that this is the way it must be. Everybody seems to need some kind of explanation as to why we're here, why life is here, and what, if anything, happens next. This must be why all cultures we can think of have some kind of creation story - whether for the whole world or just for their own particular corner of it. Historically, the ideas of the ruling chief, or more accurately his favourite witch-doctor, would become favoured in a particular tribe. Over time, as these stories were passed on from generation to generation, they would become accepted as truth. We all know the power of legends to remain as common knowledge, long after their origins have been lost in the mists of time.

Of course different tribes held different traditions, and individual people worshipped different animalistic gods, but ideas and rites spread by military conquest or by the simple expedient of being more appealing than the other ones available. It is perhaps an oversimplification (sorry, but how complex do the ideas of people who couldn't explain the mechanics of rainfall, for example, have to be?) but the meme 'you will live forever in paradise if you believe in this god' is obviously more appealing than one that says 'sacrifice to all these gods and one of them might just look after you'.

I think I will finish for now, and continue soon...

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