General Information

New Articles On The Way

So I’ve been writing again which is good and I hope you’ve enjoyed the newest articles from myself, Jennifer, and all the others who have submitted entries. I’ve had some new ideas that I will explore over the coming weeks.

1.) BS News report

This is a satirical take on the news of the week from my own unique point of view.

2.) The return of A Pentecostal Atheist Bible Study

3.) Deep Thoughts

Subjects may include science, medicine, paradoxes, riddles, basically anything that gets me thinking.

Anyway, keep on the lookout for these new articles as well as other posts in the future.

Thank you so much to everyone who has read so far, I appreciate you all.

Side note: What would you like to see more of in this blog. Any suggestions and help will be greatly appreciated.

Matt

General Information

A New Direction

So to start, I’d just like to say thank you to everyone that has read this blog consistently over the last several months. I hope that you will continue to read in the future. If you have read my recent posts you will know that my life has been turned upside down a bit and I’m having a bit of an existential crisis. I’ve been a jumble of emotions, which is odd for me, and I’ve had great difficulty putting my thoughts together over the last few weeks, this has been especially hard in trying to keep up with the daily schedule that I laid out awhile back. So with that said, this blog is going to go into a new direction.

Have no fear, you will still see all of the articles that I have been writing here but they will not be added in the weekly format. I love writing but I find that the quality of my writing goes down greatly when I try following a format. Thinking, it’s Monday so I need to write this article destroys my motivation many days, which I believe shows in the writing.

So from now on, I will write what I want, when I want to write it. We will still have Wednesday Woo written by my wife and Free-thought Friday, written by a guest blogger, but outside of that the articles will be more off the wall and hopefully better written.

Thank you once again to everyone that has read so far.

Matt

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 5

For part 4 of the epilogue, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
-Oscar Wilde

The day of my second appointment I was far less worried. The drive there still bothered me greatly as I hate long drives. We reached the office about a half an hour early and I sat down in the waiting room. Thoughts of my life passed through my mind.

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I remembered how hard childhood had been, never knowing what to say or how to take the things that others said to me. Making friends is difficult when you don’t recognize the difference between sarcasm and actual anger, or realize that you should offer comfort to someone who is sad. I remembered my teenage years, spent in part trying to do everything I could in order to be seen as “normal” and then spending the second part of those years doing everything I could to not be seen as anything close to normal.

AnarchyI remembered the first time Jennifer and I had been together, how much love I had felt for her in those early moments and how much deeper my love for her is now that weTexas have reconnected. I felt the pain of losing her go through my mind and the struggles I faced trying to put my life back together. All the times that I wanted to give up and yet still pushed forward regardless of the circumstances.

FightingI thought about my second marriage, how I had tried finding someone who was the exact opposite of Jennifer, somehow thinking that this would lead to happiness. Remembered all the pain I went through but all of the joy as well spending time with my two-step children from that marriage. Watching them grow has been one of the favorite parts of my life and it still is.

Storm cloudsI thought of my cousin, who had lived a parallel life as me. Had he been autistic? Were the struggles that he faced caused by the same source as my own battles in life? He had always seemed to be more outgoing but hearing stories from others around him, he was always distant, cold, and preferred to be alone. Would he still be here today if he had sought out the help of a psychologist instead of the dogmatic dog whistles of his cousins ministry?

autismI thought about my nephew, that small bundle of joy that had cleared the path to my own mental health and stability.  If he hadn’t existed would I ever have known the name to my own struggled? I know he has many struggles to face in life and it won’t be easy, but he is smart and loving, an absolute joy to be around, especially for the uncle who understands him so well. He is and always will be my hero.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the psychologist came and took me to a small room beside the reception area. I sat down behind a laptop computer and was explained the testing that I would be taking, a simple quiz of around 500 true/false questions. He told me that through the take home quiz and this one, he would be able to gauge exactly where on the spectrum I was.

I started taking the quiz and after about 100 questions the program crashed.  He restarted it and I had to restart from the beginning, about 100 questions in the program crashed once more. He started it up again and the same thing happened. Contacting the IT department, he found out that the virus scan software was what was crashing the program. He disabled that and asked me if I was willing to try it once more, if not I could return in two weeks and try it again.

Thinking about the trip it takes to get there, I decided to give it another shot. After about 120 questions it acted as if it was going to crash, an icon appeared on the screen and simply spun for a few seconds. I yelled at the top of my lungs, “GOD DAMN IT!” The program then went on to the next question and I realized the ass that I had just made of myself. No one came in but I’m sure the receptionist got a bit of a scare from my loud outburst.

I finished the quiz, which continued to act as if it was going to crash every 20 questions or so, and went back to the waiting room. A few minutes later the psychologist asked me to come into his office to talk just a bit more. I sat on his couch and he asked me about a couple of the answers on the quiz. I explained the answers and he then said that he thought he had enough to come up with a complete diagnosis. He told me that since I had brought him all the information about the struggles throughout my life, it had been easy to see that I had been correct. He said he was impressed by all the research that I had done before even approaching a psychiatrist and that i had made his job very easy. It would be a couple of weeks before I got my copy of his report but there would be no surprises in there for me to worry about.

I drove home happy to be done with the long trips to the psychologists office. I had been right. I have ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder. All the times that I had felt different from the outside world made sense to me now. All that I had been through in childhood and life in general were now clear. I wasn’t a failed human being, I was a whole human being, just one that happens to have ASD. My brain works in a wild and wonderful way that could never truly be understood by someone who does not also have autism.  I am perfect, just the way I am.


 

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If you’ve followed me throughout my entire journey and the epilogue, thank you. It might come as a shock to know this but outside of a few people close to me, you, the readers, are some of the first people to know about my journey towards a diagnosis with autism. Thank you so much for the kindness you have shown me.

My journey away from faith is fairly well-known in my community. I still live in the same area as I did when I was a minister. Initially, I had considered moving to a more suitable area for someone who lacks a faith. In the town where I live sits a gigantic mormon church, just on the outskirts of town there is a Jehovah’s Witness Temple, as well as several other churches. My own former church is just over 5 miles away from where i currently live. Moving away might have been an easy solution for me.

However, I want people to have that uncomfortable feeling they get when they avoid me in public. I want the former members of my church to see me, happy and healthy, while a growing sickness builds within their gut. I want their cognitive dissonance to be hit as hard as possible, they need to see that I am still the same person I was, just happier, not filled with hate, living a good life in their midst. It isn’t that these things bring me joy, in fact a lot of times they hurt, but I do think they serve a purpose.

Life experience led me away from faith, finding that faith lacked everything which I had believed it to hold. No comfort was found within the pages of the bible once my eyes had been opened. No strength was found in my faith to get me through the hardships I had to face. Religion is nothing more than a vast build-up of lies. We lie to ourselves enough that one day we find we believe those lies to be true, however, in many cases it doesn’t take much to tear that wall of lies down.

I love my life now. So much wonder and joy is found in the natural world that I question why I ever sought out a supernatural one to begin with. My indoctrination though had started long before I had actually reached an age to make my own decisions for me. I was taught that the world was a deeply sinful, scary and cold place; filled with evil does waiting to bring me down to their abyss. What I have found since leaving is that life is a wonderful thing, something that we only get to experience once. Religion had mad me hate this world and wish for the next…

As Christopher Hitchens is so famous for saying, “Religion poisons everything.”

 

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 4

To read part 3 of the epilogue, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done,” – Dr. Temple Grandin

As my appointment grew closer I became more and more stressed. Once again those same fears entered my mind. This is a specialist, what if I’m crazy. What if they lock me away or believe I am completely faking everything. What if they tell me I’m not autistic and that I’m just nuts. These worries filled my thoughts over the few days prior to the appointment.

What if they tell me I’m not autistic and that I’m just nuts.

One of the worst parts of this appointment was that it was over an hour away in a town that I am not familiar with. This fact alone caused my stress to fly through the roof. What if I am late? What happens if I can’t find the doctor’s office? The worst fear was, What if my car breaks down? Regardless of the trip I am always in constant fear that my car will break down. I’m not a handy person and know absolutely nothing about cars, a hilarious fact when you consider I work in the auto industry.

These fears stem from when I was a small child and my family went on vacation to my aunt’s house in Oklahoma. We got halfway there and the family car broke down. It was a horribly hot summer and I remember sitting on the side of the road, waiting for the tow truck to arrive and pull us the rest of the way to my aunts home. I thought they would never show up, my anxiety went to the worst of the worst scenarios. We were all going to die of exposure to the heat, we’d slowly die of dehydration or worse, murderers might show up and kill us all. That situation left me with so much fear that now I absolutely hate driving any more than within a 30 mile radius of my home.

We were all going to die of exposure to the heat, we’d slowly die of dehydration or worse, murderers might show up and kill us all.

The drive to the appointment was made worse by the fact that the road was horribly bumpy. Bumpy enough that it caused a horrible vibration to be felt throughout the entire car and at times made me believe we had blown a tire. This bumped the stress level up another few notches. I sat in my car, driving, with my wife sitting beside me, gripping the steering wheel and gritting my teeth. Every bump took my anxiety up another slight notch. When we finally made it to the appointment, I was a complete wreck. I sat in the waiting room trying to catch my breath and pull myself together.

The psychologist came out shortly after and introduced himself. He told me it would be a few more minutes and then he would call me into his office. The seconds ticked away like hours on the clock. Finally he called us back and once again I nearly fell apart.

He told me that he had read through all the notes from the psychiatrist and that he believed I was a fairly obvious example of someone who has grown up autistic without actually knowing it. We discussed all the same things that I had with the psychiatrist and a lot more. He asked if small things had a tendency to bug me and I pointed out a small spot on his baseboard that was a different color from the rest of his office. He laughed and said that he had never even noticed that.

At the end of the appointment he said the same thing as the psychiatrist, only this time with the backing of his specialization. “My preliminary diagnosis is high-functioning autism or what used to be known as Aspergers syndrome. I need you to come back in a couple of weeks to take some tests and find out exactly where on the spectrum you are but it shouldn’t take too long. Normally, I would want to set you up for a series of appointments but you’ve laid everything out so well and everything is so detailed that I think once more appointment should be enough.”

He gave my wife and I a quiz that each of us were to take before my next appointment. My wife took hers while I was at work and I took mine the following weekend. It was similar to many of the tests you find on-line but had some more confusing questions that really bothered me. One such question asked, “I have a good sense of humor and can understand jokes.” This question annoyed me greatly as I laugh all the time at what I find funny, people tell me I’m funny as well, however, someone has to actually tell me that they are saying a joke for me to be able to understand it as one. If I’m not told that what you are saying is a joke it will take me a huge amount of time to recognize it as one. Anyway, I just wanted to get that off my chest, that question still bugs me.

So we finished out exams and went back to waiting for the next appointment date to arrive. I hate waiting for anything and so that time passed by so damn slowly. What’s worse is that during this whole time I had also had a family issue weighing on me. My mother had cancer and had surgery to remove the cancer. She then found out that she still needed chemotherapy and on the same day that my next appointment was, she would be getting genetic testing done as well as starting her chemo. The genetic testing was to find out if our family carries certain genes that make us susceptible to cancer. Cancer has always been something that I greatly fear and so awaiting those results were just as stressful as awaiting my next appointment.

The day would finally arrive and we would once again make the trip to that office. The story of my second appointment however, will have to wait until tomorrow as I must head to work in just a few minutes. Thank you so much for reading my blog so far, I really appreciate it.

To continue on to part 5, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 1

For part 28 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

– “Alice In Wonderland” Lewis Carroll

We’re going way back in time today. Long before I became and Atheist. Back before I became a minister. Further back than my time in Texas or my first time preaching at twelve. We are going all the way back to my early childhood. A time before religion had even had a real chance to lay its talons into me yet.

I made my parents incredibly proud when I began talking not long after my first birthday. By three years old I had leaned all of my numbers and had taught myself to read simple books, through watching Sesame street for the most part. The only thing that caused my parents concern was how deeply shy I was.

At five years old they had attempted to put me into kindergarten, I have shrieked so loudly and for so long that the school decided it would be better if I waited another year and developed my social skills a bit better. Just prior to my sixth birthday, my parents took me to a doctor and asked him about my shyness. The doctor told my parents that my shyness was nothing to worry about, all they needed to do was encourage me to make friends, put me into social situations, and soon I would grow out of my shyness.

From the moment I started school, I absolutely hated it. Every morning, before getting on the bus, I would throw a horrific tantrum, bawl my eyes out, and then once on the bus I would bawl my entire way to school. I would continue throwing a fit well into the first couple of hours of class, by that time I would begin to get hungry and forget about the tantrum I had meant to throw throughout the entire day.

This lasted until I was in the third grade. I went to school on the first day and once again bawled my eyes out, the teacher walked over, bent down, and told me that third graders don’t cry about going to school because they are big kids now. That was the last day I cried before school but I never lost the feelings of terror being around other children.

Other children made no sense to me. They played games that I hated, they talked about stupid things with their stupid friends and pretended to be even more stupid things with their stupid friends. It wasn’t just my religious background that made me different. The strange thing that these kids enjoyed being around each other, I hated being around just about anyone. I got along with adults and would bug the teachers about everything. The kids recognized that I wasn’t like them at all and I was treated to bullying every day of my school years. I had very poor coordination, and even trying my best I couldn’t fight back well enough to keep people from picking on me and so I just went through it. I hated life and life seemed to hate me.

Every report card would say the exact same things. Doesn’t play well with others, doesn’t respond when spoken to, struggles to make eye contact. My grades were on both sides of the scale. In classes I enjoyed I got great grades and was seen as above average, in other classes that I didn’t enjoy, I was below average. I actually flunked gym class twice during my school years…I might actually be proud of that part…

By my teenage years I had finally made a handful of friends, but I didn’t seem to have friends like others around me did. I could go weeks without talking to a friend, not because I didn’t like them but because I didn’t have anything to say to them. My friends were mostly social outcasts themselves and so we were more or less people who the rest of the kids couldn’t stand so we accepted each other in some small strange way. One thing really separated me from my other friends and that was ideas of sex….

My friends seemingly loved talking about sex, I on the other hand had absolutely no interest in the topic. At 16 I would rather talk to someone about the latest episode of an anime or power rangers series that I had watched, than discuss sex.  I only became truly interested in the opposite sex at nearly 18, while my other friends had been interested since our early teens.

Another issue that followed me through life was work ethic, or more importantly my complete lack of work ethic. Finding a job was easy, keeping that job was very hard. I would have a job for a few months, get bored, and just stop showing up. I would have bosses call me and scream at me through the phone about being fired and I’d simply hang up and start looking for my next job.  What’s really strange is that I was generally well liked by bosses wherever I worked. It is just that i would become disinterested in something and I would just stop giving a damn, I knew I would lose my job and I knew this would cause me to go through the stress of finding another job, but I just could not make myself care enough to keep from losing a job.

I had always planned on going to college, but there were also some difficulties here. I had great difficulty with algebra, so much so that it would throw me into a tantrum that would last for hours and I also couldn’t write an essay for the life of me.  The problem is, that when I describe something, often times the first portion of what I am describing will come after the second or third items. I had an insane amount of difficulty putting things in the correct order, which led to poor grades in most of my English classes.

During one particular English class in high school, I submitted an essay final, that I had honestly worked on very hard, and received an F. The teacher even went out of her way to tell me that if I couldn’t write a better quality paper than that, I should just drop out of school and not even consider trying to get into college. So I did…I dropped out of school and decided that college wasn’t for me.

I got my GED with the help of Jennifer in Texas. She taught me how to write a proper essay, explaining exactly how to lay things out. The instructor said it was one of the best essay’s he had ever read. This made me feel pretty good but since I had barely passed the algebra portion of the exam, I decided that college still wasn’t for me. The rest is history…

As I have laid out in my blog I bounced from job to job, and finally settled on the ministry. Later I went back to college and did really well. My math instructor saw that I was struggling and talked to me before one class, she told me that math is nothing more than being able to recognize patterns and to try thinking of it that way. From that day on I was an A student in all of my math classes. Literally, i went from not understanding higher mathematics one day to helping tutor other students a few short weeks later.

Throughout my entire life, I had no idea why my mind worked the way it did, and why I was incapable of grasping many things, especially social cues, norms, and awareness.  I honestly figured that I had just been born broken and that there was something completely wrong with me. That is until I met a wonderful bundle of joy, my first nephew.  Shortly after his birth, my life began to make more and more sense. I saw myself in him but that story will have to wait til the next chapter.

To continue on to part two of the epilogue, click here.

Something Different Saturdays

Something Different Saturday #4: All About You!

For last weeks Something Different Saturday, click here.

Today’s post is going to be all about you, the reader. First off, I want to thank everyone that has taken the time to read my blog. You have absolutely no idea how good that makes me feel and how happy I am each day to reply to your comments, whether that is here, on Twitter, Facebook, or through e-mail. Every day you remind me why writing my story is worth it and hopefully it will help others who are going through the same type of situations as I once was. Thank you!

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Secondly, we will be coming to the end of the “Journey” posts very soon. It’s been a wild ride going back through my memories and putting them down for you to read. This hasn’t always been easy, the amount of stuff that has come up over the last few weeks that I had suppressed or thought I had forgotten has been immense. Reliving some of these stories has been incredibly painful but I feel better for having gotten them out into the open. Thank you for the kindness and love you have shown me through these rough moments that I have shared.

idea.pngThird, just because the “Journey” posts will be ending does not mean that this blog is soon to be over. I have many ideas running through my mind for future series and entries. Some of those ideas are listed below:

  1. A Pentecostal Atheist Bible Study: Showing you exactly how I was taught to interpret passages and scriptures during my upbringing. (This will definitely be humorous and scary at times)
  2. A guide to the different types of Christians you might meet and what arguments work best for each.
  3. Extra-biblical Teachings: Things that I was taught to believe even though they had absolutely no biblical backing. Conspiracy theories run rampant throughout the Pentecostal faith.
  4. Crazy Christians: Entries describing some of the stranger folks that I have met throughout my life and time in the ministry who believed in very strange things outside the normal bounds of regular Christianity and Pentecostalism. (Snake Handlers, Poison Drinkers, Poo Eaters, etc…)
  5. A personal blog describing aspects of my life not touched upon by the “Journey” posts as of yet. I’ve left out quite a bit that I didn’t feel was crucial to my journey and think you might find some of that just as interesting.

These are just some of the ideas that I have had over the last few weeks.

Fourth, I want this blog to be about you. What type of things would you find interesting to read about? Are there some aspects about faith or my life that you haven’t understood and wish I would expand upon those thoughts?

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Lastly, Free-Thought Friday is your opportunity to have your voice heard. If you are interested in writing a guest entry, let me know. Either message me through here, Facebook, or Twitter and tell me you’re interested. I’ve enjoyed all the submissions I have received so far and love to share your stories.

Once again, thank you! You all have made writing this blog worth it. I cannot possibly thank you enough.

THANKS!

Freethought Friday

Free-thought Friday #2: I Was Always An Atheist

For last weeks Free-Thought Friday, click here.


Alan Solomon has been a reader of my blog for some time now. He has shared with me his interest in my journey from the perspective of someone who was never a believer. Here is his story and I think you will find it very interesting!


 

First, a definition. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in any god or gods.

So.

I was born an atheist. When you’re a week old, you don’t believe in anything, except milk and poop. Then I was eight days old, my parents decided that I wasn’t quite as perfect as delivered, so they got a mohel to make a small snip. No-one consulted me about this, although if I had been asked, my response would have been either “milk” or “poop”.

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Age 0 to 5 – my interests became more diverse. I had bricks, and stacking cups, and a thing you pushed things into whereat they came out the other end, and books. I’m told that I was starting to read at an age that I frankly don’t believe, mothers always exaggerate. But I do remember my first day at school, I was about 5, and I came home very disappointed. “All they did was play with water”, I said, although actually they were also doing “A is for apple”. Except I was reading books by then, and wasn’t even interested in “Janet and John”.

Age 5 to 10. As I grew up, no-one gave me any good reason to believe in any god. I enjoyed reading a *lot*, the local public library was within walking distance, I persuaded the librarian to let me borrow ten books per week, and I was doing well at school. There was some sort of “assembly” in the morning, and I do remember “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small”, which is a great song, but the next line is “The Lord God made them all”, and I classified that along with Santa Claus, because I already had read about evolution, and that was so obviously the right answer.

ChederAt the age of 9 or 10, I had to go to Cheder. Because my mother told me I had to. At Cheder, I learned two things. A) how to read hebrew, and B) how long I could hold my breath. Hebrew is really difficult – it isn’t just a new language (and I found out later with French,  Latin and Russian that I’m really rubbish at languages) and it isn’t just that the pages are back to front and the writing from right to left. It’s also that the letters aren’t the A-Z that I already knew, and the worst thing is that the vowels are left out and you have to guess what they are from just the consonants. Holding your breath, however, is really easy. The clock in the Cheder had a second-hand, and in order to alleviate the excruciating boredom, I practiced breath-holding.

The purpose of Cheder was to prepare me for my barmitzvah, an ordeal that every jewish boy has to go through as a rite of manhood at the age of 12 or so. It’s a bit like being given a spear and being told to go out and kill a lion, except that you’re given a passage in hebrew, and you have to stand up in front of dozens of relatives and dozens of complete strangers, and not only read it, you have to *sing* it using the prescribed notes, which are, of course, not like the sort of music I was learning when learning piano – oh no, it was little marks amongst the hebrew that told you what pitches and lengths to sing. I would have preferred the spear and the lion. The only good thing about Cheder was that you got unlimited bread and strawberry jam beforehand.

I got through my barmitzvah unscathed. Because I got one-on-one tutelage, and more practice than I’ve ever used for anything else. Not completely unscathed; it was many years before I was willing to stand up in front of an audience and make a fool of myself.

So now I was a mensch. When a minyan was needed (you need ten men for some prayer services) I could be one of them! But even better – I didn’t have to go to Cheder any more, and that was a real benefit; no longer was I in any danger of death by non-breathing. Also, I was in charge of the decision of whether to attend synagogue or not. I chose not.

The school I went to was all boys in gender, mixed in religion. Half jewish, half christian. Because of that, it would have been difficult for them to ram any kind of religion down us, but we still has a daily assembly, and I learned to ask for “forgive us our trespasses” which, at the time, I thought referred to that time in autumn when we would creep onto a field that we weren’t supposed to in search of conkers. No-one explained this stuff to me. The whole of that prayer just sounded like nonsense; even the words I understood were being used in a way that sounded daft. “For thine is the kingdom”? What does that actually mean? It was just words, and meaningless. But we had to mumble them, although no-one explained to me why.

The school I was at was the Grocer’s Company school (which I have to say was the best grammar school in the area, later called the Hackney Downs School, which isn’t nearly as elegant). The motto was “God grant grace” and the school hymn was also  “God grant grace” This was completely wasted on me, because no-one ever explained to me the meaning of “grace” in this context. To me, grace was the opposite of clumsy, and the hymn was all about not tripping over your own feet. And the tune was a dreadful dirge.

It was at this school that I first learned the terms “jew boy” and “yid”, which (judging from the tone of voice they were used) were supposed to be insults. But there were far greater insults, such as “cap crawler” (one who wears his school hat in conformity with the rules) and “swot”. I was, of course, all four. I also learned that although I was wretched at French and pants at Art, I left everyone else behind at maths, which turned out to be useful later.

Grocers was an all-boys school. That didn’t seem to be a drawback until I turned 15 or so, at which point the total absence of half the world’s population became an issue. So I joined Habonim. That’s a jewish youth movement whose objective is to get to to do Aliyah – emigrate to Israel. I had no interest in Aliyah, but a growing interest in that other half. And there they were.

British Bulldog

Religion in Habonim is of very minor importance. Dancing, a lot more so. and mixed games such as British Bulldog, all of which gave boys an opportunity to clutch at girls, and vice versa.  There were also summer camps, also mixed, and winter activities. But included in all this, was a certain amount of what I would call cultural awareness, and it was there that I first found out about the holocaust. No-one had told me about this before, at school we were up to the Tudors and the Stuarts, and the syllabus ending in 1832. It’s impossible for me to describe the impact that this had on me. Thinking about it still makes me cry, and although I’ve read lots of books about the second world war, I try to avoid books about the holocaust. Except “Maus“, which I’d recommend.

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My grandparents came from Russia at the turn of the century in response to the pogroms there (and no-one had told me about those, either, and “Fiddler on the roof” also makes me cry). They came from the part of Russia that became Poland, and if they hadn’t emigrated, then 40 years later they would have been murdered by the Nazis, along with any children and grandchildren. And, of course, if they’d converted to christianity (which almost certainly they wouldn’t have) that wouldn’t have saved them – the Nazis didn’t care about your religion, only your blood.

So between the ages of 15 and 17, I felt more jewish than I ever had, but not religious. I didn’t go to synagogue (except for family barmitzvahs, weddings and funerals), I didn’t pray, if you’d asked me I’d have said I was agnostic, but that was because I didn’t know the definition of atheist – I was actually an atheist.

If I had believed in god at the age of 15 (which I didn’t), then finding out about the holocaust would certainly have changed that. Some people say that you can’t prove the non-existence of something, but actually you can. If you specify the thing in question (for example, a full-size elephant in my room) then I can prove the non-existence of that (I leave the proof to the reader, it’s pretty simple). And I knew about this sort of proof from maths; you can prove the non-existence of a largest prime number, or that you cannot express the square root of two as a ratio of two numbers. I would very quickly have come to a strong belief in the non-existence of the god of the jews.

So I went up to university at 17 as an atheist to read maths, and soon discovered that I was the Only Jew in the College (if there were others, they were keeping a very low profile). There was Habonim in Cambridge, which was just as well because in student numbers, there were about 20 males for each female. In maths, more like 200. But in Habonim, five girls and two boys, which is small in numbers, but favourable in ratio, especially as there was already one couple paired off. But I’m not going to talk about my early sex life …

As the Only Jew in the College, I found that there were people who thought that I hadn’t heard the Good News, and that if only someone told me, I’d eagerly accept Jesus into my Heart and become one of God’s Army. This is something I hadn’t encountered before, and I was unpracticed at dealing with it. I fear that I was unable to sufficiently conceal my mirth at some of the approaches, which is not as well-mannered as I should have been.

My worst misdemeanor was when a good friend of mine, who went by the handle of Li(3) of 1 (that’s a mathematical joke) persuaded me to go to chapel, on the grounds that I’ve never been, and how do I know I wouldn’t like it if I hadn’t tried it, which is an argument that was also used on my to get me to start smoking (I didn’t) and drinking beer (I did, and still do, occasionally). So I went with him to chapel, and maybe the fact that he called it “chapel” tells you which brand of christianity it was, but I never found out, and we went through a service that was every bit as boring as Cheder, and worse, because there was no clock with a second-hand that I could use to practise holding my breath.holding your breath

I shall pass over the incident when I was asked to eat human flesh and drink human blood and refused on the grounds that cannibalism was against my atheistic principles, even if it’s symbolically, and skip to the part where Li(3) of 1 introduced me to the vicar (or priest, or minister, or whatever he was) with “This is my friend, he’s, he’s, er, er, he’s a, um, he’s of the Hebrew persuasion” at which I said, loudly enough for everyone in the chapel to hear, “No I’m not, I’m a jew”.

I wasn’t invited back.

Elliot 503

I graduated, and there was a ceremony, and people prayed, and since I’d worked hard for that certificate I wasn’t going to make a nuisance about that, and I got a job where they had an Elliott 503 computer, which I fell in love with, and I’ve been messing around with computers or the 50 years thereafter, and it turns out that if you like playing with the best toy ever invented, people chuck money at you, which is nice.

So for 60-odd years, I was an atheist, and thought nothing of it. I mean, it really is nothing, like “not playing football” or “liking brussel sprouts”. I don’t like football, but if someone else want to play, why should I care? And if someone else dislikes brussle sprouts, it’s no skin off my nose. But then I was rummaging around Youtube, looking for yet another production of the Mikado, when I came across Christopher Hitchens, which led to Matt Dillahunty, and I discovered that for some people living in some countries, atheism is indeed a thing. Because in some countries, religion gets rammed down your throat whether you want it or not. Some people don’t accept that other people’s sex lives are none of your business as long as it’s adult consensual.

I still go to synagogue for family barmitzvahs, weddings and funeral, but I’ve found that if I take a book with me and read quietly about such subjects as the “War of the Spanish Succession” while everyone else is either praying or pretending to pray, no-one seems to mind. Just don’t read a book that makes you laugh out loud. At Pesach, I go to the seder at my sister’s house (she does a great pesach meal with chicken soup, chopped liver followed by various Sephardi dishes (we’re Ashkenazi, she married a Sephardi and now mostly cooks in that style) and because there’s two seder nights, the other is at my sister-in-law (more chicken soup, chopped liver and then various Ashkenazi dishes). Because they both know how much I like chicken soup and chopped liver. And at the seder, it’schopped liver.jpg laid down that you should ask questions about the exodus from Egypt, and boy, do I have some good questions each year. So if you want to, you could say that I’m gastronomically Ashkenazi Jewish.

 

 

When my kids were small, we did Santa Claus and the reindeer each year, and I actually do not care that some Christians think that they have a monopoly on Christmas, nor do I care that this maybe comes from a Druid festival or maybe from the Roman Saturnalia. And one of them was the Christmas Elf, who oversees the Distribution of Presents on Christmas Day, although I suspect that we might be the only family that had our own Elf. And I’m still willing to be Santa for grandchildren, because I think it’s important for kids to learn that grown-ups lie about invisible people

Although in restrospect, I realise that religion has affected me, and not just the holocaust – I mean affected me personally. There was a thing in England called the Lord’s Day Observance Society which led to legislation about what I could and could not do on a Sunday. And their idea was that the only thing I should do on Sunday, is going to church, which in my case wasn’t going to happen. These days, the LDOS is pretty much a dead duck, and Sundays are full of activities.

But also the House of Lords (a total unelected anachonism in itself) includes 26 “Lords Spiritual” (bishops), which means that the cold dead hand of religion is infecting my government, although given the almost complete lack of power of the HoL, that isn’t as bad as it might have been and nowhere near as bad as it is in the USA. Oh, and one of the Lords Spritual is a jew. These jews get in everywhere. But no Roman Catholics, because ever since Henry VIII, they’ve been persona non grata in the higher reaches of government.

I read with great dismay, the stories of people (mostly American) who have been inculcated with religion and who have considerable difficulty getting free of it, of the nightmares that some of them still have about an imaginary hell. About how the people they thought loved them, turned out to love their imaginary friend so much more that they’d turn their back on the newly declared atheist. About how people in one of the many religions of peace turned out to be anything but peaceful when push came to shove. About how even though the religion preaches charity, the devotees practise malevolence. About how faith is preached as an ideal instead of as the polite word for gullibility.

And I can only thank god that I am truly blessed because I am, and always was, an atheist.