I first started to question the validity of religion when I was a little girl driving home through the countryside with my mother after a visit to my grandmother's house. There were cows out in the fields all along the highway, and for some reason I started wondering what happens to cows when they die. I asked my mother, "do cows go to heaven when they die?" She told me that they didn't. When I asked why, she said "because they have no souls."
Now, this brought me right up short. What?? Cows have no souls? This was big news. But of course, dogs and cats have souls, right Mommy?
Nope. No souls.
Okay, now that's just not right, I was thinking in my little kid head. This is just wrong. Cats and dogs have to have souls! Otherwise they can't go to heaven and be with their families when they die! But Mum insisted it was so, so it must be so. Mum was always right, after all.
My belief began to die that day, when I was just a kid, because animals couldn't go to heaven.
Then there was the fact that my Mother and brother and I converted to Judaism when I was nine. Going from believing in the god of the Christians to believing in the god of the Jews didn't really do a lot to help in the soulless animals department. I mean, if you can just switch from one god to another, it doesn't really help when it comes to really believing in something. It's a little fickle, isn't it. Mum always insisted she converted because she believed in the Jewish faith, and because she's my Mum, I believe her, but I always got the feeling that most people I share the story with assume she converted because she wanted to marry a Jewish man (because she did marry a Jewish man). So if you can change your religion simply to marry someone, it doesn't seem to give religion a lot of cling in the stickiness department.
So, doubting on two fronts, I was totally primed for what happened when I was sixteen. I wish I could remember it better, but memory has never been my strong suit. I do remember sitting on the kitchen floor, talking on the phone with my boyfriend at the time, who had just started med school at Carleton University. We spent hours on the phone, like all teenagers do.
This particular conversation was about religion, and I remember the thoughts going through my mind. I remember thinking how I just couldn't grasp the concept of some old white-bearded guy sitting on a throne up in the sky. It just didn't make sense to me at all. My boyfriend of course was doing his best to encourage this train of thought. And suddenly it was like there was a *click* and all of a sudden I didn't believe anymore. Just like that.
Kinda like the way I quit smoking when I was 23. I ran out of cigarettes at work one day. I was the only one in the office, and I was seriously considering leaving the office empty for up to half an hour so I could walk to the convenience store down the street and buy more smokes. All of a sudden I realized that cigarettes were running my life. How stupid was that? So right then and there, I quit, and I've never had a cigarette since. (Rather a good analogy don't you think? And true!)
Soulless animals, religious conversion and a convincing atheist boyfriend may not be very compelling reasons to give up religion. Certainly not very dramatic. But young people don't need compelling reasons to do the things they do. The important thing is that I've never wavered in my lack of faith since it left me. 31 years it's been, and even without a god I'm still a good person for the most part...at least as good as any god-fearing folk are, if not more so. I haven't suffered for the lack of a personal deity in my life. In fact, my life has been unusually free of suffering and want. I don't ascribe that to any choices I've made. I'm just lucky. My Mum always said so.