Like most kids I knew at primary school in 1970, I was shipped off to Sunday school each week, it was held in a classroom at our school and I remember how much I resented being there on a weekend.
I didn’t resent the lessons though once I was there. I was peculiarly receptive to the Bible stories we were told, and I suppose it was a precursor to my enjoyment of History lessons in my later school life, because I understood the historic timeline very clearly – and more importantly, I accepted what I was being told as complete fact. I believed in God, I believed in Jesus and when I recited the Lord’s Prayer, I did it with real conviction.
My parents sent me to Sunday school as a way of getting the kids out the house for a couple hours – we weren’t a religious family, religion and God played no part in my upbringing, no part in our every day lives – there was no sense of religiosity in my entire family and no one had felt it necessary to go through the effort of getting us baptised. In fact up to my early teens I had never set foot inside a church. And the only time my parents or grandparents had attended church, was to get married.
So they must have wondered what they had done by sending me off to Sunday School, when after I was too old to attend any more, I took the decision to take myself to church – and to organise my own baptism and confirmation.
I remember the first time I walked in to our local church – it was a gothic masterpiece – high pointed ceilings, ornate pews , beautiful stained glass, the heavy smell of incense, benevolent statues of Mary and graphic pictures of the stations of the cross. You could be forgiven for thinking I was Roman Catholic – but you would be slightly wrong, because although I attended an Anglican church and was baptised a Protestant, our church was high Church and was as Catholic as it was possible to be without having a Pope, And I fell in love with the place.
To this day I can’t resist a beautiful church, incense and a sung Eucharist.
I attended an inner city comprehensive secondary school – it was a tough place and not for the faint hearted. Some may say we didn’t exactly attend school but survived it! If I was being charitable I would say that the school did its best to give us a good basic education and was spectacularly successful at crowd control;teachers tended to be appointed not because they were enthusiastic about their subjects but because they didn’t take any crap and knew how to maintain discipline – these were the days when the sports master walked around with a cane and knew how to use it.
I belonged to a small, and often ostracized group of students – the group who were considered worth attempting to educate to O level rather than being left to grapple for a CSE like everyone else. Heady heights indeed.
Key differences in our school day saw us taught a second language, French in our case and instead of taking one general science course we did the individual science subjects – Biology, Physics and Chemistry all separately.
I wasn’t a scientist particularly and there were moments struggling through yet another boring practical making solenoids that I didn’t wish for a spate of generalised science blurb instead.
And then there was the small matter of Mrs Waplington.
My first Biology lesson and I felt I’d drawn the short straw, because Mrs Waplington was taking our class and we were all frightened shitless of her. Undoubtedly a good Biologist, she had long lost the rosy belief she would mould great minds of the future with her enthusiasm and wit. She was shortish and frumpy and had clipped disinterested tones that said – don’t piss me off! (actually with the hindsight of an adult, I believe that Mrs Waplington was a good and fair woman – she taught us well and was the only science teacher I ever had who got me to not only pass the bloody exam but actually feel I liked and understood it)
But my over riding memory of Mrs Waplington is it was she who killed God.
My first lesson in Biology and Mrs Waplington clearly wanted her point to be understood and she didn’t want to spend too long explaining it and she didn’t want too much in the way of questioning – so she addressed us with unequivocal directness.
‘Whatever you think you know about life and how it originated – forget it. Any childish notions you have left over from primary school about the origin of man – forget them. Today you begin to study science and you will study scientific method. If you intend to do well on this course then you need to understand that there is a difference between what science can tell us and what we think we know from bible stories – today we are going to begin with Mr Charles Darwin, to look at the evolution of man…….’
Honestly I don’t remember her exact words – but that paragraph, is pretty much it. I remember sitting there and thinking I need to pass this exam. But underneath was a disturbing disquiet.
Because I saw in what I was being taught albeit at low level, the unquestionable logic of science – even though I was largely pretty crap at science I learned that science is king – it explains how the world works, it explains there are no eternal mysteries and that the world as we see it works on understood principles and unbreakable laws.
My bible stories couldn’t compete with that.
Given I could never fathom Adam and Eve and where their sons had found handy wives – it was far far easier to see that Mr Darwin with his finches in the Galapagos was altogether more logical and how over millions of years man had dragged himself from the primordial stew.
I understood at long last that ‘faith’ in God was not the innocent acceptance of the Bible and the Gospel I had learned but was instead an unshakeable belief in the Almighty and his workings despite the contradictory evidence supplied endlessly by the scientific community, and on that basis I realised I didn’t have faith at all.
Without any great in depth knowledge I was lead by Mrs Waplington & Co. into that great educational sausage machine, and I was ground out believing what I was told – without question or further thought. After that initial disquiet I never questioned anything I was told again – all my questioning was directed to set books and set knowledge.
My science career was mercifully short – but it’s effect lasted half a life time because I lost faith. For me to have said I had faith would be to invite ridicule. But to say I had faith would also be a lie – because I no longer believed in anything.
My teen years were busily filled with all the flim flam beloved of teenagers everywhere – music, boys, being rebellious and a bit of study tacked on the end.
But once the teens were past – I was left with what exactly? And so began my adult life and a period of spiritual confusion and loss – and so began my soul searching and its been a long and painfully slow journey…….