I remember the day the nail went in the coffin of my Christian beliefs. I was sitting in a history class with one of the most boring teachers in our high school and there was excited talk amongst the students about that date being the day that the world was supposed to end according to one prognosticator or another. Back in the 70's in rural neighborhoods, it seemed like everyone was a great fan of predicting the end of the world. My grandmother liked to talk about it more and more as she aged, and all the parents who were frightened by the infiltration of heavy metal music into youth culture that they burned records were sure this was a sign that Satan was about to take over. As an unsophisticated kid who grew up indoctrinated in a particular belief system, such talk really scared me.
On this particular day, my class was supposed to be reading silently and one of the students decided to say something to the teacher about this end of the world prediction. This particular teacher was all business most of the time. He never shared his personal life or joked or showed any sign of being anything but a date-writing, history-talking drone. I recall how odd his response was because he showed more emotion than I'd ever seen before or after. With great earnestness and conviction, he said that we'd know it wasn't the end of the world if we had read the bible as the signs of the apocalypse had not unfolded as had been foretold.
Besides being very surprised by the way in which this teacher showed he was a human being in his response, I also felt relieved. End of the world talk genuinely scared me when I was in my early to mid teens. Though my memory may be hazy on this point, I believe I was 14 or 15 at the time of this experience. This experience set off a thought process which concluded with my considering that people who grew up elsewhere and didn't have experience with the bible would have no idea about such theories or signs regarding the end of the world. How was it that we were so blessed with knowledge that would "save" us while they were damned because of random factors?
This thought pretty much severed whatever tenuous hold Christian doctrine and dogma had on me. I don't wish to be misunderstood in what I'm saying though. I have no problems with Christianity or Christians. I believe all spiritual philosophies from Paganism to Christianity to Atheism have good points and bad points and I'm not about knocking any of them. However, I understood at that point with great clarity that who you are, what you like and dislike and what you believe is shaped far more by where you are born and how you are raised than by the conscious choices you make.
I'm sure that a lot of folks will take issue with that final statement because we have a strong desire to believe we make the lives we live through our choices. While that is true to some extent, the breadth and composition of the palette of choices we're offered is shaped by factors beyond our control. For instance, if you grow up in a culture which is dominated by one particular faith and you grow up only educated in the principles of that faith the chances that you'll adopt another one which is practiced only by people on the other side of the planet is pretty slim. There are some options that you simply aren't going to be presented with or even find through active searches. And let's say you do find some of those options. Their roots may be so esoteric that you can't understand or relate to them sufficiently to embrace them.
(To be continued in part 2)