"The human face of Humanism" or "Atheists are people too"
Those interested in similar stories from around the world may like to visit this web page.
This page contains personal stories from a few DASH supporters on the theme of why they became atheists and what sort of lives they lead now.
We welcome more stories to show the human side of non-belief. Please send your story to us in any format and we will lay it out for this page. A photo (of any age!) is optional.
- Have you always been an atheist? If so, what was your response to Religious Education at school?
- Did it happen overnight or was it a gradual process?
- Did you go through a stage of agnosticism?
- Did you leave a religious organisation but retain a "personal god" or the idea of "something out there"?
- Was it something you read?
- Was it pure reason?
- Did someone have a major influence on what you now believe?
- Was it some incident of religiously inspired violence, oppression or discrimination you saw in the news?
Note: these stories represent the experiences of individuals, they do not necessarily represent the views of DASH.
Ruth's story is a classic example of what can happen when a child is brought up with a very narrow world-view and no knowledge of the alternatives. Like many young people, she rebelled against her rigid religious upbringing and only later in life had an opportunity to think about things in more depth. This is precisely why we campaign for the right of all young people to make a free and informed choice about what to believe.
Why I am a practising Atheist.
I started out in life with a very religious childhood. My mother was a Quaker and my father was a Methodist lay preacher. That meant two different Sunday schools to go to, which I hated. The Quaker one meant you had to sit very still in silence, and the Methodist one got me to sign the pledge - much good that did!
I was revoltingly pious and read the bible every night and wanted to be a nun, as I liked the outfit!
As a teenager I just drifted away as I had other things to think about, which led to pregnancy and marriage in that order - these were the swinging sixties after all.
I never felt the need of spiritual guidance or support. I decided long ago that you have only yourself to rely on, and there have been some dark times.
In recent years, with child rearing out of the way, I have the luxury of time to think and read about religion, I have become more anti-religion than just not bothered.
I am now very bothered.
The wars fought, the psychological damage inflicted on people, and the abuse of young children - all done in the name of religion - sicken me.
I have become interested in science and am trying to study for a degree with the OU, including evolution, which I find fascinating. I feel very strongly about creationism, and the harm it can do if taught to our children.
In conclusion, I would say that embracing atheism has made me a more caring, moral person, and it has given me the pleasure of learning about and understanding this fantastic world and the universe we live in.
Rod seems to have navigated the path from Catholic Christianity to Humanism without the guilt so many ex-Catholics suffer from.
My mother came from County Clare along with three sisters and a brother. My father was from Liverpool - again of Irish descent - with two sisters. Religion was never "discussed" in our house - we just did it - with my mother being far more religious than my father. I attended a Catholic primary school and a Catholic secondary school - though not all the pupils at the secondary school were Catholic. I was an alter boy and went to Mass every Sunday. During secondary school we had visits from people with other beliefs: Muslims, Hindus and a Jewish Rabbi from what I remember. Their visits were no more than tokenism because afterwards it was made clear to us that, though they were entitled to believe what they liked, Catholicism was the only way to heaven. Obviously we never got to hear anything from atheists or humanists - god forbid!
With so many aunts, uncles and cousins, our whole life was based around Catholicism. Our friends were Catholic, the football team I played for on Saturdays was Catholic and the youth club I went to was Catholic. Catholicism was our world. I don't have any memories of anything particularly bad: I was not beaten (or abused!) though there were the usual family arguments during my teenage years.
My wife is Polish and I met her at church - this was before the latest wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived to keep the Catholic church from dying in the same way as the Church of England is doing.
In 2001 I was offered a really good job in Derby and I moved down from Liverpool along with my wife and two sons - who were in their early teens at the time. The move felt strange because it was the first time we had been away from a close network of family and friends all sharing the same beliefs - or, as I now know, claiming to share the same beliefs. We attended our local Catholic church, got the boys into a Catholic secondary school and we were made welcome.
The day after the events of 11th September, 2001 ("9/11") it is obvious what we discussed at work. One of my computer colleagues was particularly upset and angry and I think I can remember what he said word for word:
"Bloody religions, putting their holy books, their imaginary god and their imaginary prophets ahead of their fellow human beings. God save us from bloody theists!"
I really took offence - he was tarring everyone with the same brush. He was in no mood to talk that day but a few days later I cornered him and asked how he dared to bracket all religious people in the same way. We had a long chat during which it was obvious that he knew a lot more about religions than I did. That's something I have found out since - atheists seem to be very well informed whereas most religious people know very little in depth about their own religion, let alone the religion of others.
I started to search the Internet to find out more about atheist humanism and I found the DASH web site. I contacted DASH and arranged to meet Mike Lake at the Multi Faith Centre at the University. We talked for over two hours and continued in the pub afterwards! Mike left me with a lot to think about and a book list - it was like being given homework by teacher!
About six months later I spoke to Mike again and told him that I was no longer a believer - but I was not sure how to tell my family. Mike suggested that I go with the flow and carry on as normal rather than risking a family bust-up. I was annoyed by that. I had made a life-changing decision and Mike had suggested keeping quiet about it!
During the following week I told everyone - my wife (who was deeply upset), my priest (who had one chat with me to try to change my mind and hasn't spoken to me since) and my friends (about half of which were OK, the other half are no longer friends). The reaction in the extended family was also mixed but my two boys were brilliant: "Don't worry dad, we don't believe it either, we only went along with it for you and mum!"
Looking back after almost 16 years, I can see how Catholicism was the glue that held my family and friends together - so I fully understand how it can fulfil a social function but I don't think that is an excuse for the unquestioning belief in nonsense. or for forcing that nonsense onto children. Everything I have seen since 2001 has convinced me that relying on "god-given" sources of authority without developing a sense of personal moral responsibility, has been behind many of the bad things we see in the world today - from the murderous and destructive violence of IS Muslims, the right-wing, anti-women, anti-abortion ranting of American fundamentalist Christians, the war in Iraq led by two Christians and the problems authoritarian religion has with sex, gender and sexuality.
I am particularly upset by our willingness to fund schools like the ones I attended which teach that one religion is right and all the others are wrong - while ignoring the fact that millions of people do their best to lead happy and responsible lives without god and religion. I am also totally opposed to the word "multiculturalism". When you come to the UK, or your are born here, you take on a shared culture to which you are free to contribute from your own background. That does not involve multiple cultures living alongside one another. That does not mean that the rules and laws of your religion take precedence over our national laws That does not mean that we have to bend over backwards to pander to your beliefs. We do not have to change our culture because of you, you have to adapt to our culture and, by all means, help it to evolve in the future. Of course, many religious people (all Muslims and all fundamentalist Christians) don't understand or accept the world "evolve"!
I feel a great weight has been taken off my back and I am free to make my own decisions without looking over my shoulder to see what god thinks. Looking at religions, not just Catholic Christianity, I can now see how oppressive they are - putting the emphasis on an imaginary life in the future rather than on the one life we share now. So many religions seem to be about accumulating Brownie points in the hope of some reward when you are dead! Don't get me started on the attitudes of so many religious people towards gender, sex, sexuality and reproductive rights - I can go on for hours about them!
Anyway, I think I am cured of religion thanks to that discussion that started after 9/11. I am a freethinker and I understand the glaringly obvious: it is possible to be good without god.
Norman started as a Catholic and, after a lot of thought later in life, decided that there was no god after all. He points out that following the beliefs of your parents, a most people do, is not the same as making a free and informed decision about what to believe.
I fit the category for late conversion - if that's the word.
I was born a catholic in England in 1937 to Irish parents. As a child I was quite conscientious and at one stage I hoped to receive the call from god to be a priest.
It never happened and I eventually joined the Royal Navy, got married to a non catholic and still believed in god even though I had little to do with the catholic community.
My first wife died, I married again and divorced and married again, all non catholics.
It was about fifteen years ago (1999) I was really mixed up as to whether I really believed in god, or was it just force of habit from my younger days.
After a lot of thought as to whether there was any influence or direction in my life from god. I finally came to the conclusion that there wasn't. Looking at the question as to whether a god of any kind existed, be it Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Hindu etc. I decided, on the evidence, there wasn't.
My original belief came about in the same was as for most believers - from parental influence - and it took an awful long time for me to make up my own mind and to think for myself. You know what the Jesuits say, give me the child till he is seven and I will give you the man.
That's why there should be no faith schools of any sort, each child should have the information and freedom to make up their own minds.
Clive comes at things from the scientific, enquiring and investigating angle and he raised significant questions about god and religion from a very early age. His school RE lessons had not provided him with alternative arguments and a different way of analysing the world so he was left to figure things out for himself as he got older. We campaign for an education system that provides all the information necessary to make a proper choice with full knowledge of the alternatives.
I was one of those children who asked a lot of questions, I liked to see how things worked and that meant a lot more things got taken apart than were ever put back together! I like to think I have changed a little during my adult years, but that enquiring mind still persists.
Most of the big questions I asked as a child were never answered, mainly because my parents and teachers really didn't have the answers, but also because at that time the education system included a heavy bias towards bringing up my generation with an unquestioned acceptance of god.
The idea was that this particular god had a son that could break the laws of nature, and that he was sent so that god would be able to "forgive" our little souls for "sins" that we (or indeed others) may have caused.
After a short love affair with the idea of this amazing (if usually sanitised) story, I soon realised a lot more questions were being raised than were being answered, this was more than a story, more than a passing preoccupation and it was a lot more important than seeing what would happen if I took the back off the telly or took the springs out of the clock!
The subject invokes the biggest questions that anyone can ever ask. What are we? Where do we come from? Why are we here? Why is everything so complicated?
It took a long time to get my head straight. For many years I thought of myself as an agnostic, there was even some reluctance to go too far against the grain if what my teachers and Sunday school had said about hell had some grain of truth.
I don't now fear the unknown, I have never stopped asking the questions, but now I realise that there are real answers out there, answers that rely on evidence, on reasoning, on seeing not just a big picture, but the whole picture, and even how and why our species built this crazy, religion dominated world.
The pace of discovery was all too much for our hunter-gatherer brains. That hard-fought ascent of evolution equipped us well for these easier times, when now we can stare at the stars, share our ruminations and collectively do a lot more than our early ancestors could ever conceive.
Within a few short centuries we have experienced an exponential increase in the volume of planetary grey matter - along with an exponential increase in connectivity - and this has brought us to an age where we can explain our predicament with ever greater certainty and not just by reference to the bronze-age stories that filled the gaps in our human infancy.
These are exciting times!
Individually we can take it or leave it, but the consensus is growing. In the Royal Institution, in the universities and in the research labs, the mechanisms that produced complexity in our genome are well understood, the origins of every chemical in the universe has been explained, the crossover from chemistry to life is supported by many good explanations and the idea of an infinite god can be simplified to infinity as we start to delve beyond the boundaries of our own universe.
Based on my experience of education I would like to see these changes to the Religion, Philosophy and Ethics curriculum, so that on leaving school students should:
- be able to explain how we may have got here according to current thinking and without reference to god.
(This would include, for example, an understanding of what may have caused the "big bang", how chemical complexity arises, and how genomes grow in complexity over evolutionary time).
- have studied multiple religious beliefs - and non-religious beliefs - to give a broader world view.
- be free to decide for themselves what they believe - religious or not.
This wouldn't require "A" level science - it should be part of a basic education, as a complement to religion.
Surely this is reasonable for any schools - it would have saved me 40 years of searching!
John is a life-long atheist. It is worth pointing out that Thomas More, Chancellor to Henry VIII until executed, was the same man who violently opposed the translation of the Christian Bible into English and who was willing to imprison, torture and burn those who disagreed with him. Many of us fail to understand how that qualifies him to be a saint and to have Catholic schools named after him.
I cannot remember a time when I did not believe that there was no god to believe in. I must have been born that way as all the gentle Jesus meek and mild stuff went straight over my head. As I grew older the indoctrination became more varied but I still held out.
My parents sent me and my sister to Sunday school, would you believe Plymouth Brethren, an institution whose sole purpose was to make the elders feel important and give the Sunday school children's parents a couple of hours free time to do with as they chose. God was never mentioned in our house, just a few minutes enjoyment of "Abide with me" at the FA Cup final on television and that was it for another year.
Obviously, as soon as I grew old enough to object to the ritual of Sunday afternoons I was allowed to turn my back on the Meeting Hall and instead wheel around the beautiful Suffolk lanes on my bicycle as long as I returned in time for tea.
A year or two later, emboldened by my parents' easy acceptance that I had such a thing as a free will, I made similar objections to my Headmaster regarding morning assembly. It was my first year at secondary school, aged eleven, and I started a one boy revolt against compulsory attendance of the service which started each and every school day. I was regularly caned for non-attendance but as I was diligent in my studies, handing in my homework on time and scoring well in examinations, by the second year I was allowed to spend the first half hour in the library. So, six hundred and ninety odd boys in the assembly hall, a few Jewish boys having their own daily session in a classroom, whilst I sat alone in the library reading a comic.
Yes I played the, "if the Jewish boys don't have to attend a Christian ceremony why should I?" card. This may seem like small beer when compared with the levels of bad behaviour experienced in schools today but you have to remember that I made my protest in 1961.
Of course as my reading became more extensive I started to intellectualise my position.
My influences were wide and varied, from Thomas More's Utopia which I read at fourteen, (look I know he is considered to be a catholic saint but to me he will always be a precursor of socialism and questioner of established thinking) and from there passing through the gentle literary hands of ever more doubting Thomases such as Voltaire, Byron, Shelley, Karl Marx, T.H.Huxley, Jacquetta Hawkes, eventually heaving up with Bertrand Russell.
I realised that I was a solitary something but it took Russell to make me realise that I did not need to name exactly what I was. I have to confess that I was opposed to his thinking in the essay, "Why I am not a Christian" because I felt no need to make excuses for not being something. In my world Christianity, in fact all religions, were delusions adhered to by people who had been brainwashed into accepting that there was one single supernatural intelligence that ruled their lives.
Of course there are unanswerable questions but, to allay the inevitable fears, it is absurd to invent a being who understands the unknowable and then try to force others, by kindness or tyranny, to live their lives within the same delusion. It was D.H. Lawrence who wrote, "God is only a great imaginative experience" but throughout history the unscrupulous have managed to make themselves powerful by fooling others into believing that this experience is real. This is the immoral core of all religions.
So what am I? Do I really have to categorise myself?
I am a typical human with no idea why I and the billions of others like me exist on this planet, circling a fiery Sun, swirling in a vast galaxy that dances with untold numbers of other galaxies through the endless vault of time and distance with dimensions so great that my mind cannot even hope to compute.
Does it matter what I am? Is it not enough to be a respecter of all life and the freedom of others?
M's entry (she prefers not to reveal her full name) is very short but very interesting. She is a recent graduate and her comments indicate that her education did not cover a non-theist view of life - she had to find out herself in her late teens.
I was raised an atheist by my atheist parents then discovered humanism and moral philosophy in my late teens.
In primary school my parents and I had problems. They asked for me to be excused from hymns and prayers as we were not Christian - just as the Hindu and Jehovah Witness children were excused. Yet some teachers would still force me to say prayers or attend and then sing hymns. I was not shown the same respect as the children from different religions because I was not religious.
My secondary school R.E. lessons didn't say any of the faiths were real and just explained what different people believe in and the culture / history around some religions. Our R.E. lessons also had a lot of moral philosophy and ethics. I think it's because our head teacher was secular!
I sometimes wonder if I was brain washed as an atheist like many children are indoctrinated into religion - though I have thought and read a lot about god and religion and it still just makes no sense to believe in any of it.
John's story makes the excellent point that much of organised religion is about the social aspects - the friends you make, the activities you take part in and the support you get from fellow believers.
Now I am coming towards the end of my 6th decade I am proud to call myself a secular Humanist and I am also happy to be called a rationalist, atheist, freethinker, sceptic, or an agnostic scientist.
But I wasnít always a Humanist - until I was 18 years old I went to church twice every Sunday in Liverpool. In the morning I even took a Sunday School group of tiny tots to save them sitting through a long sermon! I sat and passed a short bible study exam and briefly considered being baptised when my friends all started going to baptismal classes but, I am pleased to recall, resisted as I felt I didn't wholeheartedly believe in religion.
After the Sunday evening service I went to the church Youth Group where we talked about religious topics and on the Saturday night I went to the church Youth Club to play billiards, table tennis and listen to the latest Beatles records.
I stopped "being religious" very suddenly when I left home and went to Aberystwyth University. I went to the 'recommended' Baptist church there once and realised with a sudden clarity that I didnít really believe anything that the guy in the pulpit was saying. It dawned on me that Iíd been going along to church for the social aspects, because my mother and my friends did.
I never set foot inside a church after that but didn't really think seriously about god or religion; I just lived my life as enjoyably as I could. Things didn't change when I got my first job - a botanist with the British Antarctic Survey. Wintering on a small ice-locked base with just 12 other people you tried not to cause too many arguments and religion & politics were 2 of the 3 things you weren't supposed to discuss (the 3rd was contract bridge!)
Later I went into teaching and having to teach A level Biology expanded my understanding of evolution ,which seemed to do away with any need for an intelligent or caring higher being. My interest in astronomy and the realisation of just how vast the universe was also made me think how unlikely the existence of any form of God was
I didnít actually discover Humanism until I was in my mid 30ís when I attended the funeral of a non-religious work colleague and realised that humanists were people who saw the world exactly as I did. They lived their lives without any need for a belief in God and seemed to be at least as moral as religious people, just as I felt I was.
I looked up Humanists in the phone book (there was no internet in those days) and came across an entry that linked my to the phone number of Dr Harry Stopes-Roe. I went to a couple of meetings and have been a member of Birmingham Humanists ever since and am a life member of the BHA.
I always tell this to students if I talk in schools to illustrate that peopleís views do change, especially if they are able and willing to think and reason. Not like the politician quoted by the great atheist thinker Christopher Hitchens, who apparently said in a debate on American TV "If Jesus Christ was a Christian thatís good enough for me!" So much for his knowledge of the "King of the Jews!"
So be prepared to think logically for yourself and donít be afraid if your views change as you go through life.
Richard benefitted from liberal Christian parents who encouraged him to think for himself - pity his brother did not do the same.
I was born to parents who were cultural Christians. As children they both attended Church three times on Sunday under orders and hated it, so they determined not to inflict any religious instruction on their children and let them decide for themselves what to think about religion.
I am an atheist whilst my brother became a Christian who has considered a career in the Church of England and has married an evangelical Christian. Imagine the Christmases!
Impressions of Church as a child were that sermons were dull and a bit patronising. Kneeling and praying hands clasped in Church embarrassed me as I always felt I was talking to myself.
Perhaps, I told myself, I was missing something I would understand when I was older.
Studying evolution fuelled my scepticism for religion, life began to make more sense without religious stories and my incredulity for religion accelerated.
I decided humans must have an evolved social morality and religions are stubborn parasites upon this.
Studying Astronomy has given me some grasp of the enormity of the Universe and demonstrates how insignificant humans are. The idea that ancient ignorant religious man could possibly know more about the nature of the universe than modern scientific man with masses of evidence is absurd.
I have always also thought that anyone who believes in something that they can't demonstrate is really there must be a bit mentally ill.
Recently I spoke to a doctor who told me when he gets patients in who say they can hear voices in their head he makes out a prescription and books them in to see a specialist. However if someone comes in and says they can hear God talking to them he's not supposed to do anything - but he can't see any difference between the two types of patient.
What is good about religion? For some it acts as a focus for doing good, of course good religious values are really good human values and religion is not usually needed to encourage them.
What is bad about religion? I find religious people, in the words of Chad Varah founder of the Samaritans and an Anglican Vicar, to be 'all too often, narrow minded, intolerant, judgemental, censorious and conventional.'
I think the most likely explanations people become religious are indoctrination, showing loyalty to the tribe and also I think many people are needy and feel emotionally vulnerable in some way so they take comfort from a support network at church and want the idea of a divine power looking after them.
There is some research to suggest that the safer people feel in a society the less relevant to them religion becomes. I wouldn't be surprised if this were true.
Today I consider myself free from religion. My goals are to lead a full, useful, enjoyable life and do no one any harm.
Steve expresses clearly the frustration of those who have seen through the religious myths.
I was not raised in a particularly religious family, mother liked to go to Chapel now and then but that was about all. At school I was fed the usual "Religious Instruction" that was the norm in the 1950s, mainly the nicer bits - good samaritan, miracles, how god watches over us, etc.
The first awakening was in my early 20s - I suffered a breakdown followed by months of depression. I felt I was in a glass bubble and everyone else was outside. This gives you a different perspective and you begin to realise that so many things you have been led to believe, by school, parents, television. etc. have no bearing on reality. In this state it's easy to find yourself asking from the bottom of your heart, "why this is so, and where is this 'loving god' when you so desperately need him?"
Eventual I emerged from the depression - just as the hippie movement took hold of the world, and like so many others, embarked on a search for meaning through Zen, Buddhism, mysticism and anything else that might help.
I suppose that's when I stopped believing in a god - resorting to the same old questions: why does god allow such suffering, why are there no miracles today etc. and when Christians told me - "ah god works in mysterious ways!" I thought: "Oh yes - what a great alibi - god knows what he is doing - we are too stupid to understand!"
So, for many years, I went happily along, thinking "well, this god doesn't care about me - why should I care about him?" It occurred to me that any god who wants us to constantly thank him, and tell him (and everyone else!) how great he is - must have a very big ego problem!
I also thought of the earlier gods who had lost favour. It seemed to me that you are only a "god" if people believe in you - what's the point of shouting "I am god" if people just say "Oh. So what?" Perhaps Zeus was the real god -and is now laughing at our following another. After all, the Greek gods, or Roman or Norse gods, were just as real to the people of those days as any god today!
During those years, perhaps my greatest success was after several chats with a pair of Mormon "elders." One of them was "recalled" to Utah after I had seriously undermined his faith!
Not having had the luxury of a university education, it wasn't until I became aware of the work of people like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris etc, that I really thought much about my lack of belief. It was like having my eyes fully open for the first time in years!
So much made sense - and religion made so little sense! It's a feeling like being the child in the "king's new clothes" story. Once you see reality,and question beliefs that are based on the stories and myths of predominantly un-educated-illiterate desert dwellers over 2000 years ago, it seems hard to understand why people believe this stuff! Yes, we can understand to a degree why people so long ago saw a supernatural meaning in things they could not begin to understand, but after so many years of turmoil and divisiveness, that continues today, one can only draw the conclusion that religion holds back humanity as a whole.
For me a secular world is our greatest hope - religion may have had a role in bringing comfort but every advance made by mankind has come from science and from people who were not prepared to accept that things could not be different.
So for me now atheism is my life, I have learned so much from it .
If I had one complaint it would be this: we have had the benefit of many educated and intellectual minds that have cleared the way for us.
I feel there is a need for Atheism to stop being the preserve of the intellectual elite and reach out to the millions of people with less education who are still under the spell of fairy tales.
Mike adopts a simple philosophical position: "god is an unnecessary postulate for which there is no evidence." He follows up with: "for everything explained with god there is a simpler explanation without god." He started bolshie and is still bolshie - but even he wandered off with concerns about reincarnation because he had not been presented with the arguments for and against the existence of god or with alternative ways of dealing with the question of death.
I am a life-long atheist.
I was born in Newent, Gloucestershire, where my father, son of a local blacksmith, ran the local bakery and my mother was the daughter of a local farmer. I was the result of a shotgun marriage and it seems my father used his bread round for purposes other than delivering bread - as I found out when a half-sister turned up on my doorstep when I was in my 50s!
I was sent to Sunday school every week and I certainly remember "All things bright and beautiful", "Morning has broken" and "Now the day is over" at my CofE infant school.
We moved to a dairy farm near Tewkesbury during my second infant school year and I went to another CofE school before going to a Council Junior School.
I was (and am) a voracious reader. We had no electricity (or mains water, or an inside loo) until I was in my last year at Junior School and reading during the evenings was done with the light of a paraffin Tilly lamp. There was a large illustrated family bible which I ploughed my way through - the wars and battles in the first part were certainly character forming!
Religion and the supernatural never took with me - I put bible stories alongside those of Hans Anderson and the Brothers Grimm - fun, slightly scary, but just stories.
Throughout my school life we had acts of worship every morning, we sang hymns during music lessons and we had RE every week. I found RE interesting - but in the same way as I found English literature interesting.
While at Junior School I went along to Cubs and I recall being told that each session began with a prayer. I have no idea what got into me but I refused to say prayers. I was told "this is what we do, Michael, so you must pray with the others." I still refused, attended the following week then never bothered to go again. I never got my woggle. Maybe this was the start of my rather bolshie views - "I am not doing it just because you say so - I need a reason that I agree with before I am willing to do it."
During my early years at Grammar School I went along with a friend to Boys' Brigade - you can imagine the result - I had no idea it was a church organisation so I lasted one session only!
I then discovered the Sea Cadets and they didn't seem bothered too much about the god-bit. Yes, we did church parade, marching through the streets of Tewkesbury, but most of the time was spent learning knots, shooting, sailing and annoying the local fishermen by racing up and down the River Severn on a picket boat! I remember a week spent at HMS Osprey, a shore station on Portland near Weymouth. When asked on arrival "Religion?", I said "Atheist". He wrote down "CofE" and everyone was happy. I think that says more about the CofE than it does about the Navy.
During my teens I brushed with the idea of reincarnation for a month or so - because I couldn't stand the idea of non-existence. I had some bright friends and I remember discussing this during wet lunch times in the table tennis/changing rooms between sessions of off-ground-tag. I have sorted out the issue of death - no need for reincarnation!
I got stuck with being head prefect at school and on one occasion I was asked to read the lesson in Tewkesbury Abbey. My father said he would be really proud if I did this so I agreed to compromise my principles on this one occasion only.
During University, where I studied Psychology, I was in a hall of residence with a Catholic priest just down the corridor. He was from Ireland and seemed to have an infinite supply of whisky and we spent many late nights discussing metaphysics - no hanky-panky!
During my second year I met my wife at the Freshers' Hop and she was studying English with a bit of Sociology and Philosophy on the side. While at school she had gone as far as being confirmed in the CofE but had sent to a Catholic informatiom centre for various booklets about religious belief. By the time she arrived at University she was 90% of the way to being an atheist. It didn't take us long to master (and destroy) the classic "proofs of god" then the topic of religion never cropped up again - we had more interesting things to do.
After University I came to Derby to work in computers for Rolls Royce at Moor Lane then did a PGCE and became a teacher for six enjoyable years. When micro-computers came along I left teaching, set up a software company and ran that until I retired in my early 50s. During that time we moved to an Old Rectory with a cedar tree in the garden - two lifetime ambitions achieved in one stroke - I love the irony of a rampant atheist living in a house erected for a priest in a shrinking religion. Two weeks after this first attempt at retirement I invented a new product, set up a new company and ran that from home.
One day, driving back from a visit to my software company, I realised I was bored - things were too easy and I felt my brain was not firing on all four cylinders. I decided that I had enjoyed philosophy and I was opposed to a lot of things being done in the name of religion (misogeny, homophobia, religious terrorism, intellectual abuse of children etc.) so I would join a local atheist group. There wasn't one. I joined the National Secular Society, popped down to London to chat with them and then set up Derbyshire Secularists. Since that was not enough to get me on to the SACRE (Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education) I contacted the British Humanist Association (now "Humanists UK"), changed the group's name to Derbyshire Secularists and Humanists and got co-opted onto the SACRE. I am no longer on the SACRE - let's put it down to a personality conflict, my stupidity and my impatience (I don't suffer fools gladly) - someone else now represents Humanism.
The group is now DASH: Derbyshire Atheists, Secularists and Humanists because non-believers are not always happy using the same label - click here for details.
I am now retired (though I have a couple of possible projects on my desk) and I enjoy visiting schools to give talks about a non-theist world view - a topic required by the Derby and Derbyshire Agreed Syllabuses for RE.