It would appear that the world of blogging has added yet another newbie to its ranks - yours truly.
I've never written a single blog post in my life, and, as I'm writing this, I'm not altogether certain there will ever be a second. Quite frankly, I doubt I am up to the task, but there is not much harm in trying, so here goes.
I grew up in a rather religious part of an otherwise secular country. Still, I didn't realise that other people actually believed in a deity before I was nine years old. I wouldn't say I didn't know that churches and priests existed, but I just didn't see how anyone could take religion seriously. I, as most children, believed that everybody had to have the same worldview as me, and at my home there were no gods, only people and cats and a hamster. The day I realised that other families didn't have cats and hamsters, but rather an invisible buddy whose name they could invoke whenever it suited them, I cried on my way home from school. That was the day I was told by a classmate that since I was not baptised, I did not really have a name, and so I could be called anything of their choosing. Needless to say, these were not nice nicknames, and they lasted considerably longer than the nasty little lie concerning baptism and names.
Fast forward a few years, into my early teens. We were only two atheists in my class - me and a girl I barely knew. She liked to party and drink (or so I was told), I liked my books, and neither of us had a stellar time at school. I did not advertise my atheism, nor did I conceal it. This is fairly simple as long as one doesn't talk to very many people, and I believe it is fair to say I was a loner. So much of a loner, in fact, that my parents gently nudged me towards attending social events with my peers, even if these were arranged by the Christian youth club next to the local church. Every Friday I would go, armed with some pocket money, to make nice and be sociable. Invariably, I would be surrounded by people singing, preaching and occasionally praying for me. I truly enjoyed the songs, but as much as I tried (and believe me, I did try), I could not get those prayers to work. God remained elusive, or perhaps defective, and at the time I didn't know who or what was to blame for my lack of spirituality. What was obvious, however, was that atheism was by definition a lack, a hole which probably could be mended or filled with Amens and Hallelujahs if they only were repeated often enough. Therefore, I would more often than not spend the money on crisps, make a quick escape from the prayers and the songs, and hide in the church next door where there was a grand piano and excellent acoustics. Beatles never sounded better than in that church on those Friday nights.
Incidentally, a few years down the line, in my later teens, I would encounter some of the same people over again, in a massive travelling festival called Jesus Revolution that every summer invaded our town, and they would once again scare me with their adrenaline-fuelled chanting.
Being one of only two atheists in my class, confirmation was bound to be an issue. I had the option of choosing a secular confirmation, arranged by a humanist organization, which I did without hesitation. The general consensus in the class was that I was going to hell, a fact which was dutifully explained to me by my closest friend at the time. I believed in a hell even less than I believed in a god, so this did not bother me much. Besides, they were all being very nice about it. They didn't mention the sulphur and brimstone in too much gory detail, just shook their heads and offered to pray for me (yet again). On the big day, just as discreetly, my aunt and uncle presented me with a bible as a present. Armed with a yellow marker, I went through as much of the tome as I could stomach, underlining the verses that struck me as cruel and/or stupid. If this counts as defacing the Holy Scripture, anyone looking for the evidence will find it on my bookshelf, almost fluorescent with yellow ink.
At this point, I had become aware of religion as a social force, and I had taken a dislike to it. One Christmas I even burned a book I received ("Good advice for teenagers" in which every other advice had something to do with Jesus, once again from my aunt and uncle) in the back yard. In retrospect, burning books smell and the procedure has unpleasant historical connotations, so I will not be doing that again any time soon.
Today, most of the amen-touting people have forgone their childhood convictions and only unpack their old prayers during Christmas. I still live in a (mostly) secular society, and atheist nexus is not a necessary haven for me. I realise that I am privileged for not needing a place like this, and that is the simple reason why I joined this amazing community. These days, my atheism is public knowledge and completely unproblematic - one might even say I'm wearing it on my sleeve.