I’ve been an atheist since I was nine years old.
One day I asked my Mum, do you believe in God? She said no. I asked why? She said, children starve in Africa. It barely registered at first; to me ‘children starve in Africa’ was a phrase used to make me eat vegetables before I could get ice cream. Nothing more.
I asked my Dad the same question. He said he didn’t know. Again I asked why? He said he didn’t understand God.
We prayed every day at school, in some classes more than others, with some teachers more than others. We went to Church on Easter and Christmas. The teachers paired boys with girls and we held hands together for the 900 metre walk from school to church. I shuffled in the pews, I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t listen to the reverend, and I stayed silent during the songs. I refused to bow my head during prayer; I had stopped believing in God.
At lunchtime I would scarper from friend to friend, whispering in people’s ears. Do you believe in God, I asked? Everyone said yes. I got agitated. Why, I asked? Children starve in Africa.
My Mum always said it was important to never be afraid to tell the truth. So it wasn’t long before I told my teacher that I didn’t believe in God, that I didn’t want to pray in class, I didn’t want to go to Church. She asked me why? I said, children starve in Africa.
I still had to go to Church.
Then I asked my teacher if we could have a class debate about God, and she said yes. I was so excited, now I could tell all my classmates that God wasn’t real, they didn’t have to worry about hell. They didn’t have to go to church if they didn’t want to, they could go out and play on Sundays. But they still had to eat their vegetables, because children starve in Africa.
My report card said, “Mark is a very opinionated little boy”. My Mum wasn’t angry – she was very happy. It was wrong to tell lies. And it was wrong to let lies be told.
I don’t think I’m all that different today. And I don’t think the world is all that different. I’m still an opinionated little boy.
And children still starve in Africa.