Let’s begin with my Christian upbringing. I was born into a Methodist home with devoutly Christian parents. Our social life revolved around the church. Of course I grew up believing in God (without really knowing who or what God was) – but certainly with a healthy (or should that be unhealthy?) fear of going to hell or being punished if I did something wrong.
I was taken to some ‘charismatic’ services when I was in my early teens and enjoyed the mood music and descriptions of the wonders of being ‘born again’. It was made to sound as though I just needed to go up to the altar, say a little prayer and my life would be bliss ever after – heaven on earth. Well I tried it a few times, in the greatest of sincerity, but, to be honest, never felt a dicky bird and within a day or two (or even a couple of hours) I was always left disappointed, deflated and wondering whether I’d done it right.
Anyway I was a bit of a softy – having been brought up in a churchy Christian household, and had a couple of unpleasant experiences at school. Once I had carefully covered my new Bible, possibly soon after one of these ‘conversion’ experiences and taken it into school. It had a couple of stickers on it, you know the usual ‘Jesus is Alive’ and ‘God Loves You’. On the first day, I think, I returned to my desk at break time to discover that an agent of the Devil had torn the cover off. As I looked around there were several knowing looks, possibly concealed smirks – but I felt like Daniel in the lion’s den or a fair maiden surrounded by a crowd of cackling hags. A couple of other events like this, a lack of positive religious experience and general embarrassment about being associated with the church caused me to turn away from the Church and I developed a rather wayward set of friends who led me into playing hookey, smoking, etc..
Cutting a long story short I went off to university a proudly lapsed Christian, but still believing in my heart of hearts that it must be the right way and I just needed some profound experience to thwart my rebellion and I would walk back into the fold, like the prodigal son returning from a far country.
Strangely that is exactly what happened. I had got involved with a girl (she just happened to be the campus dope ‘dealer’) who I was convinced was the love of my life. I went in with both feet (not wearing heels on this occasion) and moved into her flat with her. After a particularly heavy session on some wicked black (a particularly strong variety of cannabis resin) I had, what some might describe as a psychotic experience, but to me it was a stark realisation that I was heading down the wrong path. I had a revelation that God didn’t exist and that we were just isolated souls trapped inside our bodies (or heads) and all alone. It was like a veil being drawn back and revealing the truth – that I was alone inside my head – separated from the rest of humanity. It felt like a hell of isolation. I also had a vision of myself floating in space – reinforcing the aloneness. I had been reading into occult literature (nothing too sinister – Carlos Castaneda amongst other things) and convinced myself that my soul was in mortal danger.
Anyway, I withdrew to the bedroom, recited the 23rd Psalm (honestly – I know it sounds dreadfully corny – but it’s true!), phoned home and then legged it out of there, never to return. I spent the rest of the term at home and then went back to uni for my final year – as a bona fide born again Christian! I believed that I had passed through my renegade phase and now, like all the Christian stories of druggies, witches, gang members and the like, who have wonderful testimonials, I was a proper Christian, at last, – with all the badges. I could testimonialise with the best of them (I think I just invented that word – good isn’t it 😉 ).
Would you Adam ‘n’ Eve it – it jolly well didn’t last again! I persevered with it, intensely, for a couple of years, but again I never had what I would consider as an authentic ‘spiritual experience’ (other than floating in space…) and kept wondering what the hell this ‘personal relationship with the Lord Jesus’ was about. I didn’t sense it and frankly I didn’t see anyone acting as though they were really best buddies with the top genie in the world. If you think how Aladdin strutted his stuff then surely a Christian should be even more confident, after all Jesus must have ‘one over’ on the ‘Genie of the Lamp’. Alright, I know I’m being a bit flippant, but you can see my point can’t you? If Christians really felt the presence of God, all the time, with Jesus as a personal friend, then why can’t they seem to convey any confident image of real joy or power to anyone else?
Being a profoundly rational person, and strongly scientific, I started questioning more seriously and really thinking about what I was supposed to believe in. The more I thought, the more the sand fell trickled through my fingers until there was nothing left. No experience, no soundly based doctrine – just a set of ethics, which were looking a bit frayed around the edges anyway (opposition to women priests, prejudice against any non-standard sexual orientation, etc.). Even the charismatic churches with their great claims to healing, visions, speaking in tongues, prophesies, etc. seemed a bit sham. I never saw anyone healed – but I did hear two prophets arguing over which one of their conflicting statements ‘really’ came from Jesus. Incidentally after this occasion that particular church introduced a rule limiting who could give prophecies. It was just like something out of Animal Farm. Needless to say, that was enough for me.
So off I wandered again, into the spiritual wilderness, to focus on my family and career. Which kept me pretty busy for the next 10 or 15 years until my late thirties when I started wondering again.