Coming from a pretty religious family, Dad must have been a disappointment. My great, great grandfather, Rev Francis McCleland, was the first Rector of the St Mary’s Church. Our family actually owns a square foot of the historical parsonage house at 7 Castle Hill, P.E.
Main picture: As dad was an atheist and mom was religious, the church which we were supposed to attend as children was the Newton Park Methodist Church
All his sisters were pious and one was married to a parson or vicar or something – Uncle Fred. Since Dad was, in all other things, a respectful son, I don’t know what caused his antipathy of all things religious. He particularly disliked any religious order that knocked on our door. I do not know the origins of his rejection of religion. Perhaps it had something to do with his time when he was sent away to a country boarding school in the Eastern Cape.
My mom, on the other hand, was a Christian believer. This was another parental incompatibility that I never understood. Due to Dad’s dominance she quietly worshipped alone and just as quietly worried about Dad’s ultimate fate.
We kids therefore were brought up in an ambivalent home regime. Mom managed to send us off to Sunday school and managed to get Cheryl confirmed. I think Dean was later forced to be confirmed when he married Cathy, a Catholic. Coming along last in the family I found it easy to slowly drop going to Sunday School.
I got my first insight into the fallacy of religion at an early age. I always used to curiously trawl through my parents cupboards and drawers looking for something interesting. No matter how many times I looked, it was always the same but I never tired of it. I would inspect my mothers, brooches, shawls and even her underwear. It was somehow comforting and kind of making a connection. I did find my Dad’s .22 pistol, however and it was naturally extremely interesting and I returned to it from time to time. That was an exciting find but my most fascinating find was the April 1965 edition of Life magazine (No, my memory is not that good. I googled it). This featured a photo essay that showed the amazing development of an embryo in the womb. It was truly amazing seeing these embryos ethereally floating in their cosy amniotic pool. Perhaps my parents were embarrassed at the sex connection and weren’t quite ready to reveal our mysterious origins. We were never to be revealed the secrets of the birds and the bees and had to find our fumbling way to discover the secret of life. Well I knew the secret of Life. It was hidden in the bottom of Dad’s shoe locker. I surreptitiously returned to it time and again. It was my porn.
1965 Life Magazine Photo Essay: Drama of Life before Birth
My other significant discovery was the children’s ‘Bible’ hidden in Mom’s wardrobe. Where the others had been fascinating or exciting, this was intriguing. It featured the proverbial stories, all beautifully illustrated. There was one picture that stood out above all others. This was the picture of heaven. It was very idyllic. It showed the family unit in this peaceful setting. The kids were arrayed on the ’ground’ in front and the parents were arm-in-arm behind. It was everything that I desired. We would always be a family, happy together for eternity, no matter what. I was very upset that Dad would not form part of this picture due to his atheist ways.
Later a disconcerting thought came to the fore. What would happen if Dad wanted to sit as a child at the feet of his Dad. He could not be both in my picture and his own. That disjuncture made begin to realise that I was being sold a crock of shit.
In Mathematics at varsity I found out that this form of analysis to prove a theory was called reductio ad absurdum – reduce to the absurd. In anything that only has two possible results, a binary problem, and it is difficult to prove x to be true, accept its exact opposite, y, to be true. Next, work through the consequences of your acceptance that y is true. If the consequences lead to an absurdity, then y must actually be false, ergo x is true.
My realisation, that the picture represented a falsehood, made heaven false and consequently made God a false god. Sorry God, you and you acolytes tried hard but lost me a long, long time ago. Dad tilted the table a bit, but it was that single picture what ultimately done it.
God briefly made a cameo appearance in my life at 16. I was a disaffected youth haunting the streets of Newton Park, looking for something – anything that would give my life meaning or escape, even for a brief period. A comely woman would do. Normal behaviour for a pubescent boy. I walked past this hall and there were lights and music. I entered and was offered coffee and someone to talk to. It was not exactly what I was looking for but it was a human touch and the people were very sincere. I was corralled and hulle het ‘n gat in my kop gepraat. In my teenage, acne ravished (well not really but there was a lot of acne in my brain) phase I broke down and cried. I was asked to pray for my soul and for Jesus to enter me. I did and I felt relief. I was saved, the light of Jesus shone out of me. Not really, but it was a bit cathartic. I returned the next night but it didn’t do it for me anymore. I must be fickle.
I was reborn and lived for one day. Jeez, one can be putty when one’s vulnerable.
Another existential question: Why is it so easy to lose your religion but so difficult to lose your virginity? I prayed to God many times for the latter.