When I was five and a half, I had a huge crush on Paul Bancroft, a boy about my age who lived down the road. That is why, when Mum – tied to the house with the new baby – asked me whether I’d like to go to Sunday school with the Bancrofts each week, I accepted eagerly.
Did I know what I was letting myself in for? Absolutely not.
Each Sunday morning I’d squeeze into the Bancrofts’ car – next to Paul, obviously – and go with them to Sung Eucharist; ours was the highest of Anglican churches. I grew to adore the heady mix of coloured light filtering through Victorian stained glass, misted by the smoke of incense, the thundering of the organ music, the men in heavily embroidered robes processing, bowing and scraping at the front and the chanting of incomprehensible texts. The reason for all this escaped me completely, but the theatricality was utterly enchanting.
Part way through the service, we children were led out to the little hall next door by a young lady with fair hair called Miss Steel. We coloured pictures of Biblical scenes and listened to stories about Jesus. Miss Steel didn’t like questions, I soon discovered, especially those that started ‘But why did…?’ She liked us to listen quietly and colour neatly, so that’s what I did.
The G** word rarely came up. We heard a lot about Our Father, who was, apparently, no relation of the one reading the Sunday paper at home. We heard a lot about Jesus, too. We were told he was perfect – a fact I accepted cheerfully enough until we heard the tale of how he destroyed a fig tree, just because he was feeling peckish and it didn’t happen to be fruiting at the time. Then there was the time he cast out some devils and sent them into a herd of pigs, who promptly ran, lemming-like, over the nearest cliff and perished.
“Miss Steel, are you sure these stories are right?” I ventured.
“The Bible is the Word of God,” she responded, curtly.
And that was the end of the discussion.
By the time I was approaching my teens, we had a new vicar – a man I disliked as thoroughly as I disliked anyone on the planet. He had raised my hackles by walking into my little brother’s infant class at school one day, asking children who had been Christened to raise their hands and then calmly telling the rest of the class that, should they die, they would go to Hell. He brought a whole new dimension to the concept of cold calling to tout for business. Goodness knows what trail of devastation he left in his wake as he swept out in his crow-black robe, leaving the class teacher to comfort terrified and snivelling seven-year-olds.
My mother, fearing I was moving to the dark side, enrolled me in the vicar’s Bible study class. I lasted about three weeks before being asked to leave. The other kids sniggered into their Bibles as I locked antlers with the hated vicar, and asked all the questions that had been simmering throughout those years of Sunday school and church.
I was told repeatedly that I just needed to have Faith. His face changed from pink to white to puce with amazing rapidity as I asked what sort of loving god would condemn little kids to eternal torment just because their parents hadn’t brought them to be daubed with a bit of water by a priest, and where it said that in the Bible anyway. I asked about that fig tree. It was still bothering me. I asked what happened to devout Hindus and Muslims when they died. I asked whether, hand on heart, he could be quite sure that this Bible he had so much faith in had been translated right, because there were some rather serious contradictions. I asked about that bit where Jesus says that each of us is capable of doing any of the miracles he did, and then some. The vicar particularly disliked that question, I noticed.
Here ended my ecclesiastical experience. Much to the distress of my mother and Mrs Bancroft (and probably the grim relief of the vicar) I pronounced myself an agnostic and set about discovering my own set of beliefs. I wasn’t turning my back on Jesus, merely suspecting that he’d been seriously misquoted. As for God… the jury stayed out for many decades.
When I finally got around to writing the book of my own thoughts on Life’s big questions, I approached a publishing house I’d long admired.
They initially expressed a keen interest. However, they asked, would I mind removing the g** word from the book and finding some other way of expressing the concept?
I thought long and hard about whether I was prepared to do that. I talked to my editor. I talked to my closest friend. Both said I should hold firm, so I did.
I self-published the book, complete with g** word.
It includes – to the horror of certain members of my family – the words:
I am God. Don’t get jealous – so are you.
Interestingly, though, just about all the channelled material coming through now backs up the idea that, through accident and design, the New Testament is incomplete, to say the least and that – as I’d long ago suspected, the message was intended to be one of self-empowerment and self-knowledge.
You may, for example, want to check this recent post on Ask Higgins.