(Reposted from the old blog, 2010)
I wasn’t born an atheist. Or at least, there is no recorded evidence of a pre-one-year-old me screaming “There is no God!!11” with a Timothy Dalton spit.
In my childhood, I was influenced by my great-grandmother, who was a fundamentalist to the point of absurdity. (My grandmother is more of a liberal Christian, and my parents are basically non-religious but not strong atheists like me—more like “meh, maybe God, maybe not”.) I was baptized in really early childhood, early enough that I have a very vague recollection of the event. I remember there being a church where we went by car, inscriptions on donation boxes in a Church Slavonic font, and a crowd of people crossing before a priest, including myself. I crossed with my left hand at first, being left-handed, before being told that it’s “wrong”—followed by my immediate question why.
I’ve been a questioner ever since my childhood, as long as I remember, to the point that my grandma affectionately nicknamed me “Why-er”. I guess it left an imprint on my early religious experience. I questioned what exactly made holy water different from regular water, and how exactly it was made “holy”. (Reading about the ritual involving River Jordan did little to clarify matters in regard to a backwater church on the outskirts of Novosibirsk.) I was given a cross to wear on my neck by my great-grandmother, and I was bought a prayer book. I used to read adaptations of the New Testament back then, more out of curiosity than anything.
And yes, I actually prayed as a child. Silently, though. The prayer book was preceded by short instructions, which began with, “Imagine yourself standing in front of the all-seeing God.” And that was just what I did, because my logic told me, “If God is all-seeing, surely he would notice my praying even without spoken words?” And so I began mentally reading from the book, In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen…—but it was all in my head, because I thought that praying aloud at home would be just weird.
Then, however, came kindergarten, and I started reading popular science books—and questioning. I saw contradictions between the Book of Genesis and the Big Bang, I couldn’t bring myself to literally believe in the miracles Jesus was described to perform, and was quick to seek plausible explanations for them as illusionist tricks or something. And with my habit to chew things back then, I chewed my cross regularly until first its paint came off, and then eventually I bit its strap off. My great-grandmother gave me another one, and I bit it too, but not quite so seriously. I just wore a partially-chewn cross on my neck. It wasn’t some kind of protest, I actually believed back then—but I was a five-to-six-year-old kid and felt the urge to engage my teeth…
Eventually I just abandoned faith altogether. I didn’t know it was called atheism, I just poked Christian beliefs with self-invented logical arguments (which I later discovered were common atheist arguments—among them were the cosmological argument and the argument from many religions) until I arrived to the conclusion that there would be no sense in there being a God, and ultimately this concept is not needed to describe the world around me, nor did I need an external source of morality, which I could just derive from common sense. My cross ended up hanging on my desk lamp for years, until I finally threw it away during a routine cleanup of my room.
So, when I look back at my early years, I can’t help but wonder: could I be called a Christian when I prayed and wore a cross? Probably not; I was always a closet atheist. True believers don’t question, they just believe. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that; it’s their path, I just chose a different one.