Do You Believe in God? or My Belief System

Pat McKeown, February 2010

I'm writing this at the tender age of 79 and feel I want to set out my views on what is all too often a ticklish topic for discussion, especially among so many of my generation.

So, first, my own background. Like many others I was baptised into the Church of England (C of E), largely, I came to understand, because my mother insisted. My father and his father were certainly non-believers and I think I first heard the term 'atheist' from them in the somewhat limited discussions I had with them on religion in my early teens. In Coventry, when I was 5 to 11, we didn't go to church but I went to a C of E primary school; it was the only school nearby and within walking distance (approx one mile).

When we moved to Scotland shortly after the Coventry 'blitz' (my Dad who was in the AID, the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, was moved to Prestwick in Ayrshire, Scotland, to take charge of the receipt and inspection of American 'lease-lend' Fortress and Liberator bombers that could just fly across the North Atlantic into Prestwick), my mother encouraged me to go to Sunday School with some of my school friends. The family of one of these were members of the Free Presbyterians, the 'Wee Frees', a small and very strict non-conformist church in Scotland which seemed to dwell heavily on the Old Testament and preached hell-fire and damnation for those who sinned. The church was dark and gloomy and the preacher who spoke at Sunday School was large, ugly, wore a large black gown and frightened the life out of most of us kids. I remember having nightmares about it until my Dad told me that he didn't believe a word of it, that I shouldn't worry about it at all, that I should think for myself and not take on board anything I was told without questioning it first and, if I wished, discuss it with him.

A second family took me with them on Sunday mornings to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland; a much grander building and where the Sunday School was much less oppressive but still, in retrospect, engaged in mild brain-washing rather than teaching with discussion.