Guest post: It started with that little sparrow

Originally a comment by Your Name’s not Bruce? on The Covenant.

When I learned Santa Claus was definitely just a story (I’d had my suspicions for a while,) I did think of God, and while I didn’t turn into a baby atheist immediately, I’m quite sure a seed of skepticism was planted.

My seeds of doubt were planted in public school, when there was still a fair amount of religious stuff (particularly songs we sang during daily “opening excersizes.”) One of those songs, “God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall,” was one of the things that started me on the road to doubt:

God sees the little sparrow fall,

It meets His tender view;

If God so loves the little birds,

I know He loves me, too.

I wanted to know why God didn’t catch the sparrow. It was not obvious to me that his seeing the falling sparrow he failed to catch meant that he had any regard for me. Catch the sparrow, then we’ll talk. I’m sure that kindly Mrs. Luke would have been saddened that teaching this children’s song of childlike (or childish?) faith had a result directly opposite to the one she had intended. This was grade three, so I would have been around eight years old. I know maybe the year before I’d tried staying up late in Christmas Eve in my oldest brother’s room, to listen for Santa. (His room was closest to the chimney, so it was a natural place for a Santa stakeout). I don’t ever recall trying the milk and cookies thing; sleigh bells on the roof would have been enough. God was much less inspiring of empirical investigation or hypothesis testing. God drove no reindeer.

So I learned about God and Christianity. I remember thinking very seriously about it all, and trying to read the Bible (I was an early reader.) I also remember thinking it all sounded a bit unlikely, a bit like a story, but grownups believed it and said it was true, so…

Atheism took a lot longer than Santa letdown, but I’d given up on traditional Christianity by the time I got to high school. I’d read the Gospels, and was rather impressed with some of Jesus’s ideas. But I had no interest in Paul’s letters or Acts or any of the other bits of the New Testament. I noticed some of the variations and discrepancies between the Gospels, and learned a bit about their origins in specific times and places, for particular audiences (and much later, learning that each had their own theological axes to grind).

I came up with my own set of rules or guidelines as to what a fair, just god should and should not be and most traditional religions missed most of the boxes I needed or ticked the ones that were deal breakers. In the course of this progression into disbelief, I never sat up on a stakeout for god. God was never going to be that “real” or corporeal; I’d already absorbed enough theological cop outs that I knew that such a being wasn’t going to be knocking on the door or coming down the chimney… I would tell people I was agnostic or atheist depending on what kind of day I was having. Oddly enough I tended to ascribe my “better days” to my agnostic phases while on a bad day There Was No God. It was my early thirties when the final, attenuated flickers of deistic ideation finally guttered out.

And it started with that little sparrow.

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