When I was very young, God had a long white beard and lived in Heaven. Jesus had a shorter reddish-brown beard, long hair and a halo. Jesus and God seemed very nice, but not really in the same league as Santa Claus.
Santa and God could see us, all of us, all the time. They knew if we were being good or bad. Jesus's job was to watch us sleeping and make sure we were OK till the morning. Then, I suppose, he handed back to God and Santa. Santa was the best of the three because he was really nice to us at Christmas. The other two didn't seem to do anything practical, but they were still OK. So of course we talked mainly about Santa. We knew he had helpers to make all the toys. We knew all about his sleigh and reindeer. We knew that the Santa in the department store wasn't the real one - we weren't stupid - he was just there for little kids. The real Santa you never got to see, same as God. He came down the chimney in the small hours of Christmas morning, left presents, drank his sherry and took the carrot back for Rudolph. God must have been OK with that, because of course He could have stopped him if He'd wanted.
We knew a couple of older lads who told us there was no Santa, but they were lying because Mum and Dad believed in him.
Then, one day, we didn't believe in him any more and the strangest thing happened - he disappeared. It all disappeared, by magic. Lapland, helpers, sleigh, reindeer, the sack, the workshop. All gone. And Christmas was just as good without him. But the strangest thing of all was, we didn't become Santa-haters. We didn't go round spoiling it for the little ones. We didn't waste time talking about him any more. Why talk about nothing? We'd grown up a little, dropped some unnecessary baggage, and were getting on with our young lives.
God and Jesus were still there though. Church began to take over from Sunday school and God grew bigger, stronger and more mysterious.
Many years later came a decision time. The Church of Scotland, very properly in my opinion, does not allow you to join as a full communicant until a certain age, though all may attend services. I can't be sure if the age is 17 or 18, but it is late teens, or was, back then. My conscience wouldn't let me join for purely social reasons. I had to be sure I believed. So I looked, read, listened, talked, thought, prayed and waited. And waited. And did not believe. And did not join.
Then just as suddenly and magically as had happened all those years ago with Santa, God disappeared. And with him went Heaven and Hell and all the angels and archangels. And the devil too.
And a strange thing happened. I did not become a God-hater. I didn't go round spoiling it for my friends who had joined the church. I didn't waste time talking about God any more. Why talk about nothing? I'd moved on a little, dropped some unnecessary baggage, and was getting on with my young life. Studying physics, learning guitar, playing sports, falling in and out of love. I was happy.
Jesus was still there though. Not as the son of God or part of any Trinity. But as a man with good things to say. It mattered not whether he ever really existed. The injunction to love your neighbour as yourself remains good advice.
Well, nearly fifty years later I'm still learning guitar, still studying and still happy. I hope to live plenty more years and, if I could, I would requisition a painless death when my time is up, but I'll take what comes, having no choice. I don't expect to survive my death in any shape or form, but this doesn't trouble me at all. I've had a good innings.
You may be wondering my reason for writing this. It's simply this. I wanted to state clearly that it is possible to dispense with belief and faith, to espouse no religion at all, to be content, and to threaten no-one. I am not looking for followers, but if you are interested in my take on rationalism, please read a few more of my articles here.