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A Shout From The Attic: Faith Lost and Found -1

Ronnie Bray, continuing his autobiography, tells how he became an atheist in his teens.

Religion in one form or another was part of my early life. My Christening took place at Holy Trinity Church, Huddersfield, not two hundred yards from my place of birth. Apart from playing in its graveyard and creeping in and out of its crypt, often in terror at the groans that came out of it, (which proved to be the organ fans starting up), and the occasional descent through one of its air raid shelter doors into its dark, dank belly, I never went near the place again.

I grew up attending the Brunswick Street Methodist Sunday school. Now and again, I went to one of its evening services. The chapel was an exquisite example of Methodist architecture and decoration. Beautiful timberwork atop the iron pillars supporting the balcony was reflected in the gleaming wood of the impressive pulpit - the altar of the Word. The organ was a delight, especially when it was being played. Once I crept up to it, placed some hymnbooks on one of the pedals, and slipped away. The deep resonant boom brought concerned Christians out of all corners of the building to enquire after the unexpected and apparently causeless blare. I had not at that time discovered that confession was good for the soul.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, I was awarded a book token as a prize for regular Sunday school attendance. I took it to Coates and Bairstowe's booksellers and browsed through the long shelves of religious books. My five-shilling token bought me a book demythologising and casting doubts on the miracles in the gospels. To my young mind, it was a betrayal of faith. It is still a puzzle to me how one can accept all the rationalisation that directed at the person and work of Jesus, and still accept that he was otherwise somehow divine. How can a person deny power to God and continue to believe in him?

The functions held by the Methodists were always enjoyable affairs with plenty to eat. It was at one of these functions when I was about twelve years old that I realised that I could eat without limit. Sometimes concerts were held in the hall below the chapel. These were always well produced, and acted with enthusiasm and good humour.

When I was fourteen I sought to express my religion in a more formal way and started attending evening meetings with something approaching regularity. The minister, Reverend Johnson, and his family took a passing interest in me. One evening after service they were speaking with me in the street outside the chapel and I was presented with a hairbrush. It was some time before I realised that this was a tacit comment on my appearance, and I was too insecure to take exception to the gesture that I am sure was well meant. I took the brush home and put it with the one I already had.

Two gentlemen Sunday school teachers whom I recall more or less vividly were Mr Telfer and Mr Porrit. They both belonged to the old school and dressed accordingly. Mr Telford was in business as a tea merchant in Dundas Street. I do not know what Mr Porrit did, but he was a dear old thing. One day during class time I asked a question, the gist of which has long since eluded me, and he seemed to delay the answer. When I became persistent in my demand for an answer, his composure left him and he opened the door and requested that I leave. His angry outburst was sudden and unexpected. I felt hurt and rejected and left the building for the last time. I went for a long walk down the bottom end of town, walking along Great Northern Street where a fairground was setting up. I watched this activity for some time while contemplating my present and future relationship with God. In my hurt and anger, I consciously became an atheist.


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