I was raised in a family that considered churchgoing very important. But we were not theologically orthodox, even by the standards of most Protestant denominations. My father was the cause of this unusual combination, for despite being a skeptic in religion, he always valued the social aspects of church attendance.
So in the small and medium-sized Ohio towns where we lived, my family attended services of various Protestant congregations, and at one point, I went to Sunday school at a Methodist church practically next door to us. For a short time, my father even conducted his own Sunday services in our home. Then later, when I was about six or seven, we started to attend a Unitarian congregation in a nearby city, whose teachings were more to my father’s liking.
When I was about ten, however, we left the Unitarians — I think because of quarreling among the members and the presence of eccentrics among them, such as flying-saucer devotees. We began to attend the Episcopal Church instead. My father was attracted by the dignity of the service and the music, by the comparatively intellectual character of the clergy and members, and by the undogmatic emphasis of the Episcopal tradition.
Into Atheism and Theism
When I was young, say from about age four to eleven, I had a vague notion of God. On one occasion, I believe, I equated Him with a large piece of farm machinery that was parked near our house. As I approached adolescence, I began to wonder whether there was a God or not, but had not the slightest notion of how to find out.
By around the age of thirteen, I had concluded that there definitely was not a God, and I considered myself an atheist. During this period, I underwent the Episcopal confirmation ceremony. I had had some hesitation about being confirmed, but my father urged me to do so, because of his belief that it was important to belong to some church, even if one did not believe what it taught.
I remember in the tenth grade, during the moment of silent prayer at the beginning of the school day, consciously not praying, indeed attempting to do homework. But the homeroom teacher told me I had at least to sit there and do nothing if I did not want to pray. (This, of course, was in the public schools!)
Then during the next year everything changed. As far as I can remember, this is the sequence of events.
I read something about the Anglican writer C. S. Lewis in some Episcopal publication that my parents received. Though I remember nothing about the article in question, I remember thinking that since Lewis was both a Christian and an intellectual, perhaps I should investigate whether Christianity might actually be true.
Also about this time, my brother gave me a gift certificate for a local bookstore as a Christmas or birthday present. I used it to buy two books, one of them John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua. I don’t think I had ever heard of Newman before, but I was attracted by the Latin title, since I was studying Latin in school.
Reading this book naturally put into my mind not only the idea of conversion, but the entire question of our relationship with God and of seeking the truth about His revelation. But the first decisive moment came in a different and unexpected way.
I have implied that, though a skeptic, my father had a great interest in religion. His library of several thousand books included a fairly large religion section. In fact, I think it was the one section for which he bought or acquired more new books than any other.
One day he brought home a book of some meditations by a Protestant minister. I took a look at it, as I usually did with whatever new books he brought home. One of the first meditations in the book was about the existence of God.
It included some simplified versions of the traditional arguments for God’s existence. But in my state of knowledge at the time, that was enough for me. I can still see myself at the bottom of the stairway, in front of a glass bookcase, reading this book, with the realization suddenly coming to me that God did indeed exist. It was obviously a stupendous event in my life, even if I did not fully realize its importance then.
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