I am one of those sad people who never had 'faith', I'd like to say I gave it my best shot, but my enthusiasm was half assed at most. I never had an epiphany, I never felt 'holy', I couldn't hear voices, and even when I prayed and prayed, I never got what I wanted.
Some of you may know that I spent my formative years in a convent, and in the eyes of those dear Sisters of Mercy, my lack of faith was a sign of arrogance and pride that could only be resolved by punishment, prayer and penance. Strangely, being battered round the head didn't bring on an epiphany, although I often saw stars, I still didn't hear any voices.
I didn't want to spend my life praising and worshipping an unknown entity who had absolute power over my thoughts and actions. The brutal regime of punishment and chores did not teach me to respect authority, it taught me to despise it. I learned that violence and inhumanity cannot stamp out the human spirit, on the contrary, it leads to a desire for vengeance, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
I spent the first 20 years of my adulthood avoiding church and trying out new sins, though I would devote 10 seconds of my falling asleep time to ask the Good Lord for forgiveness, just in case.
For me enlightenment, came late in life. As I neared the big 40, I began to question 'is this it? is there nothing more?'. I became a full time student, I entered a whole new world. I discovered that everything I had been told, everything I had believed was based on a big fat lie. There was no turning back.
God wasn't there to help me. God was there to help those who ruled me. He was the ultimate weapon, the final threat, hell and damnation was waiting for those who did not conform. Work hard and suffer and you will get your reward in heaven. Don't question authority, don't answer back, if you don't succeed, work harder. God is watching you always, he knows how you suffer in this life, and he feels for you, but you must be patient. Steer clear of paths to temptation, and pray for the boss who hasn't given you a raise for 4 years, he knows not what he does. If someone assaults you, turn the other cheek so they can assault that one too. It all helps in the hereafter.
I can't say I really believed in the afterlife. If there was a hell, I had already been there. It was in Orpington and it was run by God's vicar on earth and the minions who served him. Dante's Inferno would be a cakewalk.
I read Nietzsche, and he made sense. Why must I, a poor person, wait for my rewards in heaven, when quite obviously all the rich people around me were getting their rewards, here on this earth. Religion was about controlling the masses. People like me could earn just enough to live on and any shortfall, would be made up in the next life. For quite a few centuries now, that obscure little promise of paradise after death has kept the masses working hard and the wages low. This knowledge combined with a stint selling double glazing, taught me that the answer to every question in life is money. Even when its a question of faith.
Thank you Christopher Hitchens, today I studied your life and work. You died too young, but you made a difference.