Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? -Jacob Bronowski 

We left paradise when I was five, and moved to the city to live with my mother’s sister. As I learned later, there were two reasons for this move: so that my parents could find work and I could attend school. My mother was sympathetic toward my desire to return to the farm, so every Dominion Day, July 1, she took me back to paradise for the summer months. 

Not long after our move, my aunt thought that her son, my city cousin, and I should go to Sunday school. Where she got this novel idea, I will never know. Now my cousin and I reasoned that five days of school were quite enough, and Sunday was a special day reserved for road hockey and for exploring a large undeveloped beach park nearby. Nonetheless, she sent us off in our best clothes with money for something called the collection plate and with instructions to behave. Since my cousin was older, he was put in the senior and I in the junior Sunday school class. This religious schooling went on for a few weeks until one fateful Sunday, the last time I attended. The teacher had been reading a story about a great leader called Moses who took his people into a desert while trying to get to someplace called the Promised Land. He wandered in this desert for forty years killing everyone he met. 

 Then came the teacher’s inevitable questions. She seemed to be reading from a special book—we had no books at home, just newspapers. First, she asked me who Moses should turn to for help. With childlike innocence, I replied, “He should have asked the people for directions instead of killing them—that’s what my mother would do—then he wouldn't be lost.” I got stunned looks from my classmates and a look of withering disdain from the teacher who quickly turned away from me to ask another student the same question. So next Sunday I suggested to my cousin that we skip class and spend the coins destined for the collection plate on ice cream. For several weeks that’s what we did until discovered. My aunt stoically accepted her failure at turning us into saints. My mother only smiled but never mentioned it. 

When I was in primary school, we were always lining up for one reason or another. We wiggled and squirmed and the line wavered as we attempted to contain the irrepressible energy of youth. In one particularly long lineup leading to an elderly man seated behind a school table, I could overhear him asking each boy a few personal questions. One of these disturbed me greatly. “What’s your religion, son?” he asked repeatedly. My extended family was neither religious nor irreligious and despite my abortive Sunday school career, I was clueless. So embarrassingly, I was stuck for an answer. At that time I didn’t realize that Catholics had their own school system, and almost all the families in my neighborhood were Protestants—a word I had rarely heard. I decided on the spot that that’s what I would be. Never was a boy so quickly and easily converted. As I stepped forward, he asked me, “What’s your religion, son?” “I’m a pro-tes’-tant, sir.” He looked at me kindly and smiled at my mispronunciation and said, “I bet you are.” 

Afterward, an acquaintance from my Sunday school days told me the man behind the table asking questions was from the Gideons, and that they gave New Testaments to all grade five Protestant students. He suggested I take two. 

As I grew older these minor contacts with religion receded from my memory, but major concerns also arose. I came to understand, it’s not so much that religion—all religions—are parochial and false, but it was the tremendous moral harm they did which exasperated me. Ever since I recognized this, I have been a true pro-tes’-tant, and this book is the outcome of that dissent.


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