My story begins with a book. I recall a few things before I learned to read, but precious few: a favorite red baseball cap, a fun summer barbecue, a nasty rooster named George. There also comes a time much later when I found the end of books. In the end I learned my answers after reading; more on that later. In between these two points my life was a journey through books. Even before I could read, my parents read to me, and when they read, it was the Bible. Today I am a happy atheist but early on I had to sort my way through religion. My story, the story of John, begins with a book, and that book was the Word of God.
My parents immigrated from the Netherlands to Canada after World War II. My father’s family was poor, surviving the war by collecting and selling firewood and duck eggs. My mother’s family had a tobacco farm. Both families emigrated to improve the lives of their children. My father prospered as a mason contractor and my mother worked on her family’s new and bigger farm. They married young and had seven children. I was the second youngest.
The Dutch immigrants were a close knit community. Their religious and cultural centre was the Christian Reformed Church. It was a protestant denomination, evangelical and Calvinist, emphasizing careful reading of the Bible. Three meals a day ended with scripture. At the Christian school — the “Dutch school” with all those blond heads — the curriculum reinforced the readings. My grade eight science text, Look to the Ants, quoted from the Bible. Add to all this two sermons on Sundays plus weekday youth groups and catechism classes, the children of Dutch immigrants became biblical scholars.
I remember my upbringing with fondness. If it was too serious, it was also simple and certain and loving. Visiting a classmate on Saturday the lunchtime routine was the same, a seating at the table for prayers and Bible reading. It cultivated innocence for learning without fear. It developed a literary mind and fashioned a thinker and truth seeker. Of course, one book leads to the next, and I followed that path, ultimately discovering its end, and the enlightenment that follows.