We were sent to Methodist chapel every Sunday in 1950s Lincoln – morning service and afternoon Sunday School. This gave a good grounding in bible stories and hymn singing, and table tennis at the social club. Two messages became memorably ingrained into us – the evils of alcohol and gambling.
In the later teenage years, we tried beer at the local pubs. It turned out to be a good social lubricant, especially for a quiet lad like me, and we soon learned not to drink too much – the effects were most unpleasant. At university I discovered wine and that was that.
Gambling was a different matter. My dad did the football pools every week, so I got to looking at the weekly sheet that he had to fill in. At the back I noticed the ‘fixed odds’ where you could bet on the outcome of particular matches. This seemed more attractive to me than the general lottery entered by my dad. I used to notionally fill it in and then check on the results – I usually ‘lost’. But I became aware of the inner ‘pull’ of fixed odds betting, so never tried it out for real. So I can understand the attraction of the fixed odds betting terminals that have been the subject of recent controversy in the UK, where the maximum stake in a betting shop is being reduced from £100 to £2. Good thing too.
Gambling is highly regulated in the UK yet, since the relaxation of attitudes in the 1960s, plays a significant part in the economy. My own attitude to gambling has changed little since the 1950s, apart from the odd raffle ticket. Maybe that’s one up to my teachers at Chapel, or down to a wartime-induced attitude of frugality.
At times I’ve come across people who became addicted to alcohol or gambling – for them, yes these things really are evil. And Alcoholics/Gambling Anonymous provide a necessary salvation.
Featured image from 1857 report by James Haughton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Although most of the main adult influences on my life growing up in 1950s Lincoln came from family members, this was by no means all. Mr Stanniforth lived near us and was a Sunday School teacher at the local Methodist chapel. At a very young age my brother and I had laid foundation stones for the new Swallowbeck chapel, overseen by my grandma, a staunch Methodist. So we were duly sent to the service on Sunday morning and Sunday School in the afternoon.
To be honest, the services were a bit boring, apart from once a year when an evangelical circuit preacher gave us stirring sermons and a good singsong. At Sunday School, I guess I learned quite a lot about the bible and bible stories, useful background in later life. And I loved playing table tennis at the youth club when I was a bit older.
Mr Stanniforth was a jolly, balding, portly middle-aged man, always reminding us about next Sunday whenever he saw us. My biggest memory is of him repeatedly telling us that ‘alcohol is evil’. Even my young mind thought, can alcohol be evil, when many of the adults I know go to the pub from time to time? Maybe this set in train doubt about religious organisations from an early age, probably the opposite of what was intended.
My school years centred around the 1950s in Lincoln. Science was king. I well remember the reverence accorded to white-coated boffins on the television (when we eventually got one). What they said was treated as gospel. The pressure from teachers was for the sciences. This was the future, what the country needed. Humanities were second best, for those with no aptitude for science.
Religion was singing in morning assembly, and when we kids were sent to the Methodist chapel on Sundays. The minister warned us of the dangers of alcohol, while parents kept away and did the garden. Yet we loved the occasional lay preacher who came with song and speeches that stirred our soul with their passion. Except we had no concept of soul.
Spirituality was something we secretly found out about through reading library books. It seemed to be all to do with séances, ouija ouija boards and magic. It was not talked about in polite society, and definitely not recognised as valid by science.
So I emerged from the education system with an essentially materialistic scientific viewpoint, deeply sceptical of religion, and uncomprehending of spirituality. After studying mathematics, I took up what was then called computer science and soon became information systems engineering. I joined the everyday world of industry, married and started a family.
But I always had intimations that there might be something more, choosing the label ‘agnostic’ if pressed on my beliefs [atheism seemed to me to be irrational bravado].
This post is an extract from an article I wrote in 2002 on Science and Spirituality. Refer to that article if you want to read more of the story and how I eventually came to embrace spirituality as central to life.
Featured image of space scientist Dr Robert Goddard in 1924 by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons