This was written late 1998, intended to be part of an anthology of essays by persons influenced by Cardinal Newman. The book never got published. Sometime I hope to re-do what follows.
I grew up “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
I was born in 1942, and grew up in two towns in California, Bakersfield, where my father practised optometry, and Oroville, where he was an orchardist (olives, oranges, and almonds). I had no religious upbringing. On a few occasions, when I was a small boy, concerned neighbour ladies took me to Sunday School. I once set out to read the Bible, beginning with Genesis, and got through perhaps a dozen chapters. My grandmother asked me to memorise the Lord’s prayer and the 23rd Psalm, which I duly did.
One Christian experience of my childhood did impress me, and I have never forgotten my feelings. I attended Mass with my Catholic cousins in, it must have been, 1948 or 1949. I suppose it must have been some special occasion – perhaps Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. Of course the Mass was in Latin.
I remember some details of that Mass with extraordinary vividness, though I recall very little of my life as a young child. In particular, I remember the awe I felt when I heard the ringing of little bells during the consecration of the elements. Although I had no personal religious background, and I had no idea what was meant to be happening, I knew instinctively that these signalled some miraculous event, and I thought that God might be ringing the bells with His own Hand – I imagined a bell suspended in air and ringing automatically. As I thought about it, I realised that perhaps some human person I could not see was actually performing the action. I was never quite certain, however.
I did have a faith, however. My faith was a faith in science. I don’t think that I am speaking metaphorically. I genuinely believed in the transcendental character of the scientific endeavour, almost viewed the society of scientists as a kind of church. I was a keen amateur astronomer. The emotions I felt when I heard that the Russians had launched an artificial satellite, Sputnik, in October, 1957 were very similar to those I had felt at that childhood Mass. When I went to the University of California (Los Angeles, then Berkeley), in 1960, it was to study astronomy.
It is difficult for me really to try to relate my state of mind then to the world I now live in. It seems to me not too much of an exaggeration to say that my self-centredness was just about total. I had traces of conscience, but what governed my actions was a pretty unreflective hunger for possession of whatever would gratify me for the moment. I stole merchandise from stores and tools from employers, if I thought I would not be caught. I took time that belonged to others. And I took sexual gratification where I could. I was not wildly promiscuous, but if I had any sexual morals, they extended principally to keeping people happy – or at least well-disposed to me.
By the time I was in my late ’teens, I wanted very much to be married. This led me into several ill-considered relations. Finally, in 1962, three weeks short of my 20th birthday, I was married. Edna had been born in Northern Ireland, and came to San Francisco with her parents when she was a young girl. We met at the University of California, in March or April of 1962. We were married the 2nd of September.
I have said that I was brought up without religion. This ought, perhaps, to have made me indifferent to religion, yet I had a distaste for the thought of marrying in church. I didn’t believe in such things, had never had any connexion with any church, thought myself an atheist, and wanted no part of it. This antipathy seems odd if I were genuinely uninterested in and unconcerned about religion. Nevertheless, I refused to be married in church.
In the end, we compromised. My and Edna’s wedding took place at her parents’ home in San Francisco, officiated at by a Presbyterian minister. We returned to Berkeley and University immediately.
In November she became pregnant. Kathy was born the following August. I had had to drop out of University for a year and a half whilst the baby was expected as we had been dependent on Edna’s income. In 1964 I returned to University. When I re-enrolled, I no longer studied astronomy. I had changed to linguistics. Though I had always been very interested in languages, this change was inconsistent with what I had sought so far, and I think I was beginning to lose confidence in myself and in science.
I was graduated BA from Berkeley in 1966 and Edna, Kathy, and I moved to Honolulu where in August, 1968 I was awarded the MA from the University of Hawaii. A month later, Edna took Kathy and left me.