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Gaining my religion (part I)

In every census from 1986 to 2001 I answered the question asking about my religion with the word "Nil". When the next census comes around on August 8 this year I will be recording my religious status as "Anglican".

My committment to Christianity, which took place in the second half of 2005, surprised some of my friends and family, who probably saw it as a reaction to my break-up with Di. But it goes far deeper than that. The fact is that I have never been that far away from the Christian faith.

Let's go back to the beginning. I was baptised in 1960, when I was a year old, at what is now the Belmont Squash Centre, near Lake Macquarie. In those days it was Belmont Methodist Church. Though I was notionally a Methodist, in real terms that meant little. At scripture time at Marks Point Public School I was in the Methodist class run by Mr Middleton, but for Sunday School I went to the only church in town, the non-denominational Marks Point Mission.

I think Sunday School had a counter-productive effect on me, I can remember being bored stiff by the Old Testament bible stories. Stories of the Middle East two or three thousand years ago just didn't cut it for me. I didn't really help that I was the only one in my family who was actually going to church. That I did was due to the interest of my godmother, my auntie Enid, who was (and is) a devout Baptist and took her godmotherly role of looking after my spiritual upbringing seriously.

Nonetheless, when I started high school in 1971 I decided I had had enough of Sunday School and stopped going to church. I then did the teenagerly thing and rebelled against religion. My early teens, in which Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was my hero, saw me take a deep interest in Marxism, having been suckered in by the naive simplicity of John Lennon's "Imagine" - particularly the "no religion" bit. (Was I really an admirer of Chairman Mao in those days? Yeesh!)

When I was around seventeen/eighteen I was at the peak of my book-reading years, inspired I must say by reading the complete "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in a week during the school holidays. Among the vast array of Penguin Classics that I read during that phase of my life were translations of The Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, some of the Upanishads and a book of Buddhist scriptures. While in no sense was I shopping around for a religion, I believe that reading these books as part of my literary travels has been an invaluable experience in more recent years. None of these books, however, had as profound an impact on me as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's "Frankenstein".

There's probably little else to say about my spirituality until the mid-1980s, my mid twenties. (Even the Methodist Church in Australia was gone by then, merged with the Presbyterians into the Uniting Church.) By that time I was, politically, a Keating Laborite, but sometime around 1985 or 1986 I reached the conclusion that I did actually believe that there was an omnipresent being that governed our universe. My mantra, in response to those who enquired after my faith, was that I "believe in God but not in religion". For it was the negative effect of religious differences and abuses of power that I saw as being detrimental to society.

There's a long and involved buildup to this that I won't go into here, but by the late nineties I realised that I no longer felt the emotion of hatred towards people on a personal level. I know this wasn't absolute, but much more so than in my younger days. I think that I recognised from that time onward a conscious acceptance of the qualities preached by Jesus.

Nonetheless, I would never have seriously contemplated taking up religion if I hadn't met Di. In many ways she has been more of an inspiration to me than she is ever likely to acknowledge. When I accompanied her to church at All Saints, Petersham on Good Friday 2000 it was the first time I had set foot inside a church for anything other than a christening, wedding, funeral or election in almost thirty years. I was, however, to remain a casual attendee to church after that, declining to participate in Communion because I saw it as a ritual.

We were married at All Saints, Adara was baptised there, and I was becoming more sympathetic towards the church, especially to its value at the parochial level. Even as our marriage was deteriorating, I was becoming closer to the church. I participated in the Lord's Supper for the first time on Christmas Day, 2004.

When our marriage came unstuck very rapidly in May 2005, I turned to our minister, Antony Barraclough, for guidance and support. I think initially I was looking for some sort of referral to a church counselling service, but Antony began holding regular bible-reading sessions with me.

After a couple of months, he had won me over. From being a "secular Christian", sitting on the other side of the fence following Christian values without having the belief in the Gospels, I know was ready to embrace faith in the word of God, as delivered by his Son, Jesus Christ.

Bazz, as everyone calls Antony, has been an excellent source of support and inspiration to me over the past year. I now play an active role in the running of the Sunday morning services, and have revamped the church's website.

Does this mean that I have abandoned my political beliefs and my philosophical ideals in committing myself to Christianity? Far from it. That's the subject of my next chapter.