Having a good church upbringing is one of those things that can either work in one's favour, or go horribly, horribly wrong. If you're lucky, you sense the complete idiocy of religion by the time you're about thirteen or fourteen. At his stage of life, your thoughts are beginning to turn towards the idea that those creatures of the opposite sex (or the same, doesn't matter) are starting to look pretty damn attractive in a very mysterious way. Contemporaneously, the messages you are receiving from the pulpit (in my case, delivered by a quite lovely man called Pastor Holloway, who had a thin, reedy voice and a complete lack of brains) are becoming less and less relevant. Whereas you were once fascinated by the more salacious bible stories (knowing that Eve walked around starkers did wonders for my fertile, pubescent imagination), the real thing makes any reading of the bible tedious.
My "awakening", if one likes to put it that way, came with the arrival of a new pastor and his family to our church. He had a daughter. She was my age. She had breasts. She was beautiful. I fell in love. I am writing in short sentences. I'd tell you her name, but she is still alive, and would probably consider this entire story to be quite inappropriate for a public place, for reasons you'll discover shortly.
This was 1966, a time when girls wore very tiny miniskirts. How lucky were we to live in that era - Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Hendrix and tiny miniskirts. Although my now future girlfriend wasn't in the same fashion league as the Carnaby St. models, she nevertheless showed plenty of leg. Did I mention she had breasts? Anyway, the combination of breasts, hips, legs, a pretty face, long honey-blonde hair etc drove me wild with desire. I was her Samson; she my Delilah. For her, I fended off all of the bigger boys from the area who, as non-churchgoers, lusted after her and invited her to participate in their heathen orgies. I swept her off her feet with my charm, poise and witty repartee. All of this occurred within my own head.
Eventually, however, we became boyfriend and girlfriend. I endured the church services and the youth group on Friday nights (where we would sing incredibly inane "choruses" and be lectured about growing up to be good christian men and women by a guy who was about thirty, and one of the most obtuse individuals I have ever met) so that I could furtively hold her hand when no-one else was looking, or sometimes even steal a kiss (now there's an expression you don't hear much these days).
By this stage, I was over religion. And the more I was immersed in it, the more idiotic it appeared. It was a fundamentalist church along the lines of the Baptists, replete with a baptism pool that rested under the floor in front of the pulpit, and when there was a baptising to be done, the poor sucker, dressed in a white robe that was clearly made out of a bed sheet, would have to wade into the water with the pastor and get dunked. It was a very holy experience, accompanied by the serious intonation of some very serious verses from the bible which I forget now, because for the entire time I would have my gaze fixed on the opulent thighs of my girlfriend sitting next to me, wondering if I'd ever catch a glimpse of that far holier thing above. (I never did, more's the pity.)
In 1967 Billy Graham came to town. This was a big deal in Protestant fundamentalist circles; Billy was the man who'd saved more souls than any other shit-for-brains, fucked-up charlatan in history. We had to go see him, naturally.
I lived in Newcastle, so we all got on a bus and travelled down to the Sydney Showground, where Billy was going to do his thing. Now, it was a kind of tradition in the church that young people would, at about the age of puberty (yeah - go figure), make a public commitment to the Lord at a "gospel service" that the church held every Sunday evening. (I tell you, with the time I spent sitting in that fucking church hall I could have written the great Australian novel by now.) This commitment was part of the preparation for becoming a baptised, wafer-eating full-bore religious lunatic. As I was considered a bright young man and possible candidate for the ministry itself, it was assumed that I'd be making my commitment any time soon. And I tell you what, the pressure was real. It was largely unspoken, but it was there, all right.
Meanwhile, I'd been having real difficulty getting to second base with the beloved. Those breasts were enormously inviting, but they were as off limits as a conference of world leaders is for Osama bin Laden. As soon as my hand got to within cooee of these voluptuous treasures, a warning sound would come from her. You see, she was a fully committed, baptised young evangelical by this stage, and she was saving her body for the sanctity of the wedding night, tits and all. If she'd been a catholic she would have become a nun, for sure. I, on the other hand, was a fully committed lecher, quite a normal state of affairs when you're fourteen and a half.
We got to the event, and there was Billy, launching into this massive sermon which was supposed to be the best of its kind. I cannot remember a single word of it. At the end of his tirade, though, he gave the "call" for we sinners who had not been saved to "come forward and accept the lord Jesus Christ into our hearts as our own personal saviour." All eyes turned towards me, including those of the beloved. I thought "This is a fucking set-up." But then, another thought occurred, and I stood to my feet and walked out to be welcomed into the fellowship of god, with about three thousand other deluded souls whose motives, unlike mine, were, I'm sure, pure.
That night, on the bus going home, she let me fondle those breasts.
We broke up, shortly after. I was never baptised. I'm going to hell. Years later, she married some equally fucked-up christian and - get this - became a missionary in France. I kid you not.
Still, I think the female breast is just about the only thing that could persuade me of Intelligent Design.