When fourteen, I made the "mistake" of agreeing to go spend my summer vacation in Johannesburg with my Hyperevangelical Aunt Doris and her husband Norman. She unleashed her Minister on me, and they effected a pseudo-conversion in my life just after I turned fifteen. She then gave me a Pilgrim Edition of the Holy Bible, which she inscribed in front as follows:
"Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation! Second Corinthians 6:2. 9:30 p.m., 25th December to 12.50 a.m. 26th December 1949. To Nigel. From Auntie Doris and Uncle Norman, and may God richly bless you as you seek to walk with Him. Christmas 1949. Johannesburg."
She then wrote a stern letter to her brother (my father), telling him to respect my "new religion." But when I got home, complete with the Bible she had given me, after six weeks I was worse than ever before. Yet, praise God, I did at least now know what to do to be saved. And I remembered! For when I really got converted at twenty-one, I recalled the above words.
Meanwhile, however,myfather re-impressed hisownstern valuesuponme.Framed,and prominently displayed in our home, was his Rationalist’s Creed. It went, in part, as follows:
"In the very beginning of science, the parsons who managed things then, being handy with hammer and chisel, made gods in the likeness of men. Till commerce arose and at length, some men of exceptional power supplanted those gods and those demons, by labours which last to this hour….
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"Let us damn, with faint praise, Bishop Butler, in whom many atoms combined, to make that remarkable structure it pleased him to so-call his mind….
"Till, in the twilight of the gods, when Earth and Sun are frozen clods; and all their energy degraded, when matter to ether shall have faded — we and all work we have done, shall float in circles beyond that Sun."
I next turned tothemanufactureof fireworks. Once, trying to impress my first girlfriend, I succeeded in blowing off one of my eyebrows and temporarily blinding myself outside an Old Ladies' Home called Avondrus (Evening Rest). The explosion set off dogs barking all around. Unable to see for the next half-hour, the girl had to lead me home.
My school work suffered. In 7th grade, I was once 4th-last in class — with only 13% in maths. On my report card, the teacher commented: "Hopelessly weak.Makesnoeffort,and is a very confused thinker. I also failed Afrikaans (44%), and the teacher commented: "He is very inattentive." General conduct was marked: "Inattentive."
But at least I made better fireworks than anyone else I knew! I could also play chess, and became the School Champion and Captain of its Chess Club. And as the only teenage member in the Claremont Chess Club, I also won its silver trophy. I also quoted the sayings of Buddha to the few Christian Teachers and pupils at school, and to my Aunt — just to upset them.
That gaveme confidence. So, in 9th and 10th grade I pulled up my socks and was always first or second in class. I even managed to win the War Memorial Scholarship there. Nevertheless, I was still very poor in Afrikaans. Yet when I later married, for a long time it became my home language and the one in which I preached and wrote for many years.
When seventeen, Imatriculated. My philosophy oflife at that time, can best be described by a poem (My Creed) which I then composed and illustrated and framed and gave on his birthday to my Dad (who much appreciated it). It ran:–