As if losing my belief in God being a good Father, who loved and cared about us, was not enough, the loss deepened more when my parents divorced and we moved to a small village where we were to attend a Calvinist Protestant school. This marked the beginning of my criminal career and also of my continuing journey to find a Good God who did care about us, was not capricious and who indeed loved us. Whereas before it had just been a loss and an indifference, it now became a grudge against God which I bore for many years.
In this school we were taught that we were all miserable little sinners and realistically there was not much hope for us. We learned that God had already decided long before we were even born, which ones of us would go to heaven and which ones would burn in hell forever and ever. This was called Predestination, and was a doctrine which as a child appeared completely unreasonable to me. It meant in effect that if I was good and tried to do good, but God had already decided I was unworthy, then my good deeds were pointless and I would still go to hell. It also meant that really bad people (like Adolf Hitler, with whom as a Dutch child in the first generation to be born after the war, I was obsessed) might still go to heaven despite what they had done, because God had decided it so.
Apparently there were signs you could look out for, to be sort of secure about where you would go. One of them was to do with whether your parents and grandparents were good people, something about their sins being visited on the second and third generations. The fact that my parents were divorced was a bad omen I thought, since what God had put together let no man put asunder figured largely in the teachings. Then there was the explanation about adultery (when learning about the 10 Commandments). It was explained that once you got married, even if you divorced after that, it was adulterous to have a new wife or husband because God did not acknowledge the divorce as being real. This meant I was in deep do-do, because my father had married again!!
I now know that adultery means something completely different and I am pretty sure that the interpretation we were given as children was not the real one, but they were certainly not going to mention the sex word in our school at that time.
The gravity of my situation and my almost certain destination came home one Wednesday afternoon, which was always a free afternoon. I was in the garden of my best friend, playing, when her mother stormed out, shrieking at me that I was to leave the garden and never come back or play with her daughter again, because my mother was an adulterous harlot (on an aside I had no idea what a harlot was, I did look it up and it seemed like I had quite an interesting and exciting mother really). I had in confidence told my best friend that my parents were divorced and she had prayed for me before going to bed the night before, because she was a kind friend and wanted me to be ‘saved’. Her mother unfortunately did not share the same kindness.
It became clear to me that I would never be able to play with my classmates again, unless I could find something that would interest them more than parental disapproval. My solution was theft. I first started to steal the money from my mother’s purse, and buy sweets. The ample supply of sweets meant I could always play with my friends, though not in their gardens. Secretly we played as long as there was the promise of sweets. Then my mother started to realise money was missing and anyway her purse did not have enough money for the supplies I needed, so I cut out the middle man and just stole the sweets directly from the shops. Eventually of course I got caught and punished, physical punishment from my mother and punishment from the Head Master of the school – who made it very clear to me that I was showing all the signs of being predestined to go to hell (something of which I myself had become more and more aware) and that only sincere soul searching and asking for forgiveness might get me of the hook, but it was a very slim chance indeed.
However, in a way the concept of Predestination as it was explained to me at that school, helped me a lot, because I suddenly realized that basically even if I did not repent and search my soul and I carried on thieving, it would make NO difference whatsoever, because my fate had already been decided and whatever I did would make no difference to the ultimate outcome. Perversely, that which should have made me cower set me free, a freedom to do whatever I liked, knowing I could not be punished when it came to eternity.