When I first came to the conclusion that I was an atheist around the age of 13, the only annoying thing about it was that I couldn’t get out of going to church.
My family went on Saturday afternoons, which is arguably worse than Sunday morning, because while my parents sleep in, I have always woken up early for pretty much my entire life except the 4 years I was in high school and some of the early years of college. Today, I rarely sleep in past 10, and I’m usually up around 8 or 9, despite being unemployed and the fact that I often stay up past 2am.
Bah, what is more boring that writing about sleeping, I think I’m nodding off already…
When I was a freshman in High School, I began my local Catholic church’s long process of Confirmation. Most kids get confirmed around 13, but for some reason Our Lady of Mount Carmel had to be different. Not only was it later, it was longer. It would take 2 years, each requiring 56 hours of community service, for a total of 112. It just sounds like a criminal sentence, right?
I had to go to these stupid weekly meetings every Wednesday night, and I always missed South Park because of them. South Park would air again at something like 1 AM, so I would stay up late until after my parents went to sleep and sneak to the basement and watch it with headphones on.
Lessons learned: staying up late, ability to sneak around, willingness to disobey parents
Then there was this stupid weekend retreat that lasted from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. I knew only a few kids from my church. What’s weird was, the only community of people who ever mocked me and made me feel unwelcome in my whole life, despite going to four different school systems for grade school alone (we moved a lot), was church kids.
They all watched movies like Billie Madison and Adam Sandler comedy CDs, and they would quote them constantly, but my parents wouldn’t let me watch or listen that stuff, so I was always out of the loop. I ended up just talking to girls about Bible stories during free time.
Lessons learned: the cool kids like raunchy humor, and girls love it when you talk with them about non-disgusting topics
So anyway, we take this gross old bus to a cabin out in the middle of nowhere (it was Indiana, so we didn’t have to go far). I brought a lot of books, and I got a lot of reading done. I also got offered weed for the first time. Some kids in my bunk had made a pipe out of a Coke can and had been passing it around while I read about ten feet away. I declined, being young and naïve.
A day later, they were caught smoking just outside the dining hall.
Lesson learned: keep it on the down-low
What I probably most remember about this trip was having what I perceive to be my first real debate with a Christian, a man whose name I forget, though he was my Confirmation team leader or something… sort of like an AA sponsor. You were supposed to be able to call him if you felt like Satan was closing in on you or something, I suppose.
He noticed that during all of the breaks, I would retire to an air-conditioned area with a book and just read, rather than socialize with all these kids I basically didn’t know. I wish I remember what I was reading, because he made a comment on how that was “some heady stuff.” I remember thinking it wasn’t.
He then asked me all kinds of questions, and I could tell he thought I had doubt. And like a shark who smells blood, he came at me… verbally.
I wasn’t ready for it. My only understanding of atheism to that point consisted of reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and some George Carlin material. For the most part, I was a neophyte. What’s more, he was one of those slimey Christians who puts words in your mouth and doesn’t really listen, they just obtusely steer the conversation to territory that is familiar to them.
I remember at one point saying something about how there’s essentially no difference between Buddha and Jesus: they both have a lot of wise sayings attributed to them, they both lived a long time ago, they both provide hope to those who fear death… I thought I made a convincing case, frankly.
He came at me with, [and I will never forget this, as long as I live] “But Buddha wasn’t God’s only son who gave his life for us.” I was so dumbfounded. I forget how I responded, and I’m at a loss even now. How do you debate with someone who is so blinded by their own bias that they can’t even imagine a scenario where they are wrong?
Lesson learned: you can’t fix stupid
Most of the community service was done doing free manual labor for the church. Between that and my Catholic High School’s requirement of doing community service to graduate (and it wouldn’t be able to overlap, because I was confirmed by the time I was a Junior, which was when my school required some double digit amount I now forget).
Lesson learned: I hate helping people for free, and I hate people in general
There was an attendance requirement for the weekly meetings. Toward the end, I found out how we were allowed to miss two meetings. So, the last two times my parents dropped me off, I walked into the building until my parents drove off, then I went and sat in a secluded place outside the church, set my alarm to warn me when the meeting would be almost up, and I read. Before the meeting let out, I snuck in a back way, hung out in the entry until the meeting let out, then left through the front door to my parents’ car.
Lesson learned: it’s easier and more fun to do the bare minimum
Finally, I am almost ready to get confirmed, just one little snag: I don’t have a sponsor. I can’t remember if that was the name for it, but it might have been something else (like mentor, though that wasn’t it). The person was supposed to be over 18, and I didn’t know anyone that old. Everyone else was using a relative, but there was some arbitrary rule that it couldn’t be one of your parents. Since I had no relatives who lived in state, I was pretty well screwed.
So, I literally confronted the guy running the confirmation program (not a priest, so I felt safe being in a room alone with him). I explained my situation and bluntly told him that if I wasn’t allowed to ask my friend who was 17, and who had been confirmed years ago at around 13 like most normal Catholics, that I just wasn’t going to be able to be confirmed. He tried to play hardball with me, but I put on some theatrics about how this was such a huge deal to me but that I simply had no contact with older Catholics. He gave in.
My friend knew I had no interest in Catholicism. He was sort of on the fence himself, for that matter. But my parents offered us a surf ’n turf dinner… so that pretty much sealed the deal and made him forget his qualms with being an accessory to my mockery of a sacred religious rite.
The ceremony took forever, I got pimples where the bishop rubbed oil on my forehead, and the dinner was delicious.
Lesson learned: you’ll dine on steak and lobster if you’re a whore
Luckily, the whole thing went off without a hitch, and an agreement I made with my mother finally took effect. I bargained that if I got confirmed, I wouldn’t have to go to church anymore. While I still got dragged on certain holidays and once while in Rome, the hundreds of times I didn’t have to go have totaled literally days worth of time I could spend doing something other than sitting in a hard wooden pew judging which of the girls around me I would bang.
Lesson learned: only being able to see the upper body of women will turn you into a tits man