Sent in by Arthur
I was forced to go to a catholic grammar school where we attended mass every weekday morning and also attended as a class on Sundays. Teachers were all nuns who weren’t very well educated and it was obvious that most didn’t choose the job because they liked children.
We spent lots of time learning about all the sins we shouldn’t commit and the penalties we would face for committing them if we died before we were able to confess them to a priest. As I remember, we could go to hell for purposely missing mass on Sunday or a holy day. And eating meat on Friday was also a sin that could send you to hell.
In the ‘60s the pope decided it was OK to eat meat on Friday after hundreds of years of prohibition. I’ll bet that really pissed off all those people who went to hell for doing it. Of course, it was also possible to murder someone and go to heaven if you were sorry for your sin and made a ‘good’ confession.
I particularly remember a couple things the nuns told us kids. One related that she met a woman who was pushing a crippled kid in a wheelchair. The woman told her that the child was born out of wedlock and she figured that this was god’s way of punishing her for her sin. As a second or third-grader I didn’t know what ‘out of wedlock’ meant but I couldn’t grasp why the crippled kid was also paying for his mother’s ‘sin’. Another nun once told us about a girl who drank water out of a stream and ingested snake eggs that later hatched inside her. Well, I guess if you buy the story about virgin birth and resurrection you’d be ready to believe just about anything. I wonder what Freud would have said about that story.
My lack of belief was first revealed when I was in (I think) 4th grade and all the boys were given permission slips to have parents sign, “if you want to be an altar boy”. I threw mine in the wastebasket on the way out and was the only one who didn’t return it. When asked why I didn’t I pointed out what the nun had said and, since I didn’t want to be an altar boy I had thrown it away. As a result, my parents had to come to school for a conference and I soon became an altar boy.
Masses then were said in Latin and we had to memorize the responses to the priest’s prayers. At the end of each mass the last thing the priest said was, ”Ite Missa est (the mass is over)”. And the altar boys’ response was, “Deo gratias (thank god)”. I don’t think any other altar boy said it as loud as I did. I have to admit that none of the priests ever attempted to seduce me, leading me to wonder, years later, whether I just wasn’t cute enough.
When I graduated from 8th grade I refused to go to a Catholic high school and since there was no nun to check me in at Sunday mass, I no longer went unless my parents insisted I go with them. In high school I did a lot of reading about religion and even tried going to other churches but they all had some ridiculous story about god that I found impossible to believe. For many years afterward, I just ignored the whole religion thing as something that I had no interest in.
Eventually, I had to recognize how dangerous religion is to the world. Instead of just being a passive observer I began to question people about their reasons for believing things that can’t be proven and over the years I have become more aggressive in that area. Now, I belong to the Freedom from Religion Foundation and write letters to newspapers who have printed religious claptrap or other letters from overtly religious nuts who would like to have a 10 commandments posted on every street-corner and prayer in the schools. I characterize myself as an Evangelical Atheist and I believe that more of us have to take an activist stance.
A small minority of ultra-conservative Christians have been making trouble all out of proportion to their numbers because they take every opportunity to exert influence to push their agenda. We atheists need to follow their example and let everybody know that we exist.