This is the second part of my series on atheism. This one was first published on my old blog on 17 January 2014.
Where part 1 left off, I was six years old, and two weeks into my very short stint of attending Mass alone. I still believed in God at that point, but I also believed in Father Christmas (or Santa Claus, as he is called in many other countries).
I was a shy and introverted little boy, and spent most of my time in my own universe of my imagination. I’d also only just started reading, so it would be a good two or three years before I could discover that books brought a wealth of imaginative tales just as interesting as my own. In retrospect, I was quite advanced for a six-year-old in some ways, and quite behind in others. I was terribly clumsy; my verbal skills were probably not on par with my peers because I didn’t talk much and my imaginary people and places were visual; and my perception of the world was somehow a tad different to everybody around me. This makes me sound almost like a (retarded) child prodigy, but that was not the case. I was just a quiet, shy boy, in everybody’s eyes. I did however, already criticize things like the movie I referred to yesterday, and my taste was already quite different to that of my peers. When I tried talking about it to anyone, they didn’t understand, so I stopped talking about it.
I said I’d explain why my family joined me at Mass… My father would drop me off at the Sunday School, which was done at St Anne’s Primary School in Plumstead, Cape Town. This is on the same premises as St Pius X church. After the class was finished, I would attend Mass (or maybe before – my memory of this is unclear).
Afterwards, I had to walk home. It was only a short way but I always had the problem where I only remember the directions one way, and get confused going the other way. Here is the route, from my house in Attlee Rd to the church. (Ignore Edu-Babez preschool… That wasn’t there back then, and even if it had been, retarded spelling wasn’t all the rage as it is now.)
So, the very first time I had to walk alone, I got confused and turned into the wrong road. I think it may have been Rotherfield Rd… So I walked about twenty meters, realized I was going the wrong way, and turned back, crying all the way as six-year-olds do.
A very kindly old man was driving along, with his wife sitting in the passenger seat. Seeing the poor little lost boy, they stopped and asked me what was wrong. They offered to help, but we had a campaign at school about strangers. You know the type… Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t go to strangers. Don’t get into the car with a stranger… And so on. I couldn’t imagine why that might be. I figured the old guy and his wife didn’t look like monsters who might eat me up, but you never can tell with monsters.
I began to cheer up, having relaxed and been put at ease by the kindly elderly people, which had jolted my memory of the way home, so I politely informed them that I couldn’t get into their car because they were strangers, but “It’s this way” and proceeded to run home.
Of course I informed my parents of the whole thing and they were concerned. They were possibly even more concerned after a mother of another child informed them of my antics during Mass. Mass was rather a boring experience, so after I figured out the mystery of the hymns, I decided to show off by playing with the hymn book when boring things like singing and sermons telling the same stories about Jesus that I’d already heard were going on. Apparently this (random paging back and forth through the hymn book) distracted her. My other favourite pastime during boring moments, which nobody knew about, was pretending that I could shoot laser beams out of my eyes which then stole the life essence out of the back of people’s heads. (Hey, that’s what you should expect when sending a six-year-old alone to church!)
So that didn’t last very long. Soon the whole family went to Mass together, and continued to do so until I was about 18.
The rest of my Sunday School years were mostly uneventful. I was a good boy who never disobeyed, and although I never got comfortable with the whole Jesus thing (I prayed to God, but the idea of him having a son – who was also God – and a holy spirit – who was also God – was something that just didn’t feel right), I thought I was a good Christian.
The only other thing that really stood out for me was my First Holy Communion. Not the communion itself, mind you – I always wondered what those little thingies tasted like, although I knew it was not cake, but the confession. By then I was eight years old, and we all did our first communion together. Before that, we all did our first confession. At eight years old, I had already decided that I didn’t believe in confession. My logic then was not much different to that of an adult: There was nothing about confession in any of the bible stories I knew, therefore it made no sense. I also didn’t understand what made the priests so special that they could forgive all my sins, because they were just men, and I had been taught that Jesus died for my sins, so there was no place in my understanding for confession.
So I bunked my first confession by pretending to be sick that week. I did eventually go the next week though, and consequently felt left out. Everybody else had gone and stood in a long line together, for confession with Father Tom Nicholson, who was much loved by all, while I was all alone, and had to face Father Roche, who was a cranky old man much feared by all. I even had to make up some sins because I had not, in my understanding, done anything wrong. This contradiction confused me: Lying is a sin, but I must lie because I need some sins to confess. (Who’s going to forgive me for that one?) It didn’t occur to me that I had committed a sin by bunking my first confession the previous week, because I was always good at convincing myself that I was really sick.
Of course, in religion we always convince ourselves of things that we know can not be true, don’t we? Then we call it faith.
Here ends part 2. There will definitely be a third part. Beyond that, I don’t know.