From a very early age, I had a keen sense of bullshit. I could sense when people were bullshitting me or others. I was the kid who would read books on stage magic, then tell all the kids how the magician did his tricks. Because of that knowledge, I had a feeling, as a teenager, that so-called magic or supernatural things were all just tricks. Though I started having doubts about faith and religion, all inqueries I made to the nuns and teachers were dealt with in the typical parochial way -- "sit down, shut up, and don't be a troublemaker, or Sister Mary will use the big ruler on you!" This only made me want to learn more. I don't like secrets. I never did.
When I was in 6th grade, my parents took me out of parochial school, and put me into public school, due to the church raising the price of tuition. It was okay, though, because most of my friends had the same thing happen, so we all stayed together. The main difference between parochial school and public school was that Public school education was about 2 years behind the parochial school. In 6th grade, we essentially had an 8th grade education, and were all put in "gifted" classes. Public school was also less controlled. Kids beat each other up, stole their lunch money, and behaved like jerks compared to the Catholic school. I wasn't used to the kind of abuse that bullies would get away with on a regular basis. I survived, though.
After leaving Catholic school, and until I was 18, I still went to CCD classes, because my mom forced me to. I made the CCD instructors really work hard, too. They were always so formal about everything, and made lessons boring. Whenever asked to paraphrase what we were assigned to read in the catachysm, I would try to speak as informally as possible, often making voice characterizations. One fun day, I pissed off my teacher when I paraphrased the 10 commandments as I thought a beatnick might say them: "Making graven images is very uncool, daddy-o... and you can't covet your neighbor's old lady, either, because, like, that's very uncool..." My instructor threw me out of the class, saying that I had to take everything seriously to pass. Fortunately, I was able to go to a different, younger instructor's house, who was not such a hard-ass. It was during my second year of CCD that I decided to become an atheist. My conversion to atheism was not a big deal, really. I mean, it was not a sudden, dramatic, profound change for me. It just gradually happened.
From that point on, I made it a point to tell all of my CCD instructors that I was an atheist, and that I was only going to CCD classes, and confirmation because my mother was making me do it. Only one of the instructors (the one who kicked me out her class for not being serious enough) seemed to be concerned about this. After all, I actually had a good understanding of catechysm, answered lots of questions, and participated. Perhaps they thought it was healthy for someone to play "Devil's advocate" or something.
When I was 18, the big day came -- the day of the retreat. For those readers who may not be catholic, the retreat is when you go to this religious sanctuary in the middle of nowhere. You know, you're supposed to wander this sanctuary, reflect on god and your faith, and stuff, reflect on your beliefs, and commune with nature. Heck, it was more like a cultish day-care center! We were packed into a chapel, and heard these people tell us these really sappy, silly stories about how they were on drugs, were bad little boys and girls, or were involved in crimes -- but then "THEY FOUND JESUS", and now they can't stop smiling or losing control of their emotions or bladders or whatever. After their little speech, they'd put on a sappy children's record. It was obviously a kiddie record -- simple childish songs sung by little kids and played on a cheesey kiddie record player. The best way to describe how sappy these tunes were is to compare them to the average Barney the Dinosaur tunes. They explained that they felt the innocence of the tunes reflected their feelings of purity and such. It was revoltingly demeaning.
After hearing the tear-jerking session, we were shuffled into another room in the chapel, and were asked to draw pictures with crayons and markers, to express our impressions of the sappy lecture we just listened to. "Say what?" Well, it didn't surprise me that much. After all, my whole Catholic experience revolved around being treated like a kindergartener, and this was no exception. I decided to make a head-game out of the whole thing.
Now I'm a very good artist, and was not impressed with the teary-eyed lecturers who cried uncontrollably or had a smile permanently fixed on their face. I saw them as emotional basket cases who were sad excuses for people. So I drew what I wanted. I did an interesting pencil sketch of the Enola Gay flying away from a big Mushroom cloud. In another drawing, I did a sketch of a Don Martin Character from Mad Magazine hanging himself from a tree with his newly-purchased necktie. I did various other doodles around my pictures, like skulls, monsters, and such.
Now the instructor in charge of the Church's CCD program, whom I had known since second grade, was an effemanate poofy older guy named Mr. Plante. He lived with his mom and dad well into his 40's, and had a very feminine, whiney voice -- almost a stereotype or charicature of what a homosexual is supposed to be. Imagine a 6 foot tall heavily-built football-player looking guy with a moustache, speaking in the voice of Richard Simmons (and behaving like him, too) and you will understand what he was like. Heck, to the best of my knowledge, the guy was never seen around, much less dating women. Rumor has it that he eventually became a priest. I was known to Mr. Plante as a troublemaker (or at least a wise-craking smart-ass) for some years prior to this episode. I had been chewed out by his whiney banter on several occaisions thoughout my Catholic experience.
Mr. Plante had each prospective inductee get up, show their picture to the class, and explain what they had drawn. After a few very typical and predictable presentations ("These are 4 pictures of the same flower bud opening, representing how we grow in our faith..."), my turn came to embarrass myself in front of the class. Mr. Plante was prepared. He had a kind of disapproving smirk on his face which said "Oh, great, here we go..." At first, I thought I should be nice and play along, but a second later, I thought "What the heck!" (only it was stonger than just "heck") I stood up, showed my pictures to the class, and said very matter of factly, "This B-29 represents me, and the bomb I just dropped in the background is what happened to your (looking at Mr. Plante) emotional status when I told you that I was an atheist, and that I think this whole field trip is a complete waste of all of our time."
Oh, he was so pissed off, yet he held it in. His face turned beet-red almost instantly -- it was a strange thing to see, almost like the way cuttlefish transform the color and patterns on their bodies. I started to point to the Hanged-man cartoon, and explain it, but he interrupted me and said, "Thank you David, that's enough... Next..." There were a few gasps, a chuckle or two, but most of the other kids were pretty silent. Surely, they didn't want to piss off Mr. Plante, or the joke went right over their heads. It was most likely the former, though. More than a few of the kids I knew there hated to hear Mr. Plante gripe and whine.
The week after the retreat, we went to our last CCD class. The class consisted of Mr. Plante administering a kind of aptitude test made up of essay questions. Now was my chance! Now I could let the truth be told! Now I could put that poofy fat-ass Plante in his place for his years of condescending me and others! We had a few questions about faith, our duty as members of the church, and so on. I wrote some very smartassed answers amounting to "I am an atheist, and I really don't care what you or any of the other instructors think about it." The last question on the test was for us to write our impressions about the retreat, and what we had learned from it. I wrote a long essay expressing that I thought it was a complete waste of time, that we were treated like 5-year-olds, and that didn't think that anything useful could be learned from listening to a bunch of people blubber and cry about how lousy their life was without Jesus. Perhaps deep down inside, I was saying "please don't let me go to confirmation." Perhaps another part of me was hoping for a confrontational meeting with Mr. Plante, where I could tell him off in person. Whatever I was thinking, neither my parents nor I ever heard anything from the church, or Mr. Plante about what I wrote or said.
We all had one thing left to do before confirmation. We all had appointments made to be interviewed by one of the priests from the rectory (which I liked to call the "Rectum-ry"). The interview was allegedly to be sure that we were mentally prepared, and understood the significance of going through confirmation. When my turn came, I told the priest that I did not believe in God, that my plans for my future involved learning more about science and technology, and that I thought the CCD classes treated us all like kindergarteners rather than adults with brains. He didn't seem phased at all. In fact, he behaved almost as though I never said that. Maybe he wasn't prepared to hear such things from such a young person. I don't know.
Well, the day of the big oil-smearing ceremony came. We all had to select a confirmation name before the ceremony. I tried to select a non-Christian name. I chose Coppernicus and Galileo as an alternative. I thought it was apppropriate since they were both persecuted by the Church. Just before the ceremony, however, Mr. Plante came over, with his typically disapproving, holding-back-anger expression on his face, and told me that my confirmation name would be William. Curses! Foiled again! Well, I went through with the silly ritual, had the oil smeared on my head, and nobody seemed to ask any more questions. I thought about it, and was convinced that they didn't really care what I believed, and were either just interested in collecting the money from the classes, robe rentals, and registration fees, or most likely just didn't want to disappoint my parents by keeping me out of the ceremony.
It was finally over. No more being dragged to church every Sunday! No more missing my favorite TV shows because they fell on the night of my CCD class! No more boring CCD classes! No more trips to boring sanctuaries that smell like incense! No more discussions with other students about whether Mr. Plante was gay or not! My time was now my own, again.
(P.S. I am not against homosexuals in any way, but Mr. Plante was such a raving poofter!)