I think Catholicism did a number on me and I’m still figuring out how much of my circuitry it rewired. When you’re raised with a certain set of beliefs from a young age, it gets hard to suss out what values are yours and what values you’ve inherited completely through your religion. I always struggled with faith, it never made sense to me but it carried a lot of weight because my family was all religious. I was also exposed to death, as a concept and an inevitability, very young. I know a lot of people were exposed to death at a young age as well, but it was something that really stuck with me for some reason. I have a tendency towards obsessive thinking and somehow everything I find myself ruminating over eventually leads back to an overarching theme of mortality. I think in the long run this has had positive and negative effects. Positive by causing me to fixate on my life as a whole and how everything I do feeds into the finite storyline I have to work with. That leads to me making a lot of choices that play out positively in the long run that I might not have otherwise because of short term inconvenience or unhappiness. Negative because of various stress issues related to the constant anxiety of "AM I LIVING MY LIFE GOOD?"
I never liked church, I disagreed fundamentally that I had to forfeit hours of my precious weekend to go and celebrate the dude that made everything. If I was that dude, I would want everybody to just go play with everything. By playing GameBoy, aren’t I celebrating God’s creation, almost MORE than you are by standing/kneeling/sitting/kneeling/standing and poorly singing songs [Except Mom, she would always go all Arethra Franklin on that shit and intimidate all the other moms while simultaneously prompting questions after mass that would allow her to drop her favorite brag, “Oh, I used to be a jazz singer.” We get it mom, you a badass.] that nobody knows and nobody will ever learn so they had to print them into books that they leave for everyone but you have to have the right version or it’s going to be all kinds of fucked up. Wrong pages and all that. I think they’re like college textbooks, it’s the same shit but they repackage them every couple years to generate sales to prop up a failing church songbook industry. Inevitably a few of the old ones stay in rotation and someone will try to outsmart the system by looking up the songs ahead of time in the old songbooks, but who wants to be that much of a church nerd right? And my mom would say, “You’re very clever, but you’re a child. And I’m forcing you to go.”
I quickly realized an easy out was to pretend to fall asleep until I was actually able to fall asleep in order to pass the time. Again, back to the fixation on making the most of my time because you only get so many hours to a weekend and so many weekends and then you’re dead. If I’m forced to be here I’ll just rest so I can do more stuff later. I would sit by my mom and pass out on her, because my dad would just smack me and tell me to wake up, but I was still young enough to be cute so my mom would let me. It quickly became a problem amongst the congregation, they couldn’t abide with my sweet nap-through-the-boring-stuff workaround. My mom realized I was mostly faking and instead of having a productive dialogue with me about it, she decided to go with the Catholic solution. Shame.
All of a sudden we started sitting in the front row. Right in front of the priest. There’s no way I’d fall asleep in front of a guy in a Godman costume who in turn was in front of a statue of an emaciated, bloody, crucified man. [Who still managed to look handsome in that “This is an artist’s rendering based on zero evidence so of course it’s going to be handsome” kind of way.] She was forcing my hand, I couldn’t sleep in the front of the church! That’s the most goddest place! Even though he’s supposed to be everywhere, the front of the church is where a bunch of him is for sure.
That’s the first time in my life that I doubled down. That’s right, a nine year old with a cursory knowledge of the existence of punk rock pretend-fell-asleep in front of god and the whole congregation. My protest worked, and a dialogue started. My parents agreed to let me stay home from church ON OCCASION but I had to pray from home and stay awake when I did go to church. This was a big victory, but honestly probably wasn’t the best for me. Staying home from church carried its own form of survivor’s guilt towards my brother and sister, as well as an awful ensuing guilt complex that caused me to stay up at night crying at times because I knew I was definitely going to both die, and go to hell.
Over time I got disillusioned with religion in general. Too much of it didn’t seem to add up. My dad made a deal with my brother and I. If we both went through a Catholic confirmation ceremony, we could decide whether or not to go to church. I have to think my dad thought this would impress the values of his faith upon us so that we would want to go to church with him. It did not.
First of all, I was a freshman and my brother was a sophomore, AND WE HAD INTERNET PORN BABY! Plus the confirmation class was the weirdest organized thing I’ve ever been a part of. Our peers were just other kids from our high school and schools nearby. Being high schoolers, we high schooled, and took none of it seriously. Not that there was much to take seriously, there was a rapping pastor at some point and a bunch of high-production-value-but-impossibly-lame videos and at one point Martin told me if I kept flirting with his sister he was going to get a bunch of guys to beat me up. [She was hitting on ME, Martin.]
As a last ditch attempt to save our millennial souls, they booked a retreat at a vacation property owned by one of the wealthy church members. Real smart guys, let’s put a bunch of puberty and hormones in a house together for a weekend and really get down to the nitty gritty about God. [They lectured us on abstinence when we got there, and abortions right before we left.] Part of the genius of the retreat was that they booked a group of fun young-adult Catholics to hang out with us and teach us about faith. Wet sandwiches for hire. One of the guys performed a moving monologue with his struggles in life and I swear I thought he was talking about heroin addiction or something as serious. But then he called it “self-satisfaction” and I realized holy shit this grown man is standing in front of a bunch of high schoolers earnestly discussing his struggles with jackin’ it. I think I cringed so hard I fractured an eye socket.
The culmination of the whole thing was a weird set-up where the local priest sat in a room and we went in one-by-one [You know, like lambs to the slaughter.] and had a private discussion with him about whether or not we wanted to be confirmed Catholics and to confess any sins we hadn’t yet. You could choose to be face-to-face or with your backs to each other so he wouldn’t know who you were. I was totally prepared to do battle with this man. I had my questions locked and loaded. My brother went in first, and moments later he popped out. He patted me on the back and pushed me toward the door as he said, “I told him face-to-face and self-satisfaction all the way. I told him you’re up next and same for you.”
That’s a real thing my brother did, folks. The priest awkwardly asked me about self-satisfaction. “Yup, all the way. Like he said.”
I was confirmed, and convinced more than ever that it didn’t mean anything. Plus I was an angsty teen, so NOTHING MEANT ANYTHING. I walked outside to the fire pit in the yard where everyone was roasting hot dogs and through a soda can in the fire, warning everyone but Martin’s little punk ass.
That was 12 years ago. I don’t think about religion much anymore, but I’m sure there are parts that are changing my behavior in ways I can’t identify. I no longer believe in heaven or hell but if they do exist I don’t even think I’d want to go to heaven. Mark Twain said, “Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.”
If heaven is so great, there’s no need for comedy. Or comedians. Or cartoons, or jokes, or sketch, or improv. Can you imagine a world with no comedy? No comedian should go to heaven, what would we even do there? If heaven is free and barren of coping mechanisms, there wouldn’t be any coffee, booze, weed, drugs, cool music, candy, or junk food. There’s no escapism in heaven because why would you need to escape?
There’s probably sex in heaven, but I doubt it’s good sex. I imagine you’re both probably wearing pajamas glowing with a white light and there’s a soft focus to it all. That’s probably the one thing the Mormons got right.
The grand ironic joke of them all of course being that my frustration with heaven is the presumed absence of all the coping mechanisms I use to deal with the mortal dread I probably picked up from the religion that could get me into that heaven if I would’ve stuck with it. Maybe it’s telling that my version of heaven would be chock full of habit forming substances and dick jokes but on the other side of that coin I love [Need] those parts of my life so much that I’d want them in heaven, and so in a way I suppose I’ve constructed a heaven-ish exoskeleton to my life. A light atmosphere of fleeting happiness. But as I said before, when I look at my life as a whole, there’s more in motion. I think a life lived well, under my own terms, will eventually fill out the rest of that heaven biosphere of happiness. I think that’s what it’s all about. Finding such fulfilment within your life that you allow yourself to come to terms with death.
And if that doesn’t work, I hope at least I’ll still have my coping mechanisms in hell.