It was Blasphemy that led me to Atheism by a somewhat circuitous yet in the end well marked path. This is the story of my first step on that path.
It was the lies they kept telling me.
You can do whatever you want, god will forgive you if you ask for it. That did not seem logical or fair.
If you watched a Jewish ceremony at the temple you would turn into a skeleton. The nuns actually told me that.
If you even go near a Jewish Temple you will be cursed. One of our favorite places to play (because we pretended the star in the window meant it was the Marshall’s office like in Gun Smoke) were the back steps of the Temple. But we didn’t know it was the Temple. Then I found out yet somehow did not feel cursed.
There were a LOT of other lies.
But this is the one that turned into an easily testable hypothesis: The nuns told us that if we swore we in school (Catholic school) we would sink directly through the floor into hell. The more we swore, the deeper and faster we would sink.
So later in the bathroom line at Saint James Elementary:
“Watch this, Brian, I’m going to see if I sink into the floor.”
“No, no, don’t do it!”
…. waiting, watching my feet ….
“Fuck. Shit. Fuck”
…. waiting, watching other kids now paying attention, listening in.
“Fuck,” I said.
“Fuck Fuck,” Brian said.
“Fuck shit fuck” some other kid said.
“Fuck fuck god damn shit fuck shit shit fuck..” All over the place, five or six kids, third graders, watching our feet, the line to the bathroom has disappeared, others have moved around us, we are standing alone in a cluster swearing at our feet, and the nun walks over.
“What. Are. You. Young. Boys. Doing?”
Nuns talked with a period after every single word when they were mad.
“Nothing, Sister Mary Cantelope,” I said, accidentally using her nick name.
“Fuck” I thought. Checked my feet again. Looked at the nun and realized almost everything she ever said when I had her as my teacher in first grade was suspect.
“Sister,” I said.
“Yes? What. Is. It?” she replied. Sternly.
“Expanded notation and set theory. Is it real?”
She looked at me like I had just emerged from the hell that we presume exists beneath the vinyl floor of Saint James Elementary. I did not wait for her answer. I walked around her and went to class, ignoring the steam pouring out of her ears and nostrils, since she was no longer my teacher.
My teacher, Mrs. Brennan, was in fact not a nun. She was what you call “secular” meaning that she was a regular person. She had pulled me out of class earlier in the year to “get tested.” Over the next few months I was tested numerous times. Eventually, after several tests with decreasing numbers of other kids in the room also getting tested, I was brought to a library-like room with Victorian furniture and dark walls and tall old fashioned windows in a brick building covered with ivy and put there alone with a man wearing a tweed suit and a bow tie. He tested me all by myself, no paper, just him asking questions and me giving the answers. He took notes. Although all these tests were not the kind where they gave yo the results later, I had the distinct feeling that I had yet to get a question wrong. It became obvious to me that they were trying to come up with a question that I could not answer, but the questions were all so ridiculously simple that I could answer every one usually without thinking. Really, all they had to do was ask me and I could have come up with questions I couldn’t answer. I had a list of them.
A few weeks after that last test in the red brick building with Dr. Bow Tie I got the news.
“You don’t necessarily have to go back to Saint James next year, Gregory,” I was told. “You have a very high IQ and your reading and math are advanced college level. You can go to AT class, where Kirk went.”
Kirk was my best friend, an outcast because he was smart and went to a different school than the other kids. So I was given the option, and it was to be my choice: Continue going to Saint James, like my older siblings did, then probably on to Christian Brothers Academy for high school and possibly the Jesuit College my father went to, and fit in with the other kids on the block, keep my old friends, and go to a school that was literally two blocks away, and be, essentially, normal. The word “normal” was in fact used in this conversation. Or, I could go to the school that was a mile walk away, and that Kirk used to go to. Kirk was tormented by all the other kids on the street, frequently run down and given pink belly or forcibly having his face mushed in mud or worse on his way to and from school, ostracized, despised, alone. I was given the choice of having a normal childhood with a Christian upbringing or being set aside socially as a freak and educated in a secular system that was overtly designed to challenge me.
I remember finding it funny that people thought it would be a difficult choice.