Hello beautiful people.
I had to write something before my brain exploded. Here it is.
When I was a young lad, I didn't feel as though I had many contemporaries at the Church we went to. I felt rather like I was pretending to be someone I wasn't on early Sunday mornings after the long drive down to Denver. I suspected that my mother, father and sister felt similarly, and I wondered if there were others there in the chapel who felt like I did.
We went to a traditional Roman Catholic Church where they burned incense and said the mass in Latin and where the priest's sermons were either totally convoluted by obscure, theological rhetoric written down centuries ago by "St.-this" or "Pope-that," or were of a threatening and condescending nature. The women entered the Church only with heads covered and with long unappealing dresses on, and the men had grave expressions permanently plastered upon their faces, as if to indicate that to smile or enjoy anything would be capital sin.
"Mortal sin" is what they call it. If you die with an un-confessed mortal sin on your soul, you go directly to Hell. This is opposed to venial sin, which is the lesser sin. If you die with no mortal sins on your soul, but a number of venial sins, you would be allowed into Heaven, but only after spending some time in Purgatory, which is an abbreviated version of Hell that cleanses venial sins from you with painful fire and torment.
The men acted as if to smile or enjoy life would be a mortal sin. I was never clear on the exact difference between mortal and venial sins. I thought murder was obviously a mortal sin, and that lying to my mother about whether or not I had brushed my teeth before bed was likely a venial sin. The assumption was always that there was some celestial being with a book as thick and wide as Earth itself, listing and classifying all possible instances of sin. There would be a table of qualifiers which might modify the punishment assessed for any given sin. Each would be explicitly identifiable as either mortal or venial.
The children acted almost as severe as their parents, and I found them mostly objectionable. I enjoyed toilet humor, action movies and rock and roll. None of these things were mentionable on Sunday mornings among the kids my age. I knew how to say the Rosary. The Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Glory Be. But the other kids knew prayers I had never heard of. Most of them were home-schooled or in school at the Church's private school. My parents were looked down upon for allowing my sister and I to attend the Godless corrupt public school. At least there was the reasonable excuse that we lived too far away from Denver to possibly receive our education at the traditional Catholic school.
I didn't feel that I had contemporaries at Church. They were mostly pairs of prying eyes, exacting the displeasure of God Himself upon my life, which, as I had become aware at a young age, was chronically sinful, if not mortally so.
Young men were to be altar boys. The "blessings" received by being an altar boy, I was told, were innumerable. It sounded, almost, like a way to balance out the rest of the sin in my life and perhaps get me an in with God. I was trained to be an altar boy by a kind old man who had ears that were preposterously large like satellite dishes with gray hairs sticking out of them. Mr. Sloan was a widower, and was very devout. He loved God and he loved children. He had taught the "first communion" class when I was younger. The altar boy training lasted for about an hour immediately after mass on Sunday mornings, which I quite hated, as all I ever wanted to do was get home to play Nintendo or read or watch TV for a relaxing afternoon. In youth, an hour seemed like an eternity under such circumstances.
The altar boy class was tiny. In fact, it was just myself and one other boy, a kid named Sean. Sean's family was large. I think he had seven or eight sisters and two brothers. His father worked successfully for an oil company, and his mother was their stay-at-home mother and school teacher. Sean's parents were perhaps the strictest parents I had ever met at the time. My parents said "shit" and "damn" on a regular basis, would laugh at crude limericks about flatulence or other bodily functions, and when my dad became upset with the computer at home we could even hear long strings of "fuck," "mother fucker," and even the very taboo sounding "cock sucker." I had the distinct feeling that Sean's parents never swore. At all. The other boy and I were from two very different worlds.
That said, we had some common ground in the realm of fantasy fiction such as that of Tolkien, and we shared an interest in a computer game called "Warcraft," in which one built up a village in a mythical realm and then defended their village while trying to destroy the town of the enemy. Even here, though, there were differences. In Warcraft, you could play as either "humans" or "orcs." My mother never paid much attention to the games I played on the computer. Somehow, though, Sean's parents had paid enough attention to Warcraft to identify the orcs as being associated with the devil, and the humans as being associated with the Christian God. Sean was strictly prohibited from playing as the orcs. This blew my mind. He was missing half of the game by not playing it all the way through both sides. I couldn't fathom how my playing the orcs was corrupt or sinful, but Sean agreed vehemently that it was.
The altar boy class was tiny. Sean learned the Latin three times faster than I did. His parents made him study it every night for an hour. My parents were more lenient, and I was a little more cunning. I would tell them I was studying the Latin, memorizing all the "et cum spiritu tuo"s and the "Deo gratsias"s. But I was more than likely reading comic strip collections or books about aliens and Bigfoot. On top of the Latin, we had to learn how to light the altar candles, how to move the priest's gigantic book from one side of the altar to the other, how to ring the bells and when, and how to carry the bells about without letting them make a single sound when they weren't supposed to.
I sucked at being an altar boy. When we began serving the mass, I would forget my lines. I would kneel or stand at the wrong time. I frequently felt as though I would pass out under the heat of the altar boy garments, and the priest, a devout and puritanical man, would reprimand any mistakes after the mass, sometimes even shaming a boy by "firing" him from serving.
I sucked so bad at being an altar boy that I began to worry that I was offending God with my performance, and that rather than getting ahead with extra blessings, I was, in fact, putting myself further into the spiritual hole I had dug myself by looking at the women's underwear in the Sears catalog and watching Ren and Stimpy. When I realized this, I began to experience extreme stomachaches before mass each Sunday. The pain was so great that it frequently yielded some explosive diarrhea. I was between a rock and a hard place, and where Church had once been an uncomfortable chore, it now became something I dreaded. I kept most of my discomfort to myself, for fear of upsetting the status quo. My parents were proud of my being an altar boy, and insisted that I continue and that there was nothing to worry about. I don't think they did wrong. I don't think that I was wrong for hating it, though.
I didn't feel as though I had any contemporaries at Church, but if I had someone that was close to being a friend, it was Sean. One time, I was invited to spend the night with Sean and his family in Denver on a Saturday night. The evening amazed me. I couldn't believe that Sean's mother could keep such good order in a house with so many children. The older kids directed and cared for the younger ones, and all orders came down directly through the mother. She cooked several large pizzas for us to eat that night. We ate until we were full and then, with the precision of a disciplined military crew, the whole family cleaned everything up and attended to various chores. We all said the Rosary after that, kneeling together in their living room. I got the sensation that they said the Rosary several times each day. Sean and I were allowed to play Warcraft for a time before we had to go to sleep. Finally, we found ourselves laying in his bedroom, with the lights off.
Sean liked to talk, and I suppose I did too.
We began talking about all manner of things. The most common topics were, again, fantasy novels, video games or other flights of fancy. I avoided talking about myself too much. I feared his judgement.
We came to the topic of what we wanted to do with our lives when we grew up. At that age, I had silly ideas about being many different things, but I knew that I wanted to write and that I wanted to be rich, no matter what. Sean told me that he would like to be a soldier.
I inquired as to why he found that lifestyle intriguing. I had never once thought that I would ever be a soldier. I guess I assumed I didn't have the constitution for such things. Simulated computer violence was enough for me.
Sean told me that he wanted to be a soldier because there was a final battle between good and evil coming. I didn't know what he was talking about, and asked to hear more. He had the bizarre tendency to snort hard and loud through his nose every 30 or 45 seconds to clear his nasal cavity. He snorted loudly, and then asked me whether or not I knew about the AntiChrist. I did not. I remember this conversation very distinctly.
Sean's parents had told him that there would be an AntiChrist. A maniacal evil beast who would seduce the world and turn it into a monument to Satan. The AntiChrist would be the son of Satan and would bring about the end times. Armageddon. The final battle between the legions of God's faithful and the minions of sin. I had known that the Church professed a kind of "end of the world" scenario, but I knew nothing about it except that my parents had always told me that it would occur many hundreds or even thousands of years in the future, and that I had no need to worry myself with such things. Sean's parents had told him that, in their estimation, the world was becoming so riddled with idolatry and filth that the end times were certain to occur in his lifetime, and that he would be asked to become a Catholic soldier in a very real and very intense war that would last for a number of years before the second coming of Christ.
My friend was certain of these things. He told me that it seemed silly to make grandiose plans about one's life when we were destined for combat in a global conflict that would be more violent and more grueling than anything any man had ever fathomed. I wouldn't have the chance to see my plans of being a rich and famous writer or movie director come to fruition. My entire timeline, according to what I heard that night, had been blown to hell. The kid told me that the only right thing to do was to prepare one's soul and body to be a soldier for God. The signs of the coming end were everywhere, and the world had only, as its singular recourse, to repent and relinquish sin.
Until that time, I had imagined that my life would be long and full of wonder, and I had been assured that if I led a good life, and confessed all of my sins on my death bed, I would be allowed to enter Heaven. It had seemed simple, more or less, and I had rarely put a lot of thought into the prospect of Biblical prophecy or Hell.
The conversation didn't last long. I lost my desire to talk. I was instantly wracked with worry and paranoia, and I don't think I slept much that night. In the following year or two, I harbored secretly a constant fear that the AntiChrist had already been born, and was out there somewhere in the world devising his rise to power. I began to have dreams or waking fantasies about what the AntiChrist would do to the world, or what Hell would be like. I thought about the word "eternity" and I tried to wrap my head around just how long eternity would be. When I thought about it for too long, I would panic. Considering eternity in Heaven would even make me panic, as I realized that eternity would be absolutely without end, and that anything that went on forever without end would eventually become uncomfortable through loss of novelty. If thinking of eternity in Heaven made me uncomfortable, pondering the everlasting lake of fire made me fifty times worse. I had heard the priest describe Hell as being a place of absolutely "perfect pain." In Hell, your body would be made to be perfect, that it might suffer perfectly. You would never become used to the pain experienced there, and it would be many thousands of times worse than any pain imaginable on Earth.
I began losing a lot of sleep. I became convinced that I would not be saved, should the end times come. I became convinced that I was hopelessly sinful and unwilling to fight.
It was not so long before I quietly and secretly ceased to believe in God. Belief in God came and went in myriad forms for the next few years, and evolved into a kind of resigned agnosticism. And that's where I sit today. I contend that the intense rhetoric of the major religions is best kept away from the kinds of children that have over-active imaginations and time on their hands.
I am in a completely nihilistic state of mind and spirit these days, and I think about the afterlife constantly. I believe in no religion, but try to read all religion as philosophy for terrestrial life. I feel quite secure when I imagine that, after death, there is really just nothing. The cessation of the mind and spirit. The big "off" switch. I feel good, too, when I imagine that my consciousness will detach from my body and return to the quantum collective of universal oneness, where learning and loving would never stop but only grow. I don't imagine there being a Heaven or a Hell anymore.
I don't know what I am doing or where I am going, but it's really getting crowded in this skull of mine.
I just thought I should write SOMETHING.
I love you all.