Upon the astounding realization that swearing would not result in swift and immediate divine retribution, a world was opened up to me. A world of swearing. The world of swearing was intoxicating. For the first time in my life I was doing something bad(ish) and rebellious(ish).
My swear hadn't arisen in a vacuum, of course. My family had just recently moved to the Suburbs. Which meant that we had left our old church behind. All of my friends in grade school had been church friends, so I genuinely looked forward to going on Sundays because it meant I got to spend time with them outside of school too. No longer.
After we moved, we had to find a new church. It took a while to find one, so for six months or so we bummed around various churches, feeling them out. I went to Sunday School, but was for all intents and purposes, a complete outsider. A 'visiting' kid. I never felt any connection with any of these strange cultish weirdos.
While I felt utterly alienated and socially dispirited in Sunday School, I was finding that Actual School was the complete opposite. Unlike before, my social network was now starkly divided between School Friends and Church Friends. There was no crossover. In Actual School, I had friends I saw every day, that I actually had fun with, during recess, playing video games, playing basketball, riding bikes. While at Sunday School, I was a 'visiting' kid who couldn't really remember your name and didn't really care.
Even when we found a place where I would no longer be a visiting kid, I had pretty much ceased to care about Church as a social institution. My social life was with friends, with school, with sports. I never really felt at home again in a church. Baptism hadn't helped. And the social group at the new church was just an afterthought. Once Church ceased to serve as an exciting part of my social life, it became a duty, a drag, a drudge, a bore.
By the sixth grade, my two worlds were essentially separate. I had Church life, which I found ridiculously boring and whose denizens I saw but once a week to engage in another round of utter boredom. And School life, which I adored beyond reckoning.
In School life, I had friends who could ride bikes, play soccer, play video games, and who I saw every single day, while LEARNING about things. In Church life, I struggled to find excuses to slip out of Sermons earlier and earlier and avoid everyone as much as possible. I literally could not wait for Church to get over. I was always first out the door, tapping my foot, herding my parents outside and away from the interminable goddamn! Potlucks.
It was in this heady, testosteroney, angsty, atmosphere, this atmosphere of new cursing and increasing boredom, that I was presented with a situation. My attendance of Youth Group Functions had grown perilously low. I actively attempted to avoid fraternization with Church People. Instead I sat on a big huge swing behind the Church and counted the seconds until we could leave. I sat in that swing twice or three times a week, rocking back and forth, trying to figure out why I hated that place.
I quickly realized that I no longer wanted to be there. No longer wanted to talk to any of the people inside. And didn’t feel any connection to my Church ‘friends.’ In all honesty, my favorite thing about Church at that point, was that swingset.
I loved that swing.
While I sat on the swing, looking at my Church, watching it sway closer and further away over and over again, I didn't see God. I just didn't see it. I didn't feel it. I didn't sense it. I didn't see it in nature, I didn't even see it in his people.
Sitting on that swing I realized that when I looked at the world I saw a world that makes sense, that operates on rules. I couldn't see why God would make more sense than everything I had read in books about dinosaurs. That made more sense than magic. I was 10, afterall. I wasn’t a child. I knew that Santa wasn't real, that the Tooth Fairy wasn't real, that Leprechauns and stuff weren't real. I had read the Lord of the Rings and I knew that wasn’t real. I knew how to tell the difference between real and make believe.
But while I sat on that swing and looked at Church, I realized that God just didn't make sense. In fact, God didn’t make any more sense than elves or orcs or the Dark Lord Sauron. I had read the Bible two or three times by this point and I found myself more confused and dissatisfied now than I had been before I'd read the damn! thing.
It was the exact same feeling I had had years before. Sitting on my bunk bed with an atlas in hand, trying to figure out how Santa could possibly deliver gifts to EVERYONE in the World and realizing the inevitable SPOILER ALERT Truth, That There Is No Santa Claus. There is a cold feeling deep in the pit of the stomach that happens when beliefs die. An indescribable sensation that accompanies the realization that something you had really believed, a belief that had excited you and filled you with joy was a lie.
Swinging back and forth, I was feeling that feeling again. It wasn’t something I could quite articulate. It wasn’t anything that I would be able to explain. But I knew that something was wrong. I could feel it. This feeling did not manifest itself in full blown atheism, at least not yet.
But as I sat on the swing week after week, the split between my School Friends and Church friends grew in my mind. I didn't like Church. I didn't like the people there. I didn't like how boring the whole goddamn! Sermon was. I didn't care for how Jesuschrist! long we had to stay after every Potluck. Sunday School was shitty! And my friends were asses! I hadn't said these words of course, but merely thinking them was a small victory As inartful as my cogitations were, they did reflect a deeper schism. I really didn't like being forced to hang out with the Church kids. I just didn't like them.
Finally, one Sunday, as we were getting out of the car after finishing Church, my mom asked me a question about why I showed so little interest in hanging out with my Church Friends. I hemmed and hawed. I said that I just didn’t want to go, that I wasn’t all that interested. Then I barreled ahead and said what I actually thought.
“I just don’t want to be friends with them. I think they're losers.” <gulp>
My mother was less than amused. I believe she might have hissed. And if I thought she was pissed! then, it was nothing compared to how livid she was when I mentioned that she and dad had said just days before that some of the other Church people were losers.
I had spoken the truth. It was a milestone. The culmination of months worth of internal wrangling and failed rationalization. I knew in my 'heart' that since my parents thought that other people were losers, then God must not really care if you think his followers are dicks! More importantly, Church no longer held any social importance for me. From that point on, my Church activities devolved into one of three activities.
1. Drawing Star Destroyers and X-Wings in the margins of the Weekly Bulletin during the sermon. I draw a mean Star Destroyer.
2. Staring at the Floor. Boring, but does increase bloodflow to the brain. Or cause brain damage.
3. Writing notes in the margins of the Weekly Bulletin about things I didn't like.
And I quickly realized that I didn’t miss Youth Group. I didn’t miss the social activities. I had real friends. Better friends.
Once Church no longer satisfied any social needs, I found it utterly lacking. I was not yet cognitively able to process the idea that God and Jesus and all the rest were fictitious – that was still a year or so off – but I had ceased to have any emotional or intellectual connection to theology. I was still a cultural Christian to the core – it was what I had been raised to be – but even then, I had the mind of an Atheist.
Tomorrow the Exciting Conclusion: Monty Python and the Road to Atheism