I was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church as an infant. I learned to say prayers before bed, and I learned that there were guardian angels in heaven. I learned that god was all powerful, which I took to mean magical.
One day in senior kindergarten, shortly after a classroom visit from a priest, I attempted to score points with a teacher when I hoped to be overheard speaking to another student in the cloakroom. I said, in a most confident and knowing voice: “We are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of the lord”, and nothing happened. Not only did the moment of magical glitter and light from heaven I expected to fill the room not materialize, but the teacher didn't react, either. Up until that point, I'd really been under the impression that such a statement/gesture could lead to me becoming an angel, or at least a saint, and when nothing happened, I started to wonder.
When I was in first grade, the second graders in my split class were preparing for their first communion. Maybe it's because I'd recently seen the video for Pink Floyd's “The Wall” on TV, but I had an eerie image in my mind of them being rolled into some strange factory/church machine, and I found myself bothered knowing that I'd have to go through the same preparations the following year.
Before starting second grade, I moved and changed schools. One day in class, we each received colouring books detailing the “history” that established the practice of communion. The flesh and blood bit really grossed me out, and I wasn't fond of the monk-like robes we each wore on the “special” day. We each received wooden crosses strung on cotton cords to wear around our necks. Given our size, they looked massive. I couldn't wait to take it off.
In third grade, I simply couldn't buy into the ritual of confession. I remember going through the motions, including fabricating something to confess, and reciting only 1 or 2 of the 10 Hail Mary prayers I was supposed to use as a bargaining chip for forgiveness.
In fourth grade, each student in my school received what I can only describe as a Pope John Paul II trading card. What was it? A bookmark? Was I supposed to glue it to my lunch box? I don't know. All I knew was that I didn't want a picture of some old guy. The receipt of the cards came on the day that a priest went from classroom to classroom seeking candidates to become altar boys. I asked if girls could become altar boys, and was told that no, such a thing wasn't possible.
Between the array of moments described above, and my existing frustration over an obligation to pretend that I believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, I decided to stop believing in all of it… Claus, Fairy, Jesus and God, and the whole nine yards.
In fifth grade, my parents invited the local priest to bless our house. He showed up with holy water, walked through all the rooms chanting who knows what, splashed the water here and there, and used a pencil to mark crosses in each doorway. What gave him authority to draw on the walls? Already being quite certain this religion stuff was hokey nonsense, I erased the pencil marks on the doorway to my bedroom a few days later. No one noticed.
Around this time, I was entered into a public school because my parents were unsatisfied with the lack of academic rigor at the Catholic school I'd previously been attending. I became curious about other people's religions, but only to the extent of “collecting” them (i.e. “I know a Unitarian, an Anglican, a Baptist, and a Jehovah's Witness”). No one was interested in talking about religion, except for one girl, and we weren't friends anyway. At some point, my parents stopped going to church because it took up too much time. I was thrilled.
In grade eight, my parents started to look into getting me confirmed but I resisted and, before I knew it, the issue was dropped… but only because it was inconvenient for them to drive me to a preparation program taking place outside of school hours. It wasn't long after that I declared my status as an atheist — my parents were shocked and horrified, but I didn't think too much of it since they were always shocked and horrified about something or another. I've been a proud, and vocal, atheist ever since.
Thank you, Richard Dawkins, for being vocal and for furthering the views of those who know better than to partake in systems of folklore involving imaginary friends, superstition, and ridiculous ritual.
With best regards,