“Maybe in the general scheme of things he couldn't find
any meaning in life, but on a smaller scale it was okay.
Not always, but a lot of the time.”
―ETGAR KERET,

“The Real Winner of the Preliminary Games" 

INNER CITY STORIES

Something I refuse to talk about a lot is religion. I think it comes from the reactions I’ve had from people when I tell them that I don’t believe in God; I don’t believe in anything. That includes me, but that’s beside the point. What most people don’t know when I talk about it is that I’ve had a lot of bad experiences at the church, and most of them had to do with my mom.

When I was born, I was not immediately baptized or anything. I spent the first 10 years of my life without going to church, only going once a year for Easter. Even when I went once a year, I hated it because it just seemed like a huge waste of time for me. I did find joy out of dressing up really nicely, but this did not make up for it. When I was ten, my mom talked to one of her friends; I respect my mom's friends in every way, but I nearly threw a fit right in front of this lady after that. This lady explained that she had signed her kids up for religion classes, despite her kids pleading with her not to, and they were now on their way to being baptized. My mom decided to take this as an opportunity to sign us up for religion classes. However, there was a huge hole in her plan; she did not ask for my opinion, or consent, on the subject.

On August 4th, 2011, my mom signed me up for religion classes. I remember that day specifically because I remember sitting in the car in the church parking lot, refusing to get out. I kept arguing that I just wasn’t interested in it and that I wanted my Saturdays to myself, as these classes mainly took place on Saturdays from nine in the morning until eleven. Despite my protests, my mom dragged me inside and made me sign the papers. She paid $25 for the books used in the class, and we were on our way. My mom kept trying to convince me that it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought, and that God was the way of life. By now, to say the least, I was really angry. My mom had gone past my boundary and was forcing me into a religion I wanted no part of. She was not going to change her mind anytime soon, so I was forced to deal with this for the next two years.

My first class was not terrible, but it was full of miserable Latino kids who felt exactly like me; they did not want to be there, but they had been forced by their moms to come and take the class. My teacher was a young lady by the name of Colleen who was recently out of college. She was supposed to teach us the prayers, how to use the rosary, the ten commandments, you know, all the things I did not care about. I spent the first year hiding in the corner because I was eleven, not very pretty looking, and extremely short. Most of the kids in my class were a few years older than me. Colleen would often talk to me about how I should learn to pray and do the things a good Catholic should do, but I would always protest. I did, however, end up memorizing the prayers needed to pass my class. I was baptized by force; I regarded the whole ceremony as some dude dressed in white saying stuff while pouring water over my head, which, in actuality, was exactly what it was. I didn’t see any significance in it; the only reason I did it was to keep tensions in my household at a low.

Something that pissed me off throughout this whole thing was church. No, not the classes, but the actual masses. A requirement of the class in order to pass was to go to church every Sunday, either the English or Spanish mass. My mom always choose the Spanish mass, despite her knowing that I didn’t understand a lot of the Spanish words in the Bible. Yes, I speak Spanish fluently, but some words were just not in my vocabulary, and I therefore had a very difficult time understanding and finding meaning in the mass sessions. My mom would sit next to me, and made sure I paid attention, a job she was terrible at. I would space out a good 90 percent of the time, stand when I needed to, pretend to pray when I needed to, and then sit back down. This obviously caused my mom to get angry, because after the mass, we would go to the car, sit down, and she would ask me what the sermon was about. Most of the time, I answered some bullshit answer and said that I didn’t understand it. I was lying, obviously, but she only believed that sometimes. Other times, it would turn into heated arguments about how I spoke Spanish fluently, I was smart, and that I should pay attention more. A lot of the reason why my mom and I argued was because of this -- my unwillingness to go to church.

I was baptized, but then I was forced to go to Confirmation classes. These classes were the exact same as the ones I took for baptism, except Colleen was an even worse teacher than before and the classes were stupider. I still saw my Saturdays being wasted, as this class lasted two hours. I hated every single moment I was in that room, with the same miserable kids, with the same mindset as before. Most of the time Colleen didn’t even teach; she was usually fighting with one of the kids in the room, while I spaced out. I again memorized the prayers I needed to know, and I was again forced to go through something I didn’t want to. However, this time, it was a lot different. My parents gave me a choice of either going through with this or not. I obviously did not want to, but my brain was telling me to do it anyway. Why? My parents were peer pressuring me into doing it. I knew that deep down, my parents would be annoyed if I just decided not to. They would have made me do another year of religion school, and I honestly wasn’t up for that. Throughout this whole adventure, my voice of reason was my dad. I thought that he was on my side, since he usually agreed with the things that I said about myself. I told my dad, “I’m not religious,” several times. I never did imply that I was an atheist, I simply told him that I wasn’t very religious. One day, he sat down on my bed. He was serious. It was a few days before the ceremony and I hadn’t made my decision. My dad sat down and firmly said, “You are a Catholic. Just do the ceremony and get it over with.” From then on, I hated the church. I had just been named something that I obviously was not. How dare he? He had given me a title that was a lie. My mom ended up fighting with me anyway, calling me a selfish child for waiting till the last minute to make my decision.

The day came, and I had a lot of family come over. I didn’t see it as anything serious, so being the clever jokester I am, I kept cracking jokes and whatnot to lighten the mood. My mom, again, got mad at me because this was a “serious event” that, “I should take seriously.” Throughout the whole ceremony, I was furious. I cannot word it another way, you could see it by the way my face was all scrunched up. No one asked if I was alright, but it was obvious that I was not. When I went up there to receive “God,” I told myself that it was nothing other than some dude dressed in white, the same dude as before, giving me a soggy wafer cracker. Again, that’s exactly what it is. The day ended, my mom forced me to go to church a few times after that, but after seeing how I reacted to it, she finally stopped making me go. She finally realized that this was hurting me and that she had been hurting me. She didn’t apologize or anything like that, she didn’t have to, but she finally stopped making me go.

Earlier this past March, my mom held a small ceremony for her father, who passed away a year ago. My mom said that I had to attend mass with the rest of my family, and I simply said, “Alright.” I’m not a completely terrible person; she was doing this for her dad, my grandfather, and it would be considered extremely rude not to attend the ceremony. At the ceremony, for once, I listened in on what the priest was saying. Then I remembered why I hated the church so much, why I was completely against it. The man in white basically said that anyone who doesn’t believe in God is empty, dead on the inside, and doesn’t have a heart. He then proceeded to tell us how the kids of today are growing up without God and that God should be forced on everyone. I slowly felt myself growing angrier and angrier. Sure, I’m empty and dead on the inside, but it’s not because I don’t believe in God. It is because of life, and all the terrible things that come with it. If God is so great, why do I feel the way I do? If he’s real, explain to me the many wars we’ve had, explain to me why there are children in Africa starving, explain to me why Donald Trump is running for president. Seriously? You're saying that some dude on a cross can save everyone, and is the Lord and Savior? Are you kidding me? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but humans cause everything. Humans are humans, the sun is the sun, and grass grows. There isn’t anything special. Obviously, this is my personal opinion. I respect people who believe in different religions, but if you saw the world the way I do, then it really would be difficult to see light in the situation. I try my best to stay away from religious conversations because I will be put down with false claims about atheists. I’m an atheist because I simply see religion as a waste of time, and I also don’t see evidence of there being a “Lord Savior Jesus Christ.” I’m terribly sorry if my opinion is different than other people’s, but that is what I’ve come up with from years of experience.