Easter isn't exactly a day I relish in any capacity, and on this Easter Sunday, I am, perhaps, more irritable than usual. This patch on my arm is feeding nicotine into my bloodstream to the tune of 21 milligrams over a 24-hour period for the sixth day in a row with no telling how long it will be before I pass a single minute bereft of longing for a cigarette.
I am, on this day, reminded of the fervid retellings of Jesus' resurrection and ascension into Heaven that rattled down the hallways of my Catholic high school and how odd it was to be an atheist tucked in among the pious masses. The rub is, of course, that piety is almost uniformly non-existent among teenagers. Even the classmates of mine renowned for their adherence to the Church defied the constraints of Catholicism's unrealistic dogma, most likely by engaging in rigorous hormone-fueled masturbation on a daily basis, which is a crime according to every Pope since Peter. If Catholics were truly serious about upholding the Old Testament virtues upon which their faith is founded, I and everyone I knew back in those days would've been publicly flogged, humiliated, and then summarily executed. Our decapitated heads would have lined the front walkway, tongues out askew and eyes frozen in the wide, blank expression characteristic of traumatic shock to the Central Nervous System.
Somewhere along the line, the Church grew wise to the fact that their dogma would prove unsustainable in the long run. For all I know, Christ was the first to harbor this realization and, for this reason, birthed the paradigm shift toward forgiveness in what proved to be a brilliant PR move and one altogether more appealing to the masses than the strict, violent laws of Judaism. There is little difference between secularist Christians and Jews these days — we'll veer away from fundamentalists of both stripes — but Christ set up the base for a pure numbers victory by teaching the Good News and organizing the missionary system with which we are all familiar.
These thoughts and others were a hallmark of my entrenchment among Catholics in high school, and to some extent, my days among the Lutherans in middle school as well. I remember two things especially from middle school. The first is having been marched up in front of the class to recite The Lord's Prayer as well as what amounted to a Lutheran Pledge of Allegiance (not the Apostle's or Nicene Creed...that came later for all of us) because the teacher had noticed on the first day of school that I knew neither, and the second is the lesson in Religion Class when I first heard of the Christian belief that the world is but 6,000 years old. Granted, the reason for being forced to recite excerpts of Lutheran mythology were understood. I was on their turf, and if I expected to make it through school, I would have to comply, at least scholastically, with their demands. Such were the consequences of proving too skittish for the droves of students packed into the public school. However, teaching such a blatant lie as to suggest that humans and dinosaurs once shared the Earth (en masse, anyway) was something I viewed as nothing less than sadly hilarious.
Here I sat among children that didn't know any better due to no fault of their own listening to an adult devoted wholeheartedly to silly fairy tales. If any of us wonder what ills have befallen the education of the American Youth, we need look not only at our failing public schools but at the scientific follies preached in the parochial system. The odd thing was that the scientific curriculum at my middle school was strangely excellent if you ignore their take on evolutionary theory. I sleepwalked throught most of the science classes — aside from AP Physics and Chemistry, the beasts — due in no small part to the extensive primers I received on the periodic table of elements, various chemical compositions, molecular structures, biological processes, and principles of electricity and motion. By the end of eighth grade, I had dissected a frog, a fetal pig, an eyeball, and a sheep's heart, and as far as I've heard from friends, that was more than they had done in their respective public schools.
Everything I dissected during high school proved to be review save for a cat, the only notable difference of which was the opportunity to skin the thing like an orange.
I've gotten off the topic here, though. I was talking about Easter and, in an indirect way, the Sabbath, which has proven a rough day of the week for me since my days among the Lutherans. Every Monday, the teacher would read down the list of students and ask if they'd been to church on Sunday. This tally would factor into the final quarterly religion grade for each student.
I knew for a fact that some of my classmates lied about attending services, and the funny thing was that I, an avowed atheist even at the time (save for a bit of dabbling in sixth grade when peer pressure proved a bit daunting), felt bad about lying, so I made my Dad take me to church on Sundays in order to avoid this "sin". I didn't partake in the Eucharist, though I would sometimes walk up to be blessed for reasons that now escape me. I have a memory of attending an Easter service at Peace Lutheran Church in Cincinnati while on a family visit and holding my hand up to refuse the wine offered by the pastor. He looked taken aback and confused that I should refuse the Blood of Jesus Christ, though I should mention one marked theological difference between Catholics and Lutherans that causes some strife and bickering is the divergence of belief in Communion. Lutherans hold the wafers and wine as symbols of the Body and Blood Jesus gave unto his disciples at the Last Supper while Catholics believe that once the food is blessed by a priest it physically becomes Jesus' actual Body and Blood.
This is the only case in which I found a Catholic belief more frightening than a Lutheran one. For all the shit Catholics get for instilling guilt into their faithful, I have found in my experience that Lutherans are much more severe in this regard. One should remember that Lutheranism and Protestantism in general bear as much similarity with Puritanism as they do with Catholicism. After all, Arthur Dimmesdale could never have dreamed of being a Catholic even after he fucked Hester Prynne. The anguish and punishment would have been grossly insufficient to assuage the burden of his transgression.
Still, I've always found it strange that the atheists and agnostics I've met along the way adhere stronger to Christian virtues than many of the Christians I've known, and perhaps it is the freedom from the yoke of religion that enables many of the to act more charitably. I tend to trust genuine acts of kindness and unselfishness over those performed due to fear of condemnation in the afterlife. One must be at least a mite suspicious of someone who behaves only because they are under the constant watch of an omnipotent eye. Consequently, one must wonder what said person would do were they to think that, for a moment, that surveillance was diverted or preoccupied.
Holding people up to unrealistic and inhuman expectations not only harms the individual but carries with it an element of collateral damage that should not be overlooked. Just ask the those who've been molested by a Catholic priest or children who've been born and abandoned, forced to bear the heinous weight of irresponsibility because spilling seed upon fallow ground is viewed as a mortal sin.
This goes for all religions, which are inherently founded upon non-existent logic, fantasy, and, in olden times, were an ingenious method of socio-political control. I pick on Christianity only because of my proximity to it, but religion, at its base, is base because it squelches pragmatism and the ability of the human mind to act according to its potential in instances that present a conflict with the fabricated moral codes of the devout.