Rant the First.
Rant the Second.
My first memory of religion was Catholic. There is something about climbing a broad stone set of steps, like a ribbed tongue descending from a gaping wooden mouth, that makes a child feel very insignificant. The priest looked very grand in his black robes with the golden crucifix stamped on the front, his seal of approval from the Almighty. He would solemnly greet my parents as they herded their growing clan of progeny through the doors that were more then twice my height. I don't know whether my stature or my religious status of being too young to confess my juvenile sins, were at fault but I was beneath his notice, and therefore beneath God's.
It was a great day for my brother, the day of his first communion. From henceforth he would be a full member to the catholic faith, no longer a secondary clause beneath my parent's salvation. I was able to pick him out from the other lucky chosen by his sky blue three piece suit. He looked very small up there on the platform. Almost as small as I felt, sitting in the long pew beneath the great vaulted ceiling. At least I had parents and siblings beside me, to protect me from the huge empty void over our heads. I certainly didn't envy him, all alone up there, being important.
We left Catholicism before it was my turn to consume the body of our Lord Jesus. I never made my first confession. Without the absolution of a single 'Hail Mary' the petty sins of my childhood remain heavy and dark, in some celestial ledger; 'He fought with his brotherí, 'He didn't eat all of his vegetables.'
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It wasn't until much later that the second stain fell upon my soul. I was still too young to have much control over the situation. Ever since kindergarten when my mother switched me from the morning class, to the evening class, I felt like an outsider in the public school system. But this alienation was nothing when compared to the barely concealed hostility of the Christian school elite when faced with a new comer. The carefully constructed pecking order, based on a mixture of parental status in the school's church (to which we did not belong), athletic ability in soccer and basketball (the school's sports of choice), and the blend of physical attractiveness and political savvy that combine to make one popular, was rudely shaken by the school's choice to wave tuition on a trail basis. I possessed neither scholastic ability, nor athletic prowess, with which to bargain for status, and lacked even the knowledge of the market system that made this bartering possible. An uncultured savage thrust into a tribe of missionaries, I was doomed from the start. It was as though I bore a mark on my forehead, which even a careful mimicry of uniform could not mask.
In any society there is pressure to conform. In public schooling the punishment for aberration was the stigmata of being an outcast. I have always been a loner so that particular cross was easily born. However, in Christian schools, fitting into the system was not a choice to be made; it was a demand to be met. Our thoughts must be as starched and white as our uniform shirts. Failure to adhere to their code of conduct was not only a rebellion against the school, but also a sin against God himself, who had granted authority to the principle and teachers. Punishment for such a crime was not taken lightly. Many times my posterior felt the sting of divine retribution for breaking the eleventh commandment; 'Thou Shalt Turn in Thine Homework on Time.' Of course the physical pain was only a fraction of the true punishment exacted. The shame of being taken from class, the eyes of your peers drilling into your back with their full knowledge of your crime, the anticipation of what was to come during the long gallows walk from class room to principles office, compounded with the vain hope for a merciful reprieve and the sickening knowledge of your own guilt under a moral code you had accepted, but could only childishly grasp, to form a sadistic justice, patronizingly executed. After all of this even the petty satisfaction of holding a grudge was abolished by the administering of a loving hug from the hand of judgment.
The threat of physical punishment in this lifetime is hardly enough to insure the submission of a child to a moral code based on an ancient Jewish mythology, especially after teaching him that all other mythologies are primitive barbaric heresies. Corporal punishment can control actions to a limited extent, but it holds no sway over thoughts. So the fertile soil of young imagination is seeded with fear of Hell fire, from which springs forth a healthy crop of moral conditioning. This garden must be carefully tended to weed out doubts and eradicate any scavenging psychosis. To this end, one hour of every school day was reserved for chapel services. After belting out a few threadbare hymns, a liberal dose of dogma was administered in the form of a sermon. As often as not an altar call rounded out the whole affair, the purpose of which was to give the faithful another opportunity to swear their undying devotion and fealty to a hunk of wood, in the form of an ancient roman torture device. I don't believe I will ever understand the romance between the Christian Church and crucifixion. No matter how much they argue and bicker about even the most insignificant theological and historical differences, all the denominations come together in their love affair with this diabolical form of execution. The 'Ol Rugged Cross' and the almost orgasmic intensity of Christian emotion surrounding it, were to be pivotal in my next religious failure.
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The sermons delivered in the claustrophobic school chapel where usually geared toward the youthful congregation, but this particular Tuesday was an exception. The topic of today's message was 'The Death of Our Lord,' and our gray haired pastor, usually so reserved and dignified, was really warming to his oration.
As the pastor began describing the emotional hell that Jesus suffered in Gethsemane, climaxing with Judas' fatal kiss, and the severed ear of the high priest's servant, I could feel the first faint stirring of unease in my gut. With particular relish, the reverend described the process of scourging. A whip is like a flagellum, as a toothpick is like a two-by-four. Instead of a single lash, the flagellum has many leather straps ending in jagged bits of metal. These straps, when striking the victims back, would wrap completely around their body. Then the centurion would hoick the handle back with full strength, ripping the metal shards across the entangled skin. After an extended scourging, sometimes the victimís intestines would fall right through the lacerated abdomen. My own guts heaved and then dropped back to lie, hot and loose, around my bowels, as the pastor edified his flock with this bit of macabre trivia.
Blissfully ignorant of the trauma to which he was subjecting one youthful member of his audience the pastor laid out for us the long torturous walk from the court of Pontius Pilate, through the twisting rocky streets of Jerusalem. In my mind I could see the spots of blood standing out from the gray stones of the street. Splinters, from the huge wooden beam stretched across my shoulders, began to work their way into my flesh. The jeers and taunts of the crowd echoed in my ears. The pastorís voice was rising toward a fever pitch. He described the cruel crown of thorns. My eyes began to sting and burn as though from drops of sweat and blood rolling off my forehead. Was the bitter taste filling my mouth that of sour wine laced with gall, or just stomach acid crawling up my throat? Omitting not a single gruesome detail he painted a vivid picture of the ascent to the top of Golgotha; The Place of a Skull. A strange lethargy set into my muscles as he told of the massive effort it would take just to place one foot in front of the other, on the long ascent, after such a grueling trek. All around the chapel, people spontaneously began to rise to their feet as the pastor descried the spikes piercing Christ's wrists and feet. Of course I stood as well, even though I could feel the blood draining from my extremities.
When a person was crucified, the pastor continued, and the cross was pulled erect and dropped into the hole where it would stand, all the bones in the victims body would be simultaneously wrenched from their sockets. This latest bit of grotesquerie was too much for my strained psyche. I collapsed, like a string-cut marionette, back into the pew behind me. My head was reeling and from the edge of consciousness I could hear the pastor declaring that all those who were standing, were proudly showing their solidarity to the Christian faith, and to their savior who had died for them. He urged those who were not standing to rise and stand for what they believed. When I found myself curled up on the hard wooden pew, the only soul in that stifling chapel who was not standing before the pastor, and Almighty God, my fate was sealed. My frail human flesh had damned me to Hell.
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Firstly I would like to thank you for your interest in my work. It is always gratifying when someone spends the time and energy it requires to assimilate a piece of my creativity. That is what artists live for (although not what they live on). If you hadn't figured it out already this piece of writing is semi-autobiographical. I have dramatized events to make the story more interesting, and to fill in details that I don't remember. However the events upon which the story is based actually happened.
Secondly, this is a work in progress. I will continue to make revisions until I am satisfied with the end result. Also there is at least one more major incident to relate (Part 3.). It is no use asking when the next installment will appear. If I knew I would tell you. If you wish to make any comments/suggestions, then you may address them to the Lord Of NeoHell and He will forward them to me. I will read whatever you send but I cannot guarantee a response. Make sure to check back for revisions and additions in the future. They will not be posted in NeoHell.
--End Note .JF.--
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