Leaving Christianity

Know when to walk away, know when to run

This is a short story. I was raised in a Roman Catholic family. My parents participated in the church in a low-key way; my mother read from the missal during some services, but aside from that we pretty much stuck to weekly attendance at Sunday services. (None of that “fair-holiday” worship for us.) I was never particularly devout or even attentive. My parents wanted us to follow their lead, though, so they made us attend with them and packed us off to religious instructions classes. That was a joke in itself: the classes were known as CCD, but I doubt whether any of the attendees could have told you what the acronym stood for (“charge-coupled device”, “confirmation of catechismal doctrine”, and “creepin’ crud disease” were all candidates; I preferred the latter). I didn't know what it stood for myself until years later.

Religion was one of the few big disagreements I had with my parents. By the time I was a teenager I knew I was an atheist. It took a long time for my parents to catch up.

CCD was just about as much fun as sitting in a lecture on a subject that you not only don't care about, but that you think is ridiculous. None of it stuck with me at all, except arguing with a nun that a certain gesture had no intrinsic meaning. Rather, any meaning she construed to it was her decision. She didn’t agree. My rhetorical skills weren’t up to arguing for cultural relativism and socially constructed meaning—I hadn’t even heard of Derrida then. Maybe demonstrating my point with a gesture that our culture considered rude was a bad idea. The funny thing was that I was completely serious; my point in making the gesture wasn't to insult her, it was to start a discussion about the sociology of symbols and gestures.

There were other classic moments. Once they made us walk next door to the church, line up, and go to confession one by one. When my turn came, I entered the confessional, said the ritual words, and then made up sins because I couldn’t think of anything I’d done wrong. I suppose I should have added “lying to a priest”, but I didn’t think of it then. Too late now; I've never been back.

When I was in eighth grade, the Catholic students were excused for a day from the public school so that they could attend a religious retreat. I attempted to stay at school, but was almost literally pulled from class by my mother. The highlight of the day was when a brother described in graphic detail the practice of scourging and crucifixion. Remember, boys, pound that nail through the wrist! If you use the palm, the flesh of the hand will rip from the body’s weight. That’s what I remember. I left the room before I got light-headed.

The death knell of my religious education sounded just before confirmation. One night, instead of the usual nun, a priest came to speak—an event unprecedented in years of CCD. I must have been paying attention: he told us that confirmation was a big step, and that we should be sure that it’s what we wanted to do. If we weren’t ready, he said, we could get up and walk right out. So I did.

It’s hazy, but I’m pretty sure that was the end of attending CCD.

Eventually my parents relented and didn’t force me to go to services. Perhaps the fact that I took to sitting alone in a side pew across the church from them, reading books I brought with me instead of participating, finally convinced them of my unwillingness to be there.


Years later, my mother told me that I really surprised the priest when I walked out. Apparently no one had ever taken him up on his offer.

Body of Christ

I’m gay, and have been attracted to men with mustaches & beards ever since desire first became an element of my life. I’ve spent a fair amount of thought trying to divine the origin of this particular quirk (fetish? kink?). None of my family or close relatives sported facial hair, and it was pretty darn rare in downstate New York in general when I was growing up. So where did this fascination come from?

A few years ago, an idea hit me. When I was a youth, I wasn't exposed to unclothed male bodies. My family & neighbors weren't disposed to reveal flesh casually, and we lived far from lakes and beaches, so bathing suits were rarely seen. Visits to a friend's pool almost never happened when adult males were around. In fact, I was regularly exposed to exactly one male body: the statue of Jesus on the cross of the Catholic church my family attended. I had to look at that almost-nude, bearded, longhaired plaster body every Sunday for more than a decade during my formative years. There I sat in church, bored, not believing what I was being told, with nothing to focus on except my surroundings. And there in front of me was a prominently displayed bearded male in decent shape (save the blood and piercings, of course). Oh, did I mention that it was drilled into us that this was the best person to ever appear on Earth, and that we should love him and strive to be like him? Best person = object of aspiration = bearded longhair. Do you think...? Could Jesus have made me gay?

All things considered, I'm lucky I didn't end up with a crucifixion fetish. A little scourging now and then might not be so bad, but there are limits.

Last updated 25 July 2005
All contents ©1998-2002 Mark L. Irons