The Evolving Atheist: The Good Catholic Boy

In the beginning, there was a young Catholic boy living in the southeast end of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Being he was born during the first week of October in 1970, we know what his parents were doing to celebrate the end of the 1960s. A younger brother would show up in 1972 proving that those parents did that at least once more since that time.

Being he never saw proof of it ever again, he is not convinced that they did that since.

Like all good little Catholic boys he went to St. Cecilius Catholic school and promised to believe. It is easy to make those promises before a boy is educated.

He and his little brother would pump their little legs as fast as they could on their little bikes in the Calgary sunshine. In the winter, they learned to ski and their dad would take them out to the local hills with the crazy carpets to ride the snow down.

Grade two, again like all good little Catholic boys, he made his first communion. As luck would have it, his family went to St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Calgary and, being on of the priests was looking forward to this little boy following the path of his cousins before him and becoming an altar server, this little boy was given the sacrament a few weeks prior to his classmates. The following week he wore his surtan on the altar the first time.

That was the first time that doubts nibbled at his brain. He looked down at the parishioners from his seat and actually wondered what this display did for God.

Two weeks later, he was taken by a significant flu bug that caused him to miss joining his classmates for their first communion. The good Catholic boy decided it was God’s way of punishing him for the doubts he had previously. He would not doubt again, he promised.

A year later he made his first confession with his classmates. Another large celebration. Again, he sensed doubts about why God needed the boy to tell the priest of his sins to be forgiven. Remembering his flu a year earlier, he shut that doubt out of his mind as fast as he could.

The summer of 1980, as he was finishing grade 4, his parents announced that the family would be moving south to Denver, Colorado. The boy’s father was being transferred with an oil exploration company. The boy was in tears as they ate at their favourite pizza restaurant that night. He would have to leave his best friend, David.

Denver was not that much different than Calgary. A bit larger and a slight difference in the accent, but otherwise it felt no different to the boy.

The family had a nice big yellow house on a cul-de-sac in a Denver suburb called Lakewood. Due to proximity, the boy and his brother were signed up to attend Green Gables Public School. The Catholic lessons would come from Sunday school here. He enjoyed his tenth birthday by watching one of his first NHL hockey games.

At one store after the family first arrived, the boy’s mother needed to show her driver’s license for her purchase. The cashier, a late teen, looked at the card and asked, completely straight faced, “What’s Alberta?” The boy’s mother quickly pointed out on the American map behind the cash and the girl responded with some cliche like “cool”.

The public school, however, made things awkward in his head. For the first time he was not constantly surrounded by other Catholics buffering him from the outside world. Instead he started to see that there were not only other beliefs in the Christian realm, but also in the entire concept of God as well. The doubts began anew as he wondered why he was punished by God for doubting while these other kids were happy and healthy and believing other things.

In grade 6 he met a little boy named Jake. Jake had a southern accent stronger than any the boy had heard. Jake also told the boy stories about how bad he thought Catholics were and how the boy could learn a lot from Jake’s church. The boy would look back years later after loosing track of Jake…he was convinced that, as an adult, Jake is probably a minister in a Baptist or Protestant church somewhere.

The boy and Jake finished elementary school together along with a few other friends. There was Greg, the first African American friend the boy had, who was convinced he would one day punt in the National Football League because “they don’t get hurt as much”. There was also Roman who was without faith…something that shocked the good Catholic boy. The group entered Carmody Junior High in 1982 for grade 7.

Again, being it was a public school, the boy was subjected to different ideas and beliefs, but now from more developed minds.

During that year, however, the most memorable experience happened during a Catholic youth group dance and camp he attended. There were about twenty kids there from grade five through eight. One grade eight girl, whom he never did remember her name, flirted with him.

Being the shy apologetic cuddly Canadian that he was, he found this shocking. The fact it was at a church event, doubly so. She was an Amazon to him being she was taller, older, and gorgeous dark hair and dark eyes. For the first time he found himself actually wondering who put her up to it. He did dance with her, though only in protest as his shyness nearly killed him. A slow dance, too, in the dark room.

He would see her from time to time in school, but was much too shy to even talk to her again. He was not the athletic sort and grew even more convinced that she was put up to the flirting…which did continue when she would see him.

In June as the school year was winding down, the boy’s parents made another announcement. The family was going to return to Canada. The move would be to the interior of British Columbia, a small town named Creston…in fact, the town where the boy’s father had grown up. The grandparents lived there and, unfortunately, the boy’s grandma was near the end due to cancer.

The family was going to buy a small store in the town and try their hand at their own business.

The final day of school rolled around that year, and classes let out early just for the purposes of yearbook signings. The good Catholic boy was amazed at how many signed with comments about how they had never met a “real Canadian” before.

As he sat thumbing through his yearbook in the school cafeteria, the Amazon brunette came over and sat with him. Still the shy boy, he was embarrassed when she asked him to sign her year book and if she could sign his. He quickly glanced at what she had written about seeing him at Beaver Creek when he got there in two years, the high school where the locals would go for grade nine and up. For the first time since their dance, he spoke to her and apologetically told her he was moving back to Canada. She took his hands, causing his cheeks to blush beyond anything previous, and told him she was upset because she loved his accent and had wanted to date him. He thought she was going to kiss him, but was relieved she did not.

For the first time, he realized he had something that was worthwhile enough to attract attention. An accent might not be something worth dating for, but it was the first time a young lady had shown enough attention to make him start to think “those” thoughts.

For the record, the good Catholic boy wished he remembered the girl’s name, and wished that he had stayed in touch with both her and Jake. At least he still had his best friend David from Calgary. That friendship would continue through all the chapters of this story.

As we end this chapter, we have covered almost the first thirteen years of the good Catholic boy’s life.

Perhaps thirteen was his lucky number as he finally started to gain some confidence. Then again, as an adult 30 years later, he would tell you he does not believe in luck either.


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