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STUDYING RELIGION WITH AN ATHEIST

I went to Catholic school from Kindergarten all the way through the end of high school. Not because my family was religious, but because the public schools in our town sucked, and this was the best alternative. We were basically pretending to believe in God in order to sneak a good education from an institution devoted to serving Him. The Saccardos were your classic twice-a-year Catholic family, never found anywhere near a church except on Christmas Eve and Easter morning. The word “God” was never said in my house unless it was immediately followed by the word “damn.” My Dad never even sugar-coated the fact that he thought all religions were “silly” and my Mom only put my sister and I through the motions of Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, etc, so my Grandmother could tell all her old lady friends she was the matriarch of a nice Catholic family. On the rare occasion my family actually did go to church, we made a mockery of it, with my sister falling asleep, me playing a handheld video games, and my Dad getting up five minutes into mass to go for a walk outside, sarcastically claiming “God and I have an understanding.” The ultimate example of how little we valued the church-going experience is that my sister and I eventually struck a deal with my mother that we could start skipping Christmas Eve mass as long as we all played a family board game together instead.

As for Catholic school, in most ways, it’s the same as regular school. There’s recess, a “cool kids” lunch table, and a creepy janitor with a secret past. But there’s also a school-wide mass you have to suffer through every month, 95 year-old nuns wandering into classrooms by accident, and required religion courses graded with the same weight as real classes as far as your report card is concerned. Since my Dad was picking up the private school tuition bill, he wanted his money’s worth, and demanded my sister and I get good grades. A favorite phrase of his was “They give away C’s for free at public school,” so after getting a 75 on a religion test, he decided something had to be done to pull my grade up to the B range. It was at that moment when my Dad’s atheism and his insistence on doing well in school smashed right into each other, and he decided that the only way to help get my grades up to a par he had set himself was to help me study something he didn’t believe in. Dad sat me down at the dining room table, and the same guy who routinely called the Pope a child molester quizzed me from my religion text book, getting upset if I didn’t know the right answers. Atheist Dad: “What’s the first beatitude?” Me: “Blessed are the poor, because… because… um…”

Atheist Dad: “Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven! Come on! Kingdom of heaven! Now, name the twelve apostles.” Me: “Peter, Andrew, Judas, the two Jameses, Philip, Matthew, Thomas, Simon, and… um… uh…” Atheist Dad: “Bartholomew, Thaddeus, and John! How can you forget John?! He was Jesus’ favorite! He wrote like half the New Testament!” It went on like this for hours. Two atheists memorizing yet barely understanding the most important tenets of the Catholic faith as if they were lines of Shakespeare dialogue we had to blindly recite in a school play. The ten commandments. Mortal sins. Venial sins. Sacraments. Sacrilege. Popes. Psalms. The Passion. And when it was all said and done, I got a B+ in religion class for the fall semester. On paper at least, we were the devout Catholic family my grandmother could be proud of. But, you know, the kind that plays Scategories instead of going to Christmas Eve mass.

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Tim Saccardo, Ela Boyd, LIVING THE DREAM

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