SMOKE: Altar Boy

Originally published: 24 March 2005

You wouldn't think it, but I once considered a career in the priesthood.

In my defence I was only 12 at the time and thus not one hundred percent sure what direction I wanted to take in life, and to my eternal credit I never seriously pursued it.

I think that what appealed to me was the respect accorded men of the cloth - I got no respect from anybody at any stage of my childhood for anything, and respect was something I craved. What kid doesn't?

Nobody ever used to disrespect priests - these days it's slightly different, of course. Now you can make fun of them because most of them are either in it for the collective mandatory tithes of a bunch of rich folks, or because they're paedophiles.

Not all of them - there are some extremely good men and women who join the priesthood for good reasons and who do dedicate their lives to serving God and their communities. But I've seen enough spiritual hypocrisy to convince me that the last person on Earth I would ever trust is a priest.

As a kid such matters didn't trouble me. I believed in God, went (reluctantly) to church every single Sunday and on other religious holidays as well, and never even considered the possibility that evil men could so badly abuse one of the most respected and trusted professions in the world.

I did all the usual Catholic ritual things - I was baptized before my eyes had even opened, I had my first Holy Confession, my first Holy Communion, and I was even confirmed in the church by the Archbishop of Cape Town.

The whole bit.

I didn't mind communion at all because I rather fancied the taste of the wafers they used, despite the fact that those wafers were the dessicated bits from a dead guy, and I loved the wine they used.

To this day I still wonder what that wine was, because although I - like Dracula - never drink wine, if I could find that stuff I'd down it by the bottle.

I suspect it was sherry, actually - I've never tasted a wine that sweet since.

But confession was a different story. I hated it with a passion, because all I ever did in the confessional was lie to priests, thereby damning my soul to the eternal fires of hell.

The reason I lied to priests was because I could never remember a single bad thing I'd done. I was just a kid, for chris- ... sorry ... for fu- ... sorry, father, sorry ... for goodness sake.

What organisation in its right mind forces kids into an intimidating booth and instructs them to 'fess up all the sins and bad things they've done?

I may have punched a sister or two, or used the word "bloody", but I fail to see how those qualify as grave sins that need to be told to some prat who's never had sex. It's nobody's business what I do in my life, and I seriously resented the intrusion.

So I made up things that I'd done - usually far worse than my actual crimes - and never left confession feeling cleansed and free and at one with God.

I felt as though I was a dirty little liar and consoled myself with the knowledge that I could simply apologise to God before I died and everything would be alright.

A 12-year old kid should not have to face such unnecessary stress and fear, but hey - that's why I don't support religion in any way, shape or form. One of the reasons, anyway.

I was expected to go through all these Catholic rituals - not to have done so would have been unthinkable. Nuns would have had to have prayed for my soul, as the poor unfortunates at our church regularly had to do. Nothing pisses me off more than people praying for my soul to a God I don't believe exists.

But the worst thing of all was having to be an altar boy. I don't know how it worked but I was always somehow conned into saying I wanted to do things I didn't really want to do, usually because I felt that there was some sort of pressure or expectation on me to do so.

Our family was a member of a strict German order called Schoenstatt, which to this day is still based out in Constantia - the home of "old Cape money".

Catholicism in general is a very restrictive, stuffy religion, but these guys made it look like a hippie orgy in comparison to their brand of it - stern German priests ran the order with metal fists and disapproval was the buzzword as far as I was concerned.

If you so much as sneezed in church someone would look over pointedly, and upon making eye contact would smile - but in a way that let you know you had disturbed their religious reverie and fervour.

The most intolerant bunch of wankers I have ever had the displeasure of wasting my time with. I hated them and their holier-than-thou (and thus better-than-thou) collective demeanour.

All this hate in a supposedly spiritual place - those were the first signs I had that all was not right with ordered religion.

Despite it all I became an altar boy, and it was one of the most traumatic times of my life.

I started doing anything I could to fake illness on days I was supposed to serve - anything other than having to don those layers and layers of robes and spend my morning ringing bells and holding goblets and having the German priest glare disapprovingly at me out of the corner of his eye when I got some procedure wrong. Defiling his altar; his monument to God.

The worst part of it was that I developed a habit of fainting in the middle of a service. The reason for it was simple - I was a bundle of nerves before every service since I could never remember the correct order of things, and getting things wrong on the altar was not something you wanted to do at Schoenstatt.

I was dressed in my normal long pants, a shirt with a collar, a thick red robe which weighed a ton and a white cape over that, which was also very heavy and hot.

Nothing about a Catholic mass is quick - everything moves at a ponderous, grave, beatific pace - and the Schoenstatt mass was even more solemn because of the teutonic nature of it, and the sermons were dull and full of abstracts and concepts I couldn't begin to grasp.

None of this Anglican or Methodist stuff:

"Howdydoodee neighbourini!! Swell, huh?! Jesus was a naughty bugger with that wine trick, hey? Great! Bye-bye, then!! Toodles!!! Rum-pa-pum-pum!"

No. It was all dissection of dogma and the argument for Mary and the travails of Father Josef Kentenich in Dachau in World War II. Like a 12-year old could give one flying, continental rat's arse about any of that.

The Catholic service was full of sitting and standing and kneeling and chanting and sitting and kneeling and standing and kneeling and singing and chanting and sitting and standing and kneeling and chanting and sitting.

And when you're a bundle of nerves with sweaty brow, trying desperately to Get Things Right and earn respect, and you're dressed in enough cloth to start a small clothing industry out in Paardeneiland - let's just say it's not surprising I frequently passed out, right on the altar.

I remember wondering why God would do that to me, because the humiliation was extreme. Every fourth Sunday ended with me being dragged from the altar by someone and having to sit outside in a breeze with my head between my legs.

Once I was feeling better I would run and hide in the car, to avoid all those who'd Seen.

Nobody ever seemed to have a problem with it either - the priest always gave one look of sheer and outright savage hatred as I was helped from his divine altar and not once did any priest ever try to help me as I keeled over.

Divine men like that obviously have no time for those more impure than themselves, and they couldn't bring themselves to touch my disgusting little corpse.

You would think a priest would at least feign concern over a swooning altar boy - these okes never missed a beat. I think they loathed me. Which is fair enough.

One day I stood up to the pressure and refused to carry on serving, and that was the start of my descent into unbridled evil. From then I never took religion as seriously as I used to and now I have a one-way ticket to hell for my efforts.

I don't mind, though - the further I end up away from priests, the better. Mind you - most of them are probably going to join me in hell, so an eternity of fires burning my flesh and demons raping my backside isn't looking quite as attractive as it was a minute ago.


All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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