I had the ancient privilege, and the misfortune, of attending Catholic school from the 1st through the 9th grade. They taught good penmanship, but they also conditioned us with some pretty convoluted religious ideas, and force-fed us an irrational, and unquestioning subjugation to their own ‘spiritual’ authority. It never did sit well with me, and, consequently, I was in trouble with those same authorities for most of the nine years I spent under their influence. Many years later, wanting our first son to have some religious training, but not Catholic, my wife and I enrolled him in a K thru 6th Protestant school. Like his father before him, he was not particularly compatible with that kind of structure either. You’d think I might have figured that out before the fact. I eventually did, when one day, having felt offended by the Senior Pastor of the church, my son hauled off and punched him in the stomach. I’ve got to applaud him for taking the direct approach in communicating his displeasure. Had I done the same thing early on in my education I might have saved myself the grief of all those succeeding years.
Even as a young boy, back at Sacred Heart grammar school it became quite apparent to me that the primary goal of the institution was simply to scare the hell out of all of us. Doctrine and theology conspired together towards that end, as did the priests and nuns. But it was the air raid drills more than anything else that conditioned us to believe that our days were numbered on this earth, and we goddamned better be good.
It went like this. Once a week, when we least expected it, the principle would sound an alarm, which meant that the Russians were on their way to drop an atomic bomb on our school. And they were probably already overhead. One student had been pre-assigned to quickly get up and close the blinds. Another to cut the lights. Didn’t want the pilot to be able to zero in on our particular classroom, serious threat that my classmates were to the Russians and all. The rest of us cowered under our desks, covered our heads with our arms for protection, and said a silent Act of Contrition so that if we died we’d be ushered directly into heaven. No stopping in Purgatory, no having to defend ourselves at the Gate. The prayer would get us in with full cart blanch. And without having to stand in line for confession.
I’m not making this up.
I’m not nearly that imaginative.
Anyway, this conditioning pretty much had me believing there was really nothing to live for, or to work towards. If the devil didn’t get me, the Russians would. Consequently I didn’t plan much for the future. Took it day by day. Found my way slowly, through the dark and muddled landscape of adolescence, and on into the 60’s, the Maze of Aquarius. Made my way without a compass or a guide.
Then Viet Nam became that Russian bomber, in the sense that it was now looming off in the distance, the near distance, like that very same atomic threat, targeting (through the draft) the demographic most vulnerable to that insidious hand of fate. What better way to cull the herd of all the independent souls, free thinkers, long hairs, rebels, and kids that didn’t want to, or couldn’t afford to, attend the country club colleges and governmental institutions of ‘higher learning’. Send them off to the jungles of Viet Nam to try and shoot down that Communist plane that was intending to drop that atomic bomb on that little Catholic classroom back in Covina, Calif.
Those that the jungle didn’t kill we could lock up in mental hospitals, VA hospitals and prisons. Or send them out to live under bridges. At least they’d be out of the way, and we could get on with the business of cultivating a population of followers, mass consumers of corporate theology, and satiated appreciators of all that business, and the government, gives us.
Religion keeps us focused on the end times, and the after-life.
Keeps us worshiping Jesus, looking for his impending return to save us from an ever-increasing climate of violence, confusion, social upheaval and unbelief. The government makes us afraid of our own neighbors, afraid of expressing a dissenting perspective, afraid of being cut off from the trough, afraid of the weather, afraid of imminent shortages of every kind. Gas, food, water, glaciers, medication, coca cola. Religion and government have proven to be remarkable partners in this doctrine of fear. As I look around the country today I’d say it’s been a pretty successful game plan.
Just like back at Sacred Heart School.