Pew, that was a lucky escape


Pew, that was a lucky escape

WEEK one, Planetshakers. Week two, the Quakers. Week three, and in the final instalment of my interrogating-reality triptych, I sat through Sunday Mass on the same pew I grew up on at my childhood parish. But this time with my atheist sons. How did they become atheists? That’s the way they were born.

Entering the cathedral of misogyny, deception, manipulation, chauvinism, hypocrisy and bigotry, all wrapped up in “If you don’t swallow this hook, line and sinker you’re going to hell”, felt like coming home. I’m not bitter, just being descriptive and honest. Going back was fabulous because it reminded me I’d escaped.

Under the same roof where I’d been baptised, confirmed and brainwashed, my six-year-old asked: “Where’s the Pope?” I laughed. Until the 11-year-old said: “Here he comes.”

The priest, obviously drawn by the unusual sight of new people, approached us to welcome us to his flock. I shot out my hand. “Hi, I’m Catherine.”

All the blood drained from his face. “You’re that writer?” “Yes,” I replied. I happily introduced my sons, who, in an uncharacteristic display of manners, shook the priest’s hand and said, “Nice to meet you.” The priest wandered off in a daze. Or was it a trance? Maybe it was religious melancholy.

After surveying the ”good news” of carnage and damnation on the wall, the 11-year-old asked what a virgin was. I explained. Then he said, “Is there something wrong with sex?”

When I was four, one of the girls from a ”good” family who sat two pews in front of us got pregnant. She was 15. She married on a Saturday afternoon wearing an orange kaftan. She wasn’t allowed to wear white because she wasn’t ”a bride”. The poor girl was being shamed and made an example for the rest of us.

On the way home from the wedding I remember Dad saying to Mum: “I feel for her father.” I remember wanting to jump over the front seat and ram my father’s head into the windscreen.

In the ’70s this building – so groovy it could have been designed by the dad from The Brady Bunch – was Rock Mass Central. The breeding baby boomers had the place packed with little Gerards, Damians and Bernadettes singing along to Sister Janet Mead. The sad little crowd last Sunday was mostly made up of defeated-looking nannas who could whip up a pav at the drop of a crochet hook, plus a handful of Asians.

Mass had the feeling of a miserable couple married for 40 years just going through the motions; passionless, soulless and loveless. Too late to back out now.

The priest said there would be no “sign of peace” because of swine flu and instead of shaking hands we should just nod to each other. I couldn’t help drawing a comparison with the Vatican’s refusal to endorse the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa. Who cares if we lose a couple of golliwogs, but we can’t have white people getting the sniffles.

Time for Communion, when bread and wine is turned into the actual flesh and blood of Christ by the priest. Because he’s special. They call it transubstantiation; I call it bullshit. The congregation lines up and shares in this ”celebration”, as long as you’ve officially been given the nod via a bizarre bridal ceremony around the age of 10 known as ”first Communion”.

As we lined up, I thought about priests refusing gay people Communion, which is hilariously hypocritical when you consider the amount of hanky-panky some priests get up to. And that’s just the stuff we know about. There’s a list of things that exclude people from receiving Communion, including “not believing in transubstantiation, participating in an abortion, homosexual acts, sexual intercourse outside marriage and deliberately engaging in impure thoughts”.

When it was my turn the priest picked up a wafer and said: “The body of Christ.” The expected response is “Amen”. Instead, I said: “I have three children and have never been married. I’ve used contraception, had an abortion, use the Lord’s name in vain, think transubstantiation is a crock and I’m an atheist. And I’m not sorry.”

Actually, I didn’t say that. I wanted to, but I felt sorry for the priest. He looked tired and worn out. I thought of Dan Barker, the former evangelical preacher who is now one of America’s leading atheists and who is gathering the names of atheist clergymen and women who only stay in their jobs because they don’t know how to do anything else. Hell is truth seen too late.

Catherine Deveny and Daniel Burt appear in An Evening of Insight and Filth at the Butterfly Club, South Melbourne, until Sunday.


6 thoughts on “Pew, that was a lucky escape

  1. I’m beginning to think this is an atheistic refrain: “I’m not bitter, just being descriptive and honest.” The whole piece drips with bitterness… not very attractive.


  2. There is no doubt that some people who have discarded the Christian yoke are bitter. They are bitter because they were lied to and indoctrinated by people who were close to them. But having discarded the yoke, the relief is so tremendous that the bitterness is easily handled. To be able to think for yourself and not follow the doctrine dreamt up by an ancient goat-herding tribe, is like being in the proverbial heaven. To be able to see Nature through the science window and to reject the creationist pseudo-science doctrines is sublime.


  3. By all mean, enjoy your sublime earthly heaven, bitterness and all – it’s all you got! The truth of non-truth is sweet, indeed!

    More empathetically, I certainly understand coming out of deception (perceived or otherwise) – it can be a tough and emotional ride. I was indoctrinated in humanism all through tax-payer government school – so I’ve been there. My perception is that apostate Christians turned atheist too often cannot help but engage in attempting to say the most outrageous things, to belch up offensive odors, and drag their erstwhile holy things through the proverbial poop. The article above is classic in this respect.

    Don’t you think it’d be far more attractive to say something like, “Hey, we were deceived back then. Here’s how and here’s how we’re better off today. Come join us!” It appears that too many writing atheists seem to have a great propensity for shock and little or no appreciation for kindness, beauty, or manners. Again, not too attractive.

    Maybe I’m just reading the wrong folks. I’ll take direction on that score, if you’ll offer some.


  4. “Maybe I’m just reading the wrong folks. I’ll take direction on that score, if you’ll offer some.”

    A very good book to begin with, I think, is Edward O Wilson’s, “Consilience”. He is a biologist and a world authority on ants and has won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction twice. He describes his drifting away from his church as follows:

    “But most of all, Baptist theology made no provision for Evolution. The biblical authors had missed the most important revelation of all! Could it be that they were not really privy to the thoughts of God? Might the pastors of my childhood, good and loving men though they were, be mistaken? It was all too much and freedom was ever so sweet. I drifted away from the church, not definitely agnostic or atheistic, just Baptist no more.”

    You should find chapter 11, “Ethics and Religion”, quite revealing.
    Although Wilson’s book covers much more than what we’ve been debating, you’ll find him a very original thinker.

    The best book to read covering our debate is “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. But I see you guys have labelled him a “militant atheist” (whatever that means) so the book would probably be unacceptable to you.


  5. I have no problem with militant atheism, as such. That wouldn’t cause me to write anyone off. I’m familiar with Dawkins’s book (though I’ve not read it). His God Delusion was rebuffed by one of my favorite pastors, Douglas Wilson in The Odd Delusion (if I recall). Wilson is the same chap who’s debated Christopher Hitchens a few time on the east coast. They’ve put together a movie called Collision ( – the one I made mention of before.

    Thanks for the ideas on things to read.


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