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Sep 26, 2012

The Toilet Incident

I’ve been invited to blog here because I participate in an online debate group (“Atheism vs. Christianity") with some of the other contributors (I love those guys!). Since atheism is why I am here, I thought I'd tell the story of how I first knew I am an atheist. It remains one of my proudest moments, partly because I came to this conclusion at a younger age than anyone I've met so far, and mostly because it involved the innovative use of a toilet.

Until the Toilet Incident I had mostly learned about God from the mean streets of the relatively affluent middle class North Vancouver, Canada (see Diagram 1). Oh sure, we said the Lord’s Prayer every morning at school, but I would only mouth random syllables while wondering what “forgive us this day our daily bread” meant. To my untrained ears, the Lord’s Prayer was incoherent gibberish, most likely part of another plot by adults to get me to eat onions. At home my church-learning was limited to my Dad's terrifying stories about the nuns who lived down the block from where he lived when he was young – there were rumours that they sank dead bodies in the lake behind their church. No, I mostly learned most of what I knew about God and Jesus from the seven year old girl next door. She modeled her life upon The Lucy Show, a zany sitcom of the day. Her choice in role models had the effect of making her seem loud and drunk all the time. As a result of her teachings, I placed God into the same category as Cap’n Crunch in my pre-Toilet Incident pantheon of supernatural beings – secondary cartoon characters who come with a prize of some sort, except Cap’n Crunch cereal came with better prizes. Christianity sounded a lot to me like getting socks for your birthday. I thought of myself as “Jungle Boy,” and my valuable time was better spent climbing the endless tree.

If you look really close, you can see me
Diagram 1 - The Toilet Incident took place down and to the left
I should have become suspicious when my mother took me to buy a suit. Shopping excursions to buy clothes I didn't want of usually foreshadowed something bad, like visits to unidentified old ladies with their airless musky apartments heaped with doilies and sticky clumps of candy in dainty glass bowls. It’s been a long time since the Toilet Incident, but I believe it must have been a three piece suit since it restricted my movements to the maximum degree. I squirmed mightily as the adults extorted me into putting it on. The suit nearly burned my flesh. My mother didn’t seem to realize who I really was - I was the rugged (past tense of “to rug”) outdoor seven year old Jungle Boy who was not going to be caught up in any Rat Race or work for The Man. No suits, no ties, no service was my philosophy – I was my own steely-eyed self-made boy. I was practically the Marlboro Boy (see Diagram 2).


Of course she bought it anyway. On top of that, she told me I had to keep the suit clean! Oh no, not clean! All of my pants had patches upon patches, covering the alternately bleeding and scabby knees underneath. I looked like I was wearing camouflage from all the grass stains I had. I never had a wristwatch that lasted more than half an hour, meaning I got dumb, useless watches as presents every birthday and every Christmas. Wrist watches and socks. Keeping a suit clean was too much responsibility, too much guilt for a proven clothes abuser like me. I protested the suit bitterly, but to no avail. Worst of all, she then gave it a name – it was now to be referred to as my “Good Suit." The Good Suit also had an evil assistant, the Good Shoes, and a sinister buttoned white shirt with cufflinks – I was a buttons man – who lurked underneath. I’d like to publicly apologize to The Good Suit et al here and now because I’ve realized from writing this account that it saved my life.


Diagram 2 - The author at age 7

I’d also ike to mention in passing that The Good Suit was featured in another important incident involving a train, a bursting bladder, a conductor who didn’t answer the buzzer to bring the ladder to let a sharply dressed yet short child with bladder troubles down quickly enough, the same sharply-dressed yet plummeting child, and a looming, lurching elderly woman who fainted when said sharply dressed short and now plummeting child with bladder troubles sailed past her lower bunk, soiling itself (the child, not the bunk or the looming lurching elderly woman) in mid-flight. Since it involved the same Good Suit and another toilet (more precisely, the lack of one) I thought it was worth mentioning.



The bad event foreshadowed by the acquisition of the Good Suit turned out to be an activity called “Sunday School.” According to a recent interview with my father, my young mother had decided that our family needed to attend church because she wanted to impress the chain smoking matriarch who lived next door (opposite to the seven year old alcoholic girl who taught me about God), and she happened to be a member of the church executive. I was not consulted about this decision. I was generally kept in the dark as a time-saving device, otherwise we all would have died of starvation while waiting for me to conduct a thorough investigation (i.e. where are we going, why are we going, why can’t I stay here and play in the woods, why are we going when I don’t want to go, why do I have to go, why are you making me go, etc.). So Jungle Boy found himself unceremoniously yanked from his beloved “woods” (strike one for Sunday school) to waste valuable tree-climbing time in what seemed like an eerie kindergarten covered with spooky looking children’s drawings, listening to a suspicious looking lady (the type that would likely try to feed me onions) drone on about shepherds (Jungle Boy would not be herding any sheep under any circumstances), while intermittently requiring us to sing along to hideous and unauthorized songs.



I was very particular about music in those days, and would only permit authorized songs in my presence, mostly the ones that could be found on the soundtrack to “Mary Poppins,” as sung only by the original movie cast. My father reports that I would put my fingers in my ears and shriek “stop singing!” whenever anyone dared to warble a note in my presence. When I was even younger I refused to participate in music class at kindergarten because I could not tolerate the infantile songs the others were singing. My more mature and sophisticated songs (songs like “Laugh Laugh Laugh at the Neck of a Giraffe”) were infinitely superior. I may have been a junior apprentice music snob, but at least my standards (unlike my possibly tone-deaf peers) were above singing along with an operatic (yuk!) onion-scheming Sunday School lady warbling embarrassing church songs (click here to listen to actual recording of Sunday School lady singing). I mention my musical tastes in order to give a proper perspective of my suffering. Strike two for Sunday school.

Then the Sunday School lady revealed a few things about Jesus that the alcoholic seven year old neighbour girl hadn’t. The odds were just about zero that I was going believe other people could see things that I couldn’t (e.g. angels or flying babies with bows and arrows), or have special powers that I didn’t (e.g. shooting bows and arrows while flying), probably because I was a complete narcissist. When she told us there was going to be a Second Coming, however, my interest was momentarily piqued - maybe there was going to be a job opening. I reasoned that if I kept up my current pace (cute, smart, athletic, and super good - even my Mom said so) I would eventually be a shoo-in for the vacant position of Son of God, Part 2. This fantasy lasted all of ten minutes. What did my Mom know about how good I am? After all, she was the one who kept spitting on Kleenex and rubbing my face "clean" when washrooms weren’t convenient. Maybe I might not get the job as Jesus II - surely she could not be considered to be a credible judge of my character if she thought spitting on me was good. Besides, my incumbent Dad was awesome, any change in that department could be disastrous. I didn’t really want to be God’s son after all. Then when I realized that meant I wasn’t going to ever get super powers like God, I lost all interest. Strike three for Sunday school, how do I get out?

Half an hour into my first indoctrination session, and I already officially hated Sunday School. I thought the idea of God was “retarded” (one of my two cuss words at the time. The other one was “gob” – as in, “to spit in a confrontational manner.” Being small, I was not much of a gobber). As the morning progressed and Sunday School lady coughed up more info on Jesus, she told us the worst possible thing they could possibly have told me, even worse than if they had told me that Jesus did cover versions of Mary Poppins songs: Jesus used to be dead.

Diagram 3 - Creepy Dead Child

I need to make a confession here: despite my Christ-like qualities mentioned above, I wasn't perfect. I had certain weaknesses. The main one was a paralytic fear of death. The mere mention of death would be reduce me to a quivering heap of whimpering protoplasm. As an illustration, I used to run from the room whenever a Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon (see Diagram 3) came on TV. To put this in perspective – it was a cartoon, I was a child, and cartoons are normally like catnip for children, but I was too afraid to watch a cartoon because the main character was freaking dead! I didn’t give an airborne fornication whether Casper was friendly or not, I wouldn’t watch his show because I was pretty sure that thinking about death caused death. Imagine, then, how impressed I was when they told me in Sunday School that Jesus not only died in a gory fashion, but after a few days he got up and walked around, undoubtedly infecting everyone with his deadness! In fact, I was probably going to catch deadness just from hearing this stuff from the Sunday School lady; didn’t these people have any concern for my safety? Not only that, they had illustrated books (see Diagram 4, an illustration from my actual Sunday School book) showing dead Jesus with other dead people! I’ve since discovered that many other adults also experienced childhood Bible book illustration trauma; for instance my M'Lady (see Diagram 5) was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness (“Joho” as she calls them) and remembers in particular being frightened by a book that had a lurid drawing of people jumping out of skyscrapers to avoid Armageddon (I have no idea how that would help). It was highly suspicious that the other children were taking all this death discussion silently, maybe they knew something I didn’t (maybe they were promised super powers), or didn’t know something I did (that death is contagious), but I sure as Hell (not a convincing phrase coming from an atheist, I know) wasn’t going to tolerate unsanctioned activities like Sunday School. Good thing I never had to endure church again after that excruciating day.



Diagram 4 - Creepy Dead Adults
Wrong. Turned out it was called “Sunday School” because they repeated the procedure every Sunday. Since I was the type of kid who would obliviously eat cucumbers if they came in the form of dill pickles (which came from the dill pickle plant, obviously), but you could put a gun to my head and I would still not eat a cucumber, it meant I was probably incapable of figuring out without help that the adjective “Sunday” implied that Sunday School was a reoccurring event. My policy was "unpleasant things cease to exist when I stopped thinking about them." So it was again without warning (my mother’s strategy when getting me to go anywhere - in her defense I was an idiot) I found myself once again being tricked into going to that same little adjunct to the main church where the grownups and big kids went and sang really hideous music really loud, with the same Sunday School lady, trapped with my suspiciously docile peers. I accepted that I had to sit in a classroom five days a week in regular school (which I liked anyway, if only for the babes), but I didn't see how anyone had the right to confine me to a classroom on a weekend without my explicit written consent. If only I had an attorney, or knew what an attorney was. But I was seven, invisible (I couldn’t even see over a counter yet), voiceless (I suppose with my two cuss words I could have said “Sunday School is so retarded I’m going to gob as soon as possible"), helpless. Who was going to heed my silent scream?

It pretty much had to be my mother. She was my corporate owner, and she was the President while my father was the Vice-President. During a recent interview about his role in sending me to Sunday School my father maintains that he “stayed out of it.” I was also shocked that he doesn’t remember The Toilet Incident. It’s probably because he has his own childhood church trauma to cope with, what with constantly having to avoid murderous nuns.



Diagram 5 - M'Lady (Self Portrait)
Unfortunately, there were no major innovations in Sunday School technology during the intervening week. It was more of the same talk about dead guys running around while lecturing others to follow their really boring rules (couldn't Jesus have better rules, like "thou shalt eat birthday cakes every day"?). More claims that people with wings can be seen flying around, singing and playing harps. Bah! I regularly watched cartoons about knives and forks and plates singing and dancing that made more sense than Christianity. It was summer and it rains here 493 days a year ... what was I doing inside? There were frogs to catch! Snakes to annoy! I learned the hard way what Einstein meant when he said “when a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.” But a minute on a hot stove was like an hour with a pretty girl compared to a morning of Sunday School. Despite all odds, I survived Week 2 of Sunday School. I could not possibly survive a third week.



I don’t remember the events leading up to Week 3. I don’t know if I told my mother I didn’t want to go to church anymore. I’m not sure if I plotted an escape. I could have been in a coma for all I know, or in jail. I think I most likely had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I do know that by the time the next Sunday came around I had contracted an advanced case of Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This time I could tell it was Sunday because the dreaded Good Suit was laid out on my bed, next to the Good Shoes. I was about to become the first human to actually die of boredom. In the words of Bugs Bunny, I was too young to die. I mournfully put on the Good Suit, a dead man dressing, and then I dead man walked down the hall to the stairs, resigned to the fact that these were my final moments on earth. Down the stairs to the main floor, past the bathroom (which consisted of a skin-toned sink and a skin-toned toilet – hangover pink Caucasian skin - see Diagram 6), where I slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. I knew I was about to eat the first of several of what I thought were my Last Meals (the next one came during the teenage epoch – don’t ask). My spoon weighed like a fork as I feebly lifted my Cap’n Crunch cereal to my mouth. It tasted like sugary pulp. Then again, it always did. Symbolically, on that day life was more pulp than sugar. On that day even the best prize of the entire cereal box family, the Cap’n Crunch prize, couldn’t cheer me up for the several nanoseconds that it usually did. After sadly wolfing down my breakfast it was time to proceed to the car.

Past the bathroom again, towards the front door. The toilet beckoned, but I instinctively figured I would wait until the most inconvenient time possible to relieve myself, as any sane child would do. Past the bathroom to the front door. No doubt my mother gobbed on a comb to straighten my long-lost hair along the way. Out the door to the family car parked in the driveway. It was a long white station wagon with fake wooden panels on the sides – the “Country Squire.” It looked like a cheesy Hearse, and felt like one that morning. I was about to climb in when it became apparent that I simply couldn’t wait for a more inconvenient time to pee (the technical term our family used was “going tinkles”; alternatively I could have been “going tinkies”). I went back into the house. No one had to unlock the door for me because we never locked the house. Down the hall to the bathroom.



Diagram 6 - Hangover pink Caucasian skin-toned Toilet
I managed to avoid the usual major peeing tragedies that befall all little boys from time to time: penis caught in zipper, urination sequence commencing prior to penis being freed from pants, pants on backwards (another long story), poor aim during target practice. I tinkled gracefully, resplendent in my Good Suit and its evil sidekicks, but completely out of answers. Curse my fate! Mother Mary, Sheila as well (this was a phrase my looming lurching in-house grandmother would mutter whenever she was exasperated; I learned years later she was really saying “Mother Mary shield us well,” and in retrospect she was usually asking Mary to shield her from me. For many years I wondered who was this Sheila and where did she fit into the Christian pantheon).

Then it hit me – the toilet would be my Savior. Archimedes had his eureka moment while bathing in his tub, I had mine while going tinkles in a toilet. I had to act quickly to implement my plan. First step, flush the tinkles down the toilet (I was desperate, not stupid). Next, fidget impatiently until toilet noise stops. Finally, hop into the freshly filled toilet while wearing Good Suit, Good Shoes, and sinister buttoned shirt with dorky cuff links. In I jumped! My Good Suit was drenched, the Good Shoes were filled with water. Checkmate! There was no chance my mother would ever send me to church wearing patched pants with legs that stopped at the top of my ankles. It was either I wear the Good Suit or stay home.



I walked out to the car, drenched. I was ready to plead insanity, but to my astonishment my clever plan worked. My mother got the message immediately. I never got yelled at, or even questioned. Not only did I get to stay home, so did our entire family. Forever. The religious activity in our house was reduced to my looming lurching in-house Grandma invoking Mary and Sheila. My Mom, Dad, sister, and family dog all became (or remained) atheists (my younger brother, a toddler at the time of the Toilet Incident, eventually became an Urantian, which is a combination of Christianity and space aliens). In my developing superegotistical mind, my heroic act of bathroom strategy freed my family from the God Delusion (unless me and Richard Dawkins are sadly mistaken about God being a delusion, in which case God is already busy torturing my unbelieving mother for all eternity in the afterlife and will do the same to the rest of us soon enough. Sorry Mom.).



So I've come to realize at a relatively young age that I’m an atheist because I’m basically an idiot with good instincts, as opposed to being a sensible person with bad instincts. Also, in the process of writing this account I realize I need to review my thinking on two issues:

  1. Maybe I should rethink my aversion to suits. 
  2. Maybe I’m an atheist out of jealousy.
The moment someone provides valid evidence that God exists I promise I'll look into it.

4 comments:

Shripathi Kamath said...

Welcome, Neil.

rappoccio said...

Good post! Welcome aboard Neil!

Shripathi Kamath said...

Fornicating A! Way to start it off, Neil.

Bretta said...

Neil, I haven't finished reading it, but I like it so far!