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I grew up on a long cul-de-sac, and was the only kid my age who went to public school. The rest of my friends went to Pinocchio school. The word "parochial" wasn't in my 7-year-old vocabulary, so I thought they'd said "Pinocchio school." They didn't play hooky like Pinocchio did, so I never got to test that donkey-ears yarn.
I vividly remember an encounter with religious discrimination. In the second grade, several of the kids were asking everyone: "Are you Cath-o-lick or are you Prodda-stin?" I had never heard these words before. The kids didn't like my answer; I had to be either Cath-o-lick or Prodda-stin.
And I was real bad for not knowing about God.
I didn't like this argument everyone was having; I wanted everybody to be friends. I yelled, "I hate God!" That's about how it felt, since this "God" fellow had started it all.
They said, "Ummm! He hates God!" and many of the kids stopped talking to me.
When I asked my parents, my Mom said something like, "We aren't any religion and we don't believe there's a God, but you can believe whatever you want." And I replied, "I'd rather go to the beach than go to church."
Later, one of my Catholic friends on the cul-de-sac taught me how to cross myself so I wouldn't "go to hail." I don't like cold, frozen rain, so I did what he said. He told me that "God is everywhere."
I said, "Is he in my hand?"
He said "Yup!"
"Is he in that tree?"
I looked on the ground and something strange occurred to me: I asked him, "Is he in that dog poop?"
He had to think about that one.
Soon after that, Mom started getting me books and toys about science and space. I learned about Galileo and Thomas Edison and John Glenn. This was probably the best thing that could have happened to me as a kid. The pursuit of knowledge kept me very, very busy. With my burning curiosity, I needn't depend on the loyalty of any group.
I still find this skill very useful in life.
See also: Growing Up An Atheist letter from Kevin H Stevenson
See also: Some Teachers Kind, Others Sadistic and Secretive letter from [name withheld]
Copyright ©1997 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon
(Modified from the original to clarify an ambiguous sentence.)