I’m an Atheist. I came by it honestly and it isn’t a measure of who I am or, what I am. It simply is.

The underlying reasons on why I became an Atheist is more complex — the struggle with theology, a higher being, meaning in life and the seemingly endless shit storm that comes regardless of which side of the religious spectrum you inhabit.

The Catholic church was once my calling. A elementary school, situated across a parking lot from the local parish and happenstance - the nuns would be preparing spaghetti Thursdays in the reception hall downstairs. The smell of garlic and meatballs — one of the most intoxicating aromas I could remember as an 8 year old.

Ideas about fundraisers and charity meant little as a rumbling tummy commanded the next few steps downstairs and through the big glass doors. Before me, laid out on long wooden tables were serving dishes filled with mounds of pasta, tangy sauces and heaps of buttery bread, pungent with garlic. Along another wall was a table filled with every pastry and cake one could imagine.

I stood there, mouth open, wondering what this was and how to get a plate of everything.

“Can I help you young man?” said the lady in the white and black headdress, giant cross hanging from her neck. She looked stern but had a kindness in her eyes that gave me comfort.

“I was walking past” I stammered “the smell is good, really good.”

She asked me if I was hungry. I nodded.

“Speak up. Do you have have any money?”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out an elastic and a quarter, holding it out for her to see in what I only just noticed was a rather dirty and unkempt hand.

“A quarter?” she exclaimed! “What’s your name?”

“John” I replied.

She took the quarter from my hand, put her hand on my shoulder and lead me over to the table filled with food.

“John is it?”

“yes m’am” I answered.

“Grab a plate and help yourself to anything you want.”

She placed the quarter back in my hand.

“You keep this for another day. Instead of money, you can help me out by taking away the empty dishes to the kitchen. Can you do that for me?”

I nodded enthusiastically, excited at the prospect of eating a feast and getting to help out. This was all very new.

Thursdays were set aside for the elderly and the poor. The nuns and the Italian ladies in the community would get together once a week to create a feast and once a week, I would make my way over after school to help and to get my fill of spaghetti and meatballs.

Great story, no? There is some tragedy in there, intertwined with some amazing moments and occasional clarity.

A couple of things to note. I rarely wanted to go home and, being an 8 year old in 1972 and choosing to simply disappear for hours on end didn’t seem suspicious to anyone. Dad wasn’t a great provider at the best of times and his girlfriend wasn’t terribly matriarchal — perhaps being that my brother and I weren’t hers and she had my half brother, all of a year, taking up most of her day.

There wasn’t much time spent on analyzing the situation. It just was. And one month lead to another, which lead to another and eventually I would head over to the church whenever I could. It felt safe and the nuns and priests always made me feel welcome.

It was the summer of 73 and I sat in the pews watching the choir practice. A couple of months had passed since my training as an altar boy and the once a week pasta run had turned into an almost daily ritual of me hanging out at the church. I think back to when it all started, or why but at some point they figured out I could sing and Kenneth McDowell, the music director, would become mentor and, friend…

If you had a chance to talk to my dad, he would say the proudest moment of his life was that Christmas eve, at midnight mass, as I lead the procession and sang Ave Maria at the top of my lungs, while Father Pucci and choir followed behind. It wasn’t a big deal. It was my calling — that’s what they told me. And I believed.

6 months later, we packed up and moved, again. I lost count (at the number of moves) by this point and realized life wasn’t going to be the same again, perhaps ever. It would take a complete novel to explain the next two years of living in what can only be described as poverty, in a small Nova Scotia town and will have to wait for another day.

I was now 11 and dad had shipped brother and myself back to Ontario to live with our grandparents. Jack and Grammy as they were affectionately referred spent a lot of time on and off again being our wards. Perception as a child is strange — much like truth versus fiction and I honestly never felt safer in my life than when living with them. It would be many years later that truths about them would shake me to the core but again, that’s a different novel for another time.

What’s interesting in all of this is that Jack was an elder at the very same church I had been spending my spaghetti eating days and was also in attendance on the night of my debut at midnight mass. Small world, right? Strangely, I either blocked it out or was never aware of his presence.

I started attending Sunday mass again, with Jack. Some days, I would be the altar boy of the day, assisting Father through mass and other days, I would be up in the balcony with the choir belting out religious anthems at the top of my lungs. Two or three times a week, Jack would drop me off at the church so I could take voice lessons with Kenneth, occasionally staying for dinner in the rectory, listening to the priests tell off color jokes, smoking heavily, drinking the sacramental wine while the nuns fussed over and waited on their every need.

Kenneth and I would become friends. We spent a great deal of time together and sometimes hours in his private studio with piano, running through scales and chords. He took me on my first road trip to Toronto where we checked out the sights, sounds and incredible smells of the infamous Young Street. It was the first time ever encountering homeless men. They tried to sell Kenneth a camera, which was no doubt stolen and when they couldn’t convince him to buy it — proceeded to verbally abuse him with strings of expletives while I stood there in amazement, taking it all in.

Weird how certain moments stand out. Fairly insignificant but also, perhaps a tell. He was meek and intimidated by these men and there is little doubt that a quieter, darker street would have meant a much different outcome. Even at my young age, I recognized the precarious nature of our encounter that day.

We never spoke of it again. The next few months would have him grooming me for the prestigious St. Michael’s Choir School. I wasn’t aware. The conversations were taking place without my knowledge. Grammy and Jack were presented with the option to have me attend and, as my aunt Louise would tell me — it was a big deal at the time. There was status and bragging rights in having a grand kid who would be going to this world renowned school.

Apparently, I had auditioned. In the heat of all the excitement that our tour of Toronto brought — the hour or so meeting in front of a burly, rather gruff looking priest — answering a few questions, running a few scales and breaking into a contemporary hymn was all that was needed. Well that and a substantial down payment by my grandparents to get the ball rolling.

Kenneth and I would have our last session together before I went off to St. Michaels that fall. I sat at the piano, next to him, as per usual and ran through scales and breathing exercises. His hand slipped onto my thigh and caressed up, until he was touching me, there. I froze. He kept his hand in place and looked at me…my mind was racing. “keep calm” I thought… “you know what this is.” Instinctively I jumped up. Blood rushed to my head and I backed away from him.

“What the fuck are you doing??” I yelled. He looked confused, almost scared, which fueled my courage.

“Don’t you ever fucking touch me like that again or, or — I’ll kill you!”

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you where that came from. It just happened. He sat there, solemn and contrite. There was no defense and he offered none. I almost felt sorry for him. Up until that point, he was always nice to me and our relationship was ruined and, in the 30 seconds or so that transpired, I felt the immediate regret in his decision that day.

A going away party was had at the church. The priests, nuns, choir members and even Kenneth were in attendance. My parting gifts were some special books — books generally reserved for much older men, those who might consider joining the seminary and choosing a life of devotion — to god. They were inscribed with inspirational messages from everyone as if they knew something I didn’t.

The next two years were a rough ride. Truth be known, in a different rectory, under different circumstances — today’s little blog may have been written by a man of the cloth. I very easily could have become a priest…

However, the hypocrisy of the teachings and the lifestyle witnessed, behind closed doors and, the actions of one music director made me question the validity of faith and those teachings forever.

I would eventually be asked to leave St. Michaels. My anger towards fellow students, teachers and even the priests running the school could no longer be tolerated.

My particular indignation at a home room teacher, younger than Kenneth, taking great pleasure in lining us up,beating us across the buttocks with a yard stick only infuriated me further, to the point where I actually threatened him. The French teacher who I berated constantly until she ran out of class, hands on face bawling, never to return. And finally, the temp coming into the circus with a care-free attitude, sitting cross-legged on desk, reading a book and paying us not much attention until I hit her square in the face with a spit-ball.

It was all too much for the administration. Their focus was on maintaining the integrity of one of the greatest choral schools in the world. Mine was now on anarchy.

Why tell you this short little story?

Kids are much smarter than we give them credit for. We should be doing our best to give them all the tools and information they need. And, we should respect their ability to understand and observe the world much more honestly than we do.

I’m watching a world where adults who are barely that, still holding onto what good childhood memories they have and thinking they’re somehow qualified to act in the best interest of those coming up behind them — are failing us. Reason has gone. You would think with all the access to information in this age of technology that we would be better.

We have a responsibility to teach them everything we’ve learned, everything we know. We have s responsibility to be honest with them about sex, sexual preference and the differences. We need to do it with respect, tolerance and understanding.

Today, I watch a bunch of would be adults bicker about the pitfalls of kids learning sex in school. They would prefer their kids not learn. They would prefer that old men in suits dictate the morality of your child in the form of prohibition. They (priests) stick to old guidelines that act on an idea that no information is good information. Fear is the great deterrent of the adolescent teen that may want to act on their sexual urges.

The establishment ignores how outdated ideas on sexuality and, demonizing sex actually has a counter effect, creating even more unhealthy curiosity. This combined with the outrageous hypocrisy of a group that can’t and won’t contain its predilection for perverse and criminal acts of depravity with children and you can see why there’s a serious disconnect.

Meanwhile, we’re normalizing pedophilia. And nobody seems to see it. We can’t even have a conversation about it. You hear about adults getting busted all the time with child pornography and the indignation gets a little quieter each and every time. Meanwhile, we have a group of over zealous adults that think we may be corrupting children by explaining the existence of Trans-gender or closing the gap for the LGBTQ community so that kids don’t have to feel isolated to the point where they can hurt themselves.

I was watching a new show on Netflix called “Life In Pieces” which is a fairly funny, quirky little show about family life. In the second episode, a scene which was supposed to be comedic - at the expense of normalizing pedophiles — shows just how little understanding adults seem to have or they’re woefully ignorant of just how prevalent the problem is.

To give context, a quick synopsis: The family is moving and they hire a moving company that puts ex cons back to work. The ex cons all wear whistles around their necks so that if they encounter anything that could make them act on their tendencies, they blow the whistle and someone comes to their rescue. First con blows his whistle because he’s next to the liquor cabinet full of booze — he’s a reformed alcoholic and they remove the booze and pack it away so he can’t see it. The next con comes across some prescription narcotics in a drawer and blows the whistle loudly to let everyone know he’s in peril…

It was truly cringe worthy in the next scene with con number three who comes across the young daughter who is 12, in the hallway. His eyes bulge out of his head and after a couple of seconds, puts whistle to mouth and blows half-hardheartedly while slowly backing up, never breaking eye contact.

Hollywood already has this stink to it with all the allegations. There’s also pizzagate where by some bizarre twist, the media has been able to explain it away even though the mountains of evidence surrounding the pedophile ring is impossible to ignore. Spirit cooking, retreats and ranches where millionaires hang out with young children, Haiti, Podesta and let’s not forget child actors now stepping forward to say they were molested or worse — and the majority of the world wants to ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist.

With 1.2 billion catholics in the world, makes me wonder if the risk of acknowledging the problem would cause too much damage to the integrity of the catholic faith or maybe it’s even more nefarious and everyone is complicit because it runs deeper than those of us on the outside think?

No sense of getting into conjecture. I can only go by what I know personally. The catholic church is set up so you can do just about anything you want for 6 days out of the week and as long as you go and confess on Sunday, you can start the whole cycle over again. My grandfather was an alcoholic with a prolific collection of porn magazines in his closet. My father continued in the tradition and had a substantial collection of porn in his closet which included a projector and stacks of movies of hardcore porn — which I started watching at 13. My ideas on sex were anything but healthy at that age and in fact, I would suggest only in the past 10 years or so have I been able to shed my misogynistic ways and belief that women served only as a means to satisfy men.

And since I’m being so honest, being raised in a catholic household where faith in god was paramount and being cleansed of your sins was important if you didn’t want to go to hell…

I’m sitting here thinking about how damaging some pockets of my life were and how in all these years I’ve never had the courage to talk about or even write down these experiences. My cousin, who was raised as my aunt, by my grandparents, because at the time, the idea that their daughter could be with child, out of wedlock was simply too much shame in a catholic home. They shipped her (their 15 year old daughter)off and my grandmother simply pretended, for the outside world, that the child, my cousin, was hers.

She was two years my junior. When I was 12, she performed her first satanic circle in the basement. The salt, the pentagram and some other artifacts. Without the internet at the time, I’m not even sure how she figured this shit out. She used to talk to imaginary figures behind closed doors…and, when it amused her, she would taunt both my brother and myself with her sexuality. We didn’t understand, at least I didn’t, what was going on. There seemed to be a control aspect to it as she would tempt us with touching and simulated sex. I had never seen sex. I’m sure my brother had never either. But I think we both had an idea. It’s just not something I was ready for or could comprehend but she would compel us to do what she wanted. To disobey would result in her making wild accusations — often telling my grandparents that I beat or swore at her. This would always result in, regardless of my pleading innocence — a beating of my own.

I remember my grandfather giving me the belt and telling me it hurt him more — as I stared at him through the tears, all I could think of was he took her word over mine. After a few times, I learned to just fall in line and if I couldn’t avoid her, do as she told me to. My memories still so fresh, I must refrain from any more details as they are painful and terribly perverse and would do nothing to further the narrative.

As an Atheist, I no longer believe in god. That said, I believe there are evil forces working in this world. It goes to why I am so mired in conspiracy and why I have a distrust of the establishment. There is little doubt in my mind that the catholic church is an organisation, whether intentional or not, that creates monsters. Nobody will ever convince me that the number of catholic priests who molest and rape little boys (and girls) are statistically within acceptable norms. And, we have to wonder just how prolific pedophilia really is and, what creates it.

We’re all connected. On a sub atomic level, I believe that we all have a connection, spiritually. Perhaps this is what god is. In its purest form. Religion, with its rules that seem to be put in place as a guidebook for all the most heinous of things humans can do but may not have thought of — all laid out in great detail to be passed on from generation to generation.

Maybe we’re all lost because of this. I know that as of tonight, I’m no further ahead in understanding why the world is such an awful place. Why people are killing each other, hating each other, abusing, raping, hurting and lying.

Tonight, I sit here, profoundly saddened that I’m mostly powerless to change the world we live in and that my honesty on this page may help a few but will also anger others and, if by some chance my family reads this — cause some discomfort and pain to them.

But I can’t carry it anymore. I won’t carry it. We need to stop normalizing evil behaviour. We need to recognize the human condition. We need to accept that ancient books preaching salvation are doctrines devised to divide and conquer us a human beings.

This started out as a piece on the catholic church, public funding and their right to abolish sex ed…I’m not even sure what just transpired here tonight.

If you feel like weighing in — good or bad, I’d love to hear from you.

Pushing Buttons. It’s What I Do.