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Assignment Description: Topic: Childhood Memories.
My specific approach: Childhood & Activism. 1,150 words, approx.

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Asking Questions in Church
By michelle

It's hard to trace one's beginnings as an activist, but there is an episode in my childhood which could be considered a good example of how things got started.

When I was 10, my mum asked me if I wanted to spend a year abroad, to learn English. The options were a boarding school in England (I'd never survive there!) and… Australia! I ran to our atlas and looked up the biggest island in the world! I saw pictures of kangaroos and aborigines, with their amazing boomerangs. I daydreamed of living in a hut, of building a tree house and of traveling in kangaroo pouches, or perhaps on their backs, depending on their actual size! My answer was unflinching. I found the best wooden stick Spanish soil could produce – I'd change it for a boomerang in some kind of welcome ritual, I presumed – and packed my basics.

Apparently, in Australia there weren't any aborigines. Just huge and fleshy red flowers in bright green trees and neat houses with trimmed backyards. My house had wall-to-wall carpeting, a sewing machine, cinnamon toast, a parakeet, a cat and 42 Nancy Drew books. The music which was playing when I arrived was "The Entertainer" [Scott Joplin's rag used in the Paul Newman – Robert Redford movie "The Sting"]. Cool, sure, but that was not the kind of adventure I was hoping to jump onto.

The woman who was going to look after me was a Catholic – a real Catholic, not like many Catholics in Spain, which are mostly atheists. She expected an obedient girl wearing a golden medal of some Spanish saint. However, when she first saw me, I was being dragged out of the plane by a pissed-off airhostess. I had taken off my woolly pants in Singapore because it was boiling hot – in Madrid it had been snowing! – and I thought that my upper clothing item would do as a dress. My suitcase, my pants and I were completely soaked in stinky anti-lice lotion. My uncle had instructed me as follows: "The moment the plane lands, pour this magic green liquid all over you and your things. It'll protect you from cannibals for a year". And that was exactly what I had done. The problem was that people started puking and the plane became an unbearable place to be in. Everybody hated me. But I was a little girl on my own in exotic and dangerous lands and I had to take care of myself. Would they rather have me simmering in a pot?

Actually, I almost simmered… in Hell! It was the first time in my life I was going to study in a religious school. We were forced to go to church on Fridays, and we had to confess our sins. I got some briefings on sins, but I kept having tons of questions about them. Then we had to do the same two days later, on Sunday. I was mostly argumentative about confessing twice a week. In my view, I couldn't possibly get enough time in two days to commit sins, so why should I go to church again? I had things to do at the weekend! I was accused of arrogance, which was another sin. I felt rather bewildered by all that sin system which suddenly entered my life. I was told I could not be argumentative. I was expected to obey, without making questions, i.e. blindly! Faith was like that – being good implied forgetting about using your intelligence. It implied believing things which were completely crazy. Belief was contrary to imagination and reasoning. I was a bad girl. I was a sinner. And sinners have no rights ("Don't you talk back!").

I was ten, so they did make me doubt. Everybody seemed to agree. People thought I was a bad girl because I kept explaining – explaining my views about not being able to sin so much, about how absurd it was to go to mass twice in just 3 days, and also about God's views, yes!, because I was sure God wouldn't be angry at me, even if I never went to church, because I had never been to church before and God seemed to be all right about it.

Things did get pretty complicated. At every mass the priest told an amazing story called a "sermon." It was the best part of a deadly boring and kind of robotic event. I've always been irrepressively spontaneous and extremely well-mannered, so whenever I had a question or comment, I'd stretch my arm high up in the air and voice it. I did so in three (tragic) occasions. The first time was when the priest told us the story of Adam and Eve and the apple. Eve had been curious about learning, which I thought was smart, and then had shared a delicious apple with Adam, which was really kind of her. But what did she get in return? A demented violent God criminalizing her for that, and kicking both of them out of paradise as punishment! God seemed to have a hell of a character! "Excuse me... Sharing your stuff is good. My mum always tells me. It was not Eve there who was misbehaving!" I can't remember what happened next. But I remember a second occasion. The question was about Noah, the guy who didn't love God that much because when God asked him to do something positively unfair, he went ahead and obeyed blindly, instead of helping his Father to become a better ruler: "Gee, that was cruel!!! How could he pick two animals of each species?" meaning "if they were all innocent."

My third (unconscious) and final action at mass was viewed as the unquestionable signal that I had the devil inside me, and cost me a series of months of being terrified into beatitude. "If hell existed, my mum would have told me," I defended myself at the beginning. But they had resources. They brainwashed me into salvation and eventually all my hopes focused on the possibility I might be a prospective saint because some saints had been bad girls before. That third interruption of the sermon was when the priest told us the story of the multiplication of the fish. I burst out laughing and exclaimed, "Oh my! I can't believe that!"

It's always been like that since then – when you use rational thinking, a great alternative to violence, people understand you are using aggression. Ah, such a pity of a species, wasting its intelligence away. If God existed, it'd surely make that a sin!

Emma Dimock shows us how to eat a real apple from a real tree!

Picture from this website (2005)