My childhood might be considered a study in mediocrity. That is not to say that it lacked magical or beautiful moments, just that it was very commonplace. Only the excellent excel; the majority are by definition only average. The generation that grew up early in the decade of the 50‘s must have been the first to live with television. The situation comedies and commercials that served as my mental diet were certainly a recipe for mediocrity. Specifically, I did not learn a second language in my childhood, nor a musical instrument. Naturally we lived in the suburbs in a “tract” home with a big green lawn. But one of my teachers advises me to be thankful that I had good, decent parents who worked hard to create a nice home, and I was not abused. I was not especially strong, but neither was I constantly ill; I was not especially handsome, but neither was I ugly. I was not especially popular, but neither was I isolated. I did not excel in schoolwork, but did not fail either.
The one thing that was unusual was that I attended a Roman Catholic parochial elementary school which included a religion class several times a week. In that class I learned about mortal sin and the many ways one might commit a sin deserving of eternal hell. It may be considered extraordinary that when children like me learned that failure to attend Sunday Mass was a mortal sin, we seemed to accept the terrible consequences of that sin with a calm, matter-of-fact attitude, as though one were being sent to bed without dinner. No one in the class seemed to be disturbed by the thought of hell. But when I was 13 years old I said something that showed just how much I was disturbed.
I think that the Sacrament of Confirmation is administered a year or two too early to be meaningful. When I was 12 my main concern was to choose a “neat” Confirmation name. At the age of 13 or 14 the past life personality begins to show itself, according to most proponents of reincarnation. At that time something happened that was not ordinary and not mediocre.
I did not seem to be anxious, but very calm. I felt that God was listening. I slowly said the words, “A God who condemns anyone to eternal hell is not a loving God, but a cruel God. A cruel God is not worthy to be worshiped. Therefore I will not worship Him, even though I will go to eternal hell because of my refusal to worship Him.” And I really felt that I was now destined to go to hell.
Friedrich Nietzsche said that “God is dead, and we have killed him” because Darwin’s theory of evolution made a God unnecessary for the creation of the world. Without being unduly immodest I may say that my mental formula made God morally defunct. The Christian God was morally dead for me. That I could think such thoughts at 13 inclines me to believe that a beginning philosophy class should be offered to adolescents, for with the teenage years boys and girls start to ask real questions.