After coming home from my Catholic high school’s mandatory Mass, I felt as if I was doomed to Hell. Opening my catechism workbook to the Ten Commandments—the Christian’s checklist—I attempted to see how I measured up on Saint Peter’s scale, remembering that six out of ten is sixty percent and still passing.
1) “You shall not have any gods before me.” Okay. I think that I’m good on that one.
2) “No idolatry.” God doesn’t count Coach purses, does He?
3) “You shall not use my name in vain.” I cannot be held accountable for what I say during five o’clock traffic.
4) “Keep the Sabbath holy.” Sundays are made for sleeping in, aren’t they? Besides, sleeping is sort of holy. Who hasn’t said, “God, I need sleep.”
5) “Honor your father and mother.” Well, I plan on putting them in good retirement homes.
6) “You shall not murder.” People annoy me . . . but so far so good.
7) “You shall not commit adultery.” Don’t you have to at least be dating in order to commit adultery?
8) “You shall not steal.” I was four! I forgot it was in my hand, and it was only a domino from the church. Wait. . . I stole from the church. This does not bode well for me.
9) “You shall not lie.” What? Am I supposed to tell the parents that they have a baby that looks like the Pillsbury Dough boy with a yeast problem?
10) “You shall not covet.” Umm, have you seen the new spring line of Coach purses?
I count up the commandments I haven’t exactly “followed” . . . oh crap.
My soul hung in the nether land between Heaven and Hell. Stupidly, I asked my Baptist (very, very Baptist) friend what she thought. She said, with a haughtiness that I suddenly realized was quite befitting of her, “Pray more.” Thank you, genius child.
Surely, not all Christians felt so uncertain of their fates. My friend wasn’t. She was going to Heaven, unlike all of those dirty sinners. But I was a Southern Baptist who went to more Masses than revivals—I had no chance at feeling secure. When I wasn’t being told by the preacher that dancing, drinking, and pretty much any fun would send me straight to Hell, I was hearing from the priest and brothers at my Catholic high school that while I could confess all of that and be cleansed, not giving enough money to the poor or to the church’s coffers would render me to Satan’s fiery pit. Now, those were venial sins. Or were they mortal? Which was the one you could never come back from? Maybe that was my problem—I couldn’t remember which sin was which.
I could, however, remember all of the last 29 popes’ names and the dates that they served. That was important, right? That was, after all, what they were teaching me. Well, even if that wouldn’t help save my soul, I was sure that it would translate into a marketable skill.
It wasn’t until I actually opened the Bible (and, much to my relief, my skin didn’t burn with acidic bubbling upon touching the book) that I felt a little hope for myself. Perhaps I was mistaken regarding my spiritual fate. If these were the days of the Old Testament, I’d be doomed. Back then God was all into smiting. He was like Oprah: “You get a smiting! And you get a smiting! And you get a smiting!” But the New Testament was different. It was filled with love, forgiveness, hope—all of that mushy stuff. God was softer in the New Testament. I guessed that’s what having kids does to you.
Today, despite being freed from the shackles of mandatory Mass, I still worry whether or not I’m going to the place that has ambrosia or the place that has habitually overdone hot wings.
Admittedly, I have a preference. Notwithstanding, I’m worried that one day I’m going to step on an ant and my karmic scale will torpedo straight down into the danger zone (although, I swear that when they say that God created all creatures great and small, they didn’t mean ants; He couldn’t have created ants; ants shouldn’t count).
I can’t say who’s going where in the hereafter, but I will say that if my friend finds herself in Hell, she is going to be one ticked off Baptist and I pity the demons.