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In 2000, after 18 months of depression and soul-searching, with a healthy does of religious reading thrown in, I came out of the closet… as an atheist. I did it at an AA meeting. My friends looked at me like I said I was a baby-killer. The woman next to me shifted her chair away. I said “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious.”

I’m what I like to call an 80/20 atheist. I don’t really believe in god, but I pray a lot… just in case. Sometimes I pray for things… sometimes I just pray for knowledge or guidance. Mostly I just pray for the strength not to kill stupid people. I say that prayer a lot.

I was raised a catholic… kind of. We didn’t go to mass all that much, but I knew all rules and the prayers and rituals. I still like the story.

God was so fed up with man and his gluttonous ways, he sent his only son to remedy the situation by teaching them what god wanted. Then he was betrayed, beaten and murdered. On the third day, he rose and later ascended into heaven.  It’s a nice story, but I always wondered why god was so blood-thirsty. Why did he need all those blood sacrifices? What happened to all those turtle doves?

Most of the time I don’t bother voicing my beliefs unless I’m asked… or cornered. Some times I’ll be in the city and I’ll see those street corner preachers. I like to listen to them. I usually stand by the side and wait for the right moment. If I was a dog you would see me panting with my tail wagging. While these dudes are filled with the passion and the spirit, they usually are lacking on facts and knowledge. When the time comes, I like to hit them with questions that I know will stump them. When they start to stutter and struggle for answers, I go in for the kill. I’m sinister like that. I always leave feeling accomplished and justified, but as the day wears on, I start to feel bad. What did I really accomplish?  At night, I usually go in my room and ask Jesus to forgive me for being an asshole.

I still like to go into churches. Usually when they are empty. They are a great place to think and well.. pray. They are usually pretty inspiring. That’s where “Our Lady of Sorrows” came from. Today I went into the city and on my way home I saw a church on Park Avenue. The door was open and it looked inviting, so I went in. I have some big changes going on in my life, with some big decisions to make. I thought it would be a great time to go in and contemplate… and well, pray.

There was a service in progress. The priest was saying the Lord’s prayer and everyone was joining in. There was a lunch time crowd of about 30 people in the room. I took a seat in a pew halfway down the aisle. I forgot to genuflect when I entered the pew. I wondered if anyone noticed. I wondered if God minded.

As he went through the rituals, I thought about my life, about how lucky I have been, about how blessed I truly am. Surely there must be some divine hand helping me navigate the path of life. Then I thought about all the times I read articles about four year old kids that get killed with stray bullets as they sit in their kitchens doing homework. They can’t all be sinners, can they? Surely, no loving god would let this happen. The conundrum continues.

As the priest ended the service, he left the altar, but the people stayed. Someone started to say the rosary, the rest of them joined in. It was a low drone. It was mildly appealing, but I wondered if God ever got tired of hearing it. I can almost see him telling Peter… “Make them stop!”

The priest came out and entered the confessional booth. The green light came on. I was strangely drawn to it. A small woman approached and entered. She was a homely woman. She wore a long denim skirt and black socks with her sneakers. Under any other circumstances I would have never noticed her. When she entered, the red light came on. I wondered what she was telling him. I wanted to know what her sins were. She wasn’t in the booth long… it figures.  She went to the altar to say her penance. The droning continued in the background. I saw the green light come on. Part of me wanted to run over and get in. What would I say? “Bless me father, it’s been 40 years since my last confession, and that one was forced upon me.

I thought about my sins. Are they even sins? Do I really need god’s forgiveness? I don’t steal and I’ve never murdered anyone. I lie a lot, but only to women I want to sleep with. Maybe I need to ask them forgiveness, but G-D? According to the Christians that I know, my greatest sin is denying God. I always ask, “If all the evidence I can find leads me to conclude that there is no god, how can that be a sin?” They always answer me the same way, “You have to have faith.” Faith is a funny thing. If you don’t have it, you can’t get it at the drug store.

The woman was done with her hail marys’. She had a smile a mile-wide. She had a bounce in her step. She was cleansed. Part of me wanted to feel what that was like. I felt paralyzed. After a minute the priest left the booth. I felt a pang of regret. I guess this is my confession…

I have a good friend who is a Christian pastor. I like to poke him with a proverbial stick now and then. He always asks me, “How’s your prayer life?” I always say… “depends on the day.”

One beautiful Tuesday morning, I prayed as hard as I could through tears and gritted teeth. I prayed for Superman. I prayed for Christ to come off the cross. I prayed for anything. Despite my prayers and the prayers of millions of skeptics like me, the second tower fell anyway. The last vestiges of my faith fell with it.

In 2004, my mother had a stroke. I didn’t pray that she would live, everybody dies. I prayed for one more day. I got 30.

In 2007, my brother and I were both out of work. We had interviews on the same day. I went to St. Patrick’s and put a five in the shrine to St. Teresa. We both got the jobs.

In 2009, my father was diagnosed with a lung ailment. I didn’t pray that he would live, everybody dies. I prayed that he would make it to opening day of the new stadium. He died on March 24th. As a consolation, I asked god to let the Yankees win the World Series. In October of that year, the Yankees raised their 27th banner. God love the Yankees, obviously.

I hear lots of people say that God hasn’t answered their prayers yet. I always say… “Yes he has. The answer is NO. Now get over it. God is busy.”  They never like that.

I once had a friend over my house. He saw me writing a check to a charity. He asked me why I was doing that. I thought for a moment and said. “I’m trying to buy karma.” He jumped up and started yelling in my house. “YOU CAN NOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!

I thought about Jim. When I was 15, I prayed that I could be like Morrison. Icon. Rock God.

Morrison died when he was 27. He was impotent the last year of his life. I’m 47 and as pert as a rooster. I’m glad God ignored that particular prayer.

From time to time, I have prayed for the company of certain women. Obviously, god wanted them to sleep with me. Even the married ones.    Ooops. Did I say that? Ok. I need a little cleansing for that.

Once prayed for about two years for this girl to love me. Even Aladdin can’t make someone love you… She never even looked my way. Instead, I wrote Beatrice. Now she’s got an ass the size of a house. I’ll take that trade.

It looks like I bat around 50 percent.  Not bad. I try not to ask for much. That’s the secret. And I pray for other people a lot, mostly my brother and my mother when she was alive. I think that praying for other people helps too.

So, do I really need forgiveness? Am I going to hell without it? Is there a hell? Heaven? It’s all so confusing.

I’ve been in AA for 25 years. A lot of people have told me how much I have helped them. Mostly, I just listened. Truth be told, I was just watching the Yankee game with the sound down. If that helped… I’ll take it.

I have a string of ex-girlfriends who say that I’m a cheap, selfish, self-centered, egotistical liar and cheater. They are probably right. But I always say the same thing…” You knew I was a rattlesnake when you picked me up.

I was a Big Brother for a few years. I still talk to him. He’s 25 now. He’s not in prison. He’s got a job. He says that I helped him a lot. I’ll take it.

I dated a girl who had a 4 year old son. I treated him like a kid brother from the day I met him. He’s 23 now. He’s in the Coast Guard. He said to me. “I don’t know where I would have been without you.”  After I clear the lump in my throat, I always say, “Thank you.”  I’ll take that one too.

When I left church today, it was a beautiful day out. I still didn’t know if God was real or a fable. I still didn’t know if I needed forgiveness to get to heaven. I did know that I finally had a blog topic after a few weeks of being blank. I’ll take that too.

Thank you Jesus. I owe you one.