My Testimony: Transmogrification Of A Consciousness
The worst thing that's ever happened to me happened just recently. The worst, the most abominable, the most hideous, the most potentially tragic event of my life waited 'til I was 41 years old.
The Kenny Rogers song "Through the Years" was stuck in my head for 2 days. Kenny Rogers' wailing, ailing, straining, out-of-tune, bullfrog-with-one-vocal-chord voice was about to send me straight to the asylum! The "song" just kept playing over and over and over like a needle was stuck in one groove of a really really bad record. It was as if the talentless fuck was standing next to me and trying to sing.
I don't know if it was the devil who put the tune in my head or if it was Yahweh. Surely it wasn't the devil because, as comedian Bill Hicks pointed out, the devil has better taste in music than God does. Hell will have better tunes than heaven will. The devil and his demons rock out! It had to be God who popped "Through the Years" into my brain. He was either punishing me or trying to tell me something like a special revelation, or just trying to get my attention...who knows? Of all the possible songs he could have chosen, from all the genres of music which have ever been invented, from all the centuries of music, he picked "Through the Years" by Kenny Fucking Rogers. So it was definitely a punishment. Good thing he didn't pick a Michael Bolton song because two daze of that would have been fatal. Musica fatale. What a horrible way to die that would be...
After the horrid Kenny Rogers dissonance was at last purged from my psyche I was still haunted by the uneasy feeling that it would come back. The fear and discomfort kept gnawing at me. It was kinda like that uneasy feeling you get when you use a public toilet. You pick the toilet in the middle because you think fewer people have roosted on that one and ya play the odds and choose the middle stall because most people like to defecate in the inner stall closest to the wall or the stall nearest the door and ya hope and pretend that noone else has used your chosen seat before you in the same day but deep down ya know 19 other asses have nestled there. Yeah, that's the feeling...
My earliest memory of the Bible was having the story of Zacchaeus read to me when I was about two. I envisioned Zacchaeus being all sneaky and sitting in a big juniper tree as he tried to home in on Jesus and see him a little better.
When I first thought about God was one Sunday in the church basement, right after a service. I was about six then. I had a mind's eye view of God which was unconventional, based on the envisionments of God I've heard other humans describe. In my young mind's eye He was a white dude, about 50, with black hair and a black beard instead of the traditional older-than-fuck dude with whitish hair and a huge whitish beard looking like Moses played by Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments which most people see in their inner mind.
I'm sure that if I'd been born black I would've pictured God as a black man, maybe with a grayish beard.
When I was a pre-adolescent boy, I was constantly told prophecies about the very soon return of Jeezus. We were told in church and in youth camp that Jeezus would be coming back any day. One guy at church camp, a short squatty preacher named Cookie McGuire, assured us in 1973 that Henry Kissinger would be the Antichrist and that the world would end in '76.
I learned in college that Ronald Reagan would be the Antichrist and not Henry after all. They were both Republicans but I didn't get the cosmic connection at the time. Also while in college the prognostication about Henry resurfaced. This time the predictors scientifically stated that if you assign a numerical value to all the letters in Henry Kissinger's English name and add them all up you come up with the sum of six hundred and sixty-six. But wait, they said, you have to take out all the vowels first. What these half-brains didn't think about is you can't extract vowels because they're essential to every word or name. I'm sure Henry K. was amused.
Every time I heard these predictions my angst increased. I became very noivous. I wanted to lose my virginity, live a full life, get married, have babies, make money, and be happy. Every time I heard Hal Lindsey spout another prediction on the Second Coming I became antsy. The angst of my adolescence, teenage years, and college days increased with each babbling about the future. Yes, I wanted to be a good boy and follow Jesus but I also hoped to be on this planet for as long as possible. I didn't want my lord and savior to return to Earth until I got laid. I was hoping to grow old and die in my sleep or be raptured as an old gray man who'd lived for a long time and enjoyed plenty of pussy. I certainly didn't want Jesus to come and get me during the prime of my youth or I knew I'd feel cheated.
Like a typical Southern Baptist, I was saved multiple times. My three salvation experiences occurred at fairly regular intervals: at eight, 14 and 22 years of age. Three salvational experiences is below the average number of conversions for Baptists, considering how the guilt trip ploy in the hands of a talented preacher is an effective weapon and Baptists stress something the Bible doesn't even teach: "rededicating your life," which slapped on the guilt even more forcefully and inspired a lot of extra savings.
The preacher who seemed to preach a "rededicate your life" sermon every other week was Jonathan Martin Edwards. If that name sounds familiar, there's a good reason. He was indeed the great-great-great or however many greats, grandson of famous New England preacher Jonathan Edwards of "Sinners In the Hands Of An Angry God" fame.
At around age 15 or 16, I entered a Calvinist phase, while under the influence of my mother's Calvinist boyfriend. He showed me all the verses in the Bible which purvey election and predestination and I used those to point out to fellow alleged Christians that they weren't really saved if they didn't believe the doctrines of the Bible such as election, which entails God's choosing and "drawing" of people to get saved and not just their free will.
During this divisive Calvinist phase I was outspoken, often getting into heated arguments during Sunday school class, telling my classmates there was no such thing as free will and that if you weren't predestined to be saved then tough luck you were going to Hell and nothing could stop it. I focused on the sovereignty of God and forsook the volition of man.
I even was bold enough to pay a visit to the preacher's office after an evangelist who was at the church for a revival all week spoke to my teenage (Young Adult, I think it was called) Sunday school class. I told the evangelist and the preacher they were preaching a false gospel.
Reverend Edwards wasn't too happy about my visit, and he and the evangelist reacted with hostility. Just a week or two later, on a Sunday night, Edwards preached a strong free-will sermon damning election, saying God just knows who will be saved and doesn't choose anyone to be, and gives everyone an equal opportunity and chance to "get saved." He was looking at me the whole time. It was obvious he was preaching to me, and he said a couple of times "Now, some people believe in election..." Never had I had a sermon directed at me. From the tenor of the sermon it was obvious Edwards was concerned my Calvinist views might spread throughout the church. Democracy in action, and freedom of speech, are feared by preachers just as they are feared by other societal representatives of authoritarianism like politicians.
One day Edwards told my mother that her boyfriend had "ruined Chris spiritually." When I started college and joined a church in my college town, Edwards sent a letter to that church office which was brief and concise and to the point: "Chris has some problems with election."
I wasn't too fond of Edwards. He was a pompous asshole with the huge ego typical of preachers. One day he swaggered into my hometown's newspaper office and wanted an article written praising him regarding how the high school's football team had won every game at which he'd prayed the invocation.
My first tinges of doubt in the arena of Christianity came in 1986, two years after I'd finished college. Ironically, it was the Bible itself which sparked my doubts, and I'm not the first to experience this. I just started thinking one spring night about how I'd read Bible stories when I was a boy about how God had wiped out thousands of people at a time, in Leviticus and other Old Testament books. Funny how it didn't really hit me 'til about 18 years later.
The atrocities of God committed upon humans made me wonder about the moral aspect of worshiping such a homicidal God.
Turning points in my religious life were several.
One was at Northwest Baptist Church in 1988. In Sunday school class a petition was passed around to ban "The Last Temptation Of Christ" from theaters in Oklahoma City. Even then I was somewhat of a dissenter even though I was a Christian. I didn't want to just go along with the crowd and when the petition was handed to me I refused to sign and passed it on to the next guy, thinking that nobody is going to be forced to see the movie and they could exercise freedom of choice. The issue was that the movie allegedly portrayed Jesus as a fleshly man vulnerable to the lustfulness of a normal human male and that it showed him having sexual thoughts and fantasies. I've still never seen the movie, so in this individual case the fears of the Sunday school members were unfounded. They were fearful moviegoers would watch the movie and get the wrong idea about their holy idol Jesus, but I never went, and it wasn't because their petition was effectual.
Three other turning points came while I was a member of this same church. One Sunday night we watched a documentary film which slammed Jehovah's Witnesses. One segment of the film showed an animated scene of Jesus, in his robed and bearded glory, floating up to Heaven, and described how he would come back to Earth then go to Heaven then come back to Earth again just a short time later. The crowd cackled during this scene, but I didn't laugh at all. I thought it was no more ridiculous than the idea of Jesus floating back down to Earth during the Second Coming and sucking his believers up to Heaven with him - but the Southern Baptists jeered and ridiculed the J.W.'s for this movie...
A third turning point during the short time I was a member of Northwest happened when I attended a Wednesday night single adult class. It was about 98 degrees outside, and humid as hell. A guy who I felt sorry for, who was often ridiculed and considered a geek, sporting the thick glasses and greasy hair and all that geek imagery, was asked to pray during the class.
He prayed to God to stop the heat wave because people were suffering from it. I thought man this is crazy, if God wants to end the heat He'll do so, without somebody asking him to...
But the most pivotal turning point of all - the momentous swivel and pivot, was when I was driving west on my way home one day, around noon. While I was at a red light, I spotted a car heading north in the intersection. The car had the pastor of the church and the associate pastor, and another man but I didn't recognize him. The car was a large one - a Cadillac or Lincoln or maybe a big long-ass Olds Delta 98. I thought what is this? - these fuckers get all their income from people dropping money in the offering plates on Sundays and what do they spend the money on? - large fancy cars for one thing...I started thinking about how wrong and immoral such a system is...I wondered how many offering plates full of money it had taken to buy that car, and why they hadn't been prudent and bought a cheaper one to conserve the tithe coiffures...
The pastor was named Anthony Jordan and he was one of those guys that you knew was a preacher when you first looked at him and doubly knew when he spoke. He was a serious nerd, and he had the look, sound and demeanor of a preacher that you could spot a mile away.
I remember one time during church service he made a special announcement that a church member had donated about $13,000 to a youth group in the church. Jordan told the congregation the member had asked to remain anonymous and receive no recognition for the donation, but what did Jordan do? He embarrassed her by saying her name and asking her to come to the front. She was like 90 - an old, shriveled-up lady who could barely walk to the podium. The poor lady had asked to remain anonymous but Jordan refused to grant her request. I never had any respect for the guy after that, and I still wonder today how much of that 13,000 bucks slid into his pocket or went towards his vehicle fund and mortgage payment. I was irretrievably on the slippery slope of doubting the whole fabric of Christianity and viewing reverends and preachers with cynicism.
Two years later I visited a place called Cathedral Of Praise with a neighbor from my apartment complex. This church was more overtly phony than Northwest Baptist Church had ever been. For one thing, it was charismatic and non-denominational, what people in my hometown used to call "holy rollers." In addition to the regular Sunday morning service, healing services were held, and I'll never forget the Saturday night healing service for single adults, which I attended a couple of times.
This guy named Steve Hayes - the church members called him Pastor Steve, was the center of attention at these services. This charismatic dude would captivate the crowd. He'd get all dramatic and start off the service by softly talking about the needs in people's lives. Then he would stare at people in the audience and address them specifically, acting as if he could read their minds. My reaction right then, while I was still a Christian but just barely, was to wonder how and why he thought he was clairvoyant when the Bible did not list reading minds as one of the gifts of the Spirit. The guy was staring in my direction for like 10 minutes, and I think he was talking to me the whole time. "You have doubts! You don't believe in the power of God. You don't believe Jesus can give you a job. You're out of work and you need to trust Jesus to locate a good job for you." And I was out of work at the time, so maybe the guy really was a fucking psychic. Or maybe he realized that in a crowd of 300 people at least a few were unemployed. Whatever the case, it was kinda spooky and I kept wishing the fucker would stare in someone else's direction. Hayes gave me the creeps.
Pastor Steve was a slick prick with a huge ego. He would pompously ask people in the crowd to come forward for personal healing. One guy seemed reluctant to be healed so Pastor Steve slapped his forehead. The healee responded by blurting out "Na-na-na-na-na-na-na." Pastor Steve asked him if he was healed yet and the guy just stood there so Pastor Steve slapped him harder with the base of his palm. The guy still just stood there, unresponsive. So Pastor Steve started looking angry, red-faced and frustrated, and hit him one more time, really hard this time. This time the guy - an obese guy named Kenny who always looked sad and was slightly retarded, finally got the hint and fell backward. Kenny had been a bad boy by not playing his role in the act by going down the first time. The catchers grabbed him on his way down. You know what "catchers" are, I'm sure. They're the ex-football players and bouncers who keep people from suffering concussions when they fall down after being "slain in the Spirit." Pentecostal churches find them necessary since they realize God won't catch the healees during their descent toward the floor. They realize that gravity is more powerful than God.
Every time someone went forward to get healed he or she would just mumble the same monosyllabic drone Kenny murmured. "Na-na-na-na-na-na-na." And Pastor Steve would rejoice: "See, he's speaking in tongues! The power of the Holy Spirit is overwhelming him!", or some drek like that. I wondered: Since when is saying one syllable over and over speaking in tongues?
The clincher in my drift away from religion and towards skepticism came a few months later. This same bastard Hayes came into a drug/department store where I worked. He walked all the way back to the pharmacy, which I happened to be working next to at the time. The asshole was there to pick up a prescription, saying it was for severe headaches. I overheard the whole conversation, and thought "Heal thyself, motherfucker! You think you have the power from Jesus to heal people every Saturday night but you can't heal yourself and God won't heal you?! What the fuck is this shit?!" The roots of skepticism grounded my feet even deeper that very moment.
Another member of the church - a very tall girl named Brenda who had the hots for me, came into the same store one day. She mentioned she was there to sell some products and I naturally asked her what ones. She said pharmaceutical products, like drugs, ya know. That, coupled with Pastor Steve's prescription, made me really wonder how sincere these charismatic non-denoms were, if they needed to take drugs and sell them. The healing power of their God evidently wasn't as great as they'd claimed.
The pastor of this church was a fat little bastard named Ron Dryden. He had the classic look and ambience of a Pentecostal preacher - the toady little body and the cocky little wiggly walk and the greased-back hair accompanied by beady eyes and glasses. According to a waitress at a restaurant I met later that year, Dryden was fake as a twelve-dollar bill. The waitress - Molly, had been a secretary at his church and told me he was horrible to work for, extremely hateful, arrogant, and phonier than shit. I started thinking that was probably true for a majority of Christian preachers and that they were in it for the money and power.
One thing I really started noticing at this point - in the early 1990s, was that whenever a new church was started it was almost always in affluent neighborhoods of far northwest Oklahoma City, where the richfucks lived. I finally began realizing that religion is a business just like any other - just more emotional than most. It finally hit me that churches are businesses run for profit, and the pastor of the church gets to keep the profits, and has his way paid for through life in a kind of religious welfare system. This started to bother me, and I became increasingly skeptical and cynical about organized religion. I still believed in God at that point, but not in any specific way, and I began to think disorganized, private, individual religion was the preferred path toward God.0
From 1990 to 1995, I attended church maybe three times, two of those with my paternal grandmother when I went back to my hometown to visit her.
In 1 995 I espied an interesting little book in a Barnes and Noble sale catalog. It was "Deceptions And Myths Of The Bible." I thought "Hmmm, that sounds pretty interesting..." And I ordered it. It was a book on the Bible like no book I'd ever read. It was the first book I'd ever read which was critical of the Bible and analyzed it from the secular side. It put me on the road to ravenously reading freethought books by the dozen. Not only would I read them, I'd copy pages with choice quotes from them, and I'd order tracts and leaflets from organizations like Freedom From Religion Foundation and distribute the literature among churches on weekdays when only the pastor or noone was there. I'd leave them in church mailboxes and on church doors, and I'd occasionally give a waitress a tract to read, and from time to time get into arguments about Christianity with restaurant workers and co-workers at my own jobs. I'd become a full-fledged freethougt activist, trying to save the world from Jesus.
Before this transmogrification from Calvinist to humanist, however, I'd dabbled in the occult for a few months in '95. Didn't ever practice witchcraft or anything, but read about it and frequented a New Age bookstore. It didn't take me long to realize all the New Age stuff was a crock of shit too, and that I'd been investigating alternatives to what I'd believed and marginally clung to for so many years of my life, and trying to fill the vacuum after nine years of being an "agnostic." So, after checking out the occult and New Age literature, I became an evangelical hardcore atheist and have never looked back...and have never been happier...