First things first – despite the scene I described in my last post, I need to make it abundantly clear that my father was not a terrible person. No one knew at the time that the radical mood swings and terrifying episodes of rage and violence he suffered were a result of an undiagnosed medical condition: acute-response reactive hypoglycemia. It wasn’t until I was in middle school and he was in his 40’s that our family doctor suggested he be tested, and the results confirmed it. Once we knew what was happening, and he made the necessary lifestyle and dietary changes, the transformation was incredible. The discovery probably saved both his life and mine, as the condition is hereditary and I was already exhibiting many of the same behaviors as I passed through puberty. Bottom line, he was not entirely in his right mind during these episodes, and cannot be held responsible for them. He was still a stubborn man with a sharp tongue when he let it loose, but I loved my dad, and even though he has passed on, I still do. I wanted to dispel any negative impression I may have given…I believe he loved me more than any other thing in his entire life, and he did the very best job he could to take care of me and show that love every day. In the end, isn’t that all that really matters?
You might believe that it would not be possible to grow up in the South without having some type of church experience as a basic tenet of life. That may be true in smaller cities and towns, but I was born and raised in Houston, Texas…a city that saw explosive growth beginning in the early 80’s as manufacturing jobs began disappearing nationwide and people came looking for the energy sector jobs that dominated the economy following the oil crises of the late 70’s. This massive influx of people from all over the country – indeed, all over the world – served to dilute the traditional Southern religious values, replacing them with an early form of multiculturalism. In practical terms, this meant that I came of age knowing hardly anyone who regularly attended church, or at least not that they talked about. (My friend Eddie with the “weird” Jehovah’s Witness parents was a rare exception, but nobody took them seriously, including Eddie.) Another influence, as I mentioned before, was my dad’s disdain of organized religion – though I wonder if he had any experiences other than what he saw on television as he was flipping channels while waiting for the football game to come on. Of course, the child learns first what the parent teaches, so in general I viewed “the church” with skepticism at best…and I saw no reason to go looking for any other perspective. Further clouding the issue were the lifestyles on display around me in the aftermath of the turbulent times America had gone through – divorce was commonplace; sexuality of all types and varieties were out in the open; drug use was becoming more accepted, even applauded; the entire concept of “vice” had seemingly vanished, so what was the need of “virtue”? After all, I had already been “saved”, so what else did I need to know? I could have my cake and eat it too, eternity was in the bag.
Public education did nothing to change my impressions. History classes spoke briefly about religious persecution, but only in carefully vetted little snippets: the Crusades were about Christians driving out the Muslim hordes from the Holy Land; the Pilgrims fled to the shores of North America to preserve their right to worship God instead of a king; Hitler was a psychopath with a mission to eradicate the Jews (good thing the British and the Americans were here to save them and create the nation of Israel for them, and then keep on saving them from those terrible Arabs). So far as I could see, “religion” was just a convenient excuse for one group of people to hate another group of people, and I felt no desire to learn more about or to be any part of that. Besides, I was too busy getting drunk, getting high and chasing girls to give God a second thought – remember, I had money in the bank…I was “saved”!
On to college, where a major in the physical sciences brought me into contact with self-described and vocal atheists for the first time; this forced to be examine what I believed and why I believed it. I found myself willing to accept the biblical creation story more or less at face value, mostly because no other explanation for the universe appeared to make sense – given a choice between: a) multiple random occurrences coming together in precisely the right order at just the right time; or b) some type of higher force guiding that process toward an intended conclusion, I went with the latter. I also felt it would be intellectually dishonest to claim one portion of the Bible as an accurate source of information while dismissing the rest – in for a dime, in for a dollar – and while there were huge swaths of Scripture I had never bothered to read, and others I had read but did not understand, I had mastered the art of compartmentalization well enough for this not to hinder my faith in the slightest. In fact, I wore my ignorance as a badge of pride – after all, was it not the very definition of “faith” to believe in things you could not prove? So I continued to believe I was a “Christian”, and a pretty good one at that – I never tried to hurt anyone, and I was generally nice to people (sometimes even the ones I didn’t like), and once in a while would do something to help another person when I didn’t have to…what more could anyone ask of me? My philosophy of life came down to two basic ideas: 1) God is all-powerful, so everything that ever happens is His will and I can’t change it; and 2) God is all-knowing, so there’s no need to seek Him out, He will come to me if He wants something from me. That left me free to operate as I saw fit, and brothers and sisters, did I ever!!
We’ll pick it up from there next post. I had not intended this to be a biography; I merely wished to present some context for what I actually want to talk about. But the story takes the teller where it wants to go, not the other way around; the trick is to listen and watch as it happens. See you soon!