Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How I Got Here

You'd almost think I'd lost interest in the subject, but I haven't. I am, however, recognizing my own limitations on this subject (or subjects since, after all, I tried my hand at scientific skepticism with this blog as well), recognizing that I'm rephrasing and repeating arguments that have already been made in many forms over hundreds of years. There's nothing wrong with that, I made an effort to provide a unique perspective or twist on those arguments, but there are people who've done it all before, and better.

That's not to say that I have nothing to contribute, though. I do have a plan. But that's only in my head, and I won't go into it here. Not while it's so undeveloped, anyway.

But in the mean time, I thought I'd share my "deconversion" story.

I put deconversion in quotes because, though I was raised Christian on paper, it was about a half-step away from a secular upbringing. God was mentioned, so were angels, I think Jesus was at some points, but mostly it wasn't our problem.

My first memory of God was a nightmare I had when I was about five, maybe younger. Memories from that age are always fuzzy and confused, but I remember certain details of this dream pretty clearly. It took place in a black void which somehow had a solid, but invisible, floor. My mom was sadly playing piano, and I approached and asked what was wrong. She told me that God was going to kill me. My mom never lied to me, so this scared me out of my wits. God himself showed up and told me it was true. He looked a lot like George Washington, including the tricorner hat.

He always had that hat. Most people's default image of God is a guy in a white robe with a beard, but mine wears a navy blue tricorner hat.


God told me that I could spend a few moments with my mom, but there would be three chimes. On the third chime, my throat would swell up and I would die. The first chime rang, then the second, then I woke up. Opening my eyes, I heard the third chime. I specifically remember that one coming after I woke up, because that's what scared me so much.

I ran to my parents, I don't remember crying but I probably was, telling them about my nightmare and how the third chime rang after I already woke up. They told me it was probably Ethel, a sweet old lady who lived next door and whose house my bedroom window faced, watching Wheel of Fortune loudly. I did my best to believe that, but even now it seems unlikely. My parents were, presumably, unaware that hallucinations are extremely common in the half-waking state immediately following a nightmare like that. Part of your brain is still pursuing the dream, and it doesn't know how to differentiate. Maybe they did know that and just didn't know how to explain it to a five-year-old.

Apart from that, God didn't really come up in any significant way until the second grade. My dad's mom was (and is) a devout Christian, so I'm sure she talked about it with me at times, but it was certainly never any fire and brimstone or even any guilt talk. It would have been all about God's love.

In second grade, though, I met Danny Olson. As is so easy at that age, we became friends. I liked Danny, I liked going over to his house. We played Contra together, and his mom would enter in the cheat code (up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select, start) at the beginning for us so we could get infinite lives or whatever it was. Funny how I remember the code but not its effect.

Danny's family always prayed before eating. My family never did, so it felt a little awkward, but I got used to it after the first or second time. One day, Danny showed me this awesome sash he got from a club he was in. It had three crowns sewn in: one bronze, one silver, one gold. The bronze was full of gems, and the silver was half-full, while the gold was empty. He got all this awesome stuff at a club he attended called Sparky's. I don't remember if I asked my parents (or if the Olson parents did) before going, but I went to a Sparky's meeting with Danny and his family on a trial run.

Oh man, it was awesome. Or rad, as I probably would have said at that age. They gave us cookies, and juice, and we played some game I don't really remember today but it seems kind of like wiffle ball in my memory. I just remember it was a blast.

So I convinced my parents to sign my up, and every week I went to Sparky's. This, however, was bullshit. I'd show up, we'd sit in a circle and hold hands in the area where last time we played wiffle ball (or whatever). No wiffle ball tonight, though. We're going to break into teams and play something else!

"Breaking into teams" meant separating the bronze, silver, and gold crown kids. "Something else" meant reading stories from the Bible and being quizzed on them. This... did not seem like what I signed up for. But whatever, it's easy, maybe there'll be wiffle ball next time. And I did get the sash with all the crowns, and they even gave me a gem that first night... so maybe it wasn't so bad.

I have very few specific memories of the rest of my time at Sparky's, because it mostly runs together into a sea of quizzes on parables. Something about a man who build his house on sand. I remember not doing very well on my gem collection, mostly just getting gems for showing up each week.

There was one talk at the beginning of one week where they made a big deal out of accepting Jesus into your heart. I sort of thought everyone had already done that, I didn't realize I had to specifically tell Jesus I was Christian. So sometime that week, while I was in bed, I closed my eyes and thought to myself (or to Jesus, I suppose), "Jesus, I accept you into my heart." And after sitting around for a couple minutes thinking, "Is that it?" I decided that I had to imagine Jesus answering, so I imagined Jesus entering my heart. The next week, I mentioned to someone, probably Danny's mom or dad, that I had accepted Jesus into my heart and he or she told the group leader who made a big deal out of it. I still didn't really get why it was such a big deal.

Eventually I moved up to the silver crown, but I must've quit or Sparky's was over with the school year or something like that because I stopped there. Or maybe my parents told me Sparky's was ending because they wanted to pull me out.

I have no memory of this, but my mom told me how I acted while I was in Sparky's. I'd frequently just launch into God/Jesus-talk, telling people about some of the stuff I heard was in the Bible. Even my grandma was worried about me. I never sensed it at that age, though, and considered myself Christian for quite some time to come.

We moved from California to Arizona while I was in the third grade. I'll pick this up there in my next post.

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