Don and Grady

I didn’t want my father to die (1994), but when he did, it freed me from a lot of worry and aggravation, so I felt more relief than grief and had no idea that I would end up thinking about him more often than anyone else who ever passed through my life. Next to him, I probably think most about my two best friends from boyhood, Grady* and Don.** Grady was my best friend in elementary school and junior high, and Don through high school, after which I lost touch with them. We all grew-up religious (fundamentalist Church of Christ), and Don and I both preached when we were in high school. After high school, he went to a Church of Christ college in Searcy, Arkansas, and became a full-time preacher, and I stopped going to church altogether. Grady married a Southern Baptist and joined her church (a sin that our boyhood church says he will go to hell for).

Don wrote to me about 20 years ago, and I told him right away that I had become an atheist. He suggested that he and I correspond about my atheism with the thought that he would share the wonderful life he was enjoying with the Lord Jesus, and thereby win me back to God. I said that would be fine, but I told him that converting me wouldn’t just mean demonstrating that he felt God’s presence, or even proving to me that God existed. He would have to also prove that it was his God that existed, and that I could only satisfy his God by going to his church. I included a list of preliminary questions, and he never wrote back.

I was the one to reinitiate contact with Grady. In his response, this man whom I had known as a gentle, serious, and sensitive boy sent me a picture of himself with a high-powered rifle and a dead elk that he had traveled all the way from Mississippi to Wyoming to kill. I didn’t say anything about the picture because, after all, some kindly people somehow find it within themselves to enjoy going to great trouble and expense to shoot animals, and I didnt think any good could come from me sharing my anti-hunting sentiments (ironically, when we were boys, I would shoot animals for no reason other than that they were there, and Grady wouldn’t hurt a fly). However, when he told me about his “church home,” I told him about my atheism, and that was the last time I heard from Grady except for several months during which he forwarded religious stuff. I wrote to him repeatedly asking that he talk to me instead of sending me things that I found meaningless, but he just kept on keeping on, so I became increasingly stern until he stopped. I emailed him a time or two after that, and I also sent him a couple of Christmas cards, but then I gave up.

I’ve wondered from time-to-time how things would have gone with my former friends had I kept quiet about the subject of atheism, but I’m just not a person to keep quiet about things that are important to me. Imagine that one of them had turned out to be the one with a dirty little blotch on his character. For example, let’s go right to something really bad and imagine that he was a pedophile. I’ve had two friends—Ken and Bill—who were pedophiles, although I didn’t find out until years into our friendship, and even then it wasn’t because I had information that they could be arrested for, but because their behavior around children was so weird, and their interpretations of children’s behavior so disturbed. Despite this, I resolved to remain their friend but with the intention of gathering evidence and calling the law if I ever suspected them of molesting a child.
So, I’ve wondered from time to time if Don and Grady would have reacted any worse had I been a pedophile instead of an atheist. When I saw a survey last year in which most Americans said they hold atheists in lower esteem than sex offenders, I thought, yeah, that sounds about right. Just look at the way the Catholic Church has, at every level, blamed the victims of pedophiliac priests and the bishops who protected them, while readily forgiving the priests and bishops. Clearly, a great many believers see child molestation as small potatoes compared to atheism, but since God can’t be hurt by unbelief, and children can most assuredly be hurt by pedophiles, where’s the fairness in this? 

Anyway, I think about my two former friends more than I would like, and I often wonder how I might have handled things better. I see those relationships the same way I see my church experiment last year in that, whatever my limitations, I did the best I could, and I don’t see that I got a lot for it because in every case, it was the other person who broke off the relationship without even trying to address our differences. When, upon leaving the Church of Christ at age 18, I first started losing my religious friends, that in itself propelled me toward atheism because, as I told myself, if people who worship God and claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit are less loving than people who have no religion at all, then, just maybe, God doesnt exist. The only religious people with whom I am still friends face-to-face are a couple of old people I visit and with whom the subject of my own religious views has never come up. This means that my only existing tie with the world of religion is with my half-sister who I write to but never see, and with the religious people who read this blog. I’ve been both pleased and amazed that more of my readers haven’t gone away. It brings me no closer to believing in the supernatural, but it does make me a little less hostile toward religion.

*Grady is standing in this 1961 photo in which he and I are admiring a watch I won in a newspaper contest. 

**Don is at the top left of this 1966 double-exposure, which was taken in Bloomington, Indiana, where we had gone with a preacher on revival (I'm not pictured) and stayed with a family by the name of Ellett. The Elletts were wonderful people, right up until the time I left the church and they shut me out of their lives without a word.


ellen abbott said...

typical behavior for the very religious I think. My personal spiritual journey took me to judaism for a while. My husband was jewish and as religions go, it was a far cry better than the christianity I had recently abandoned. I was pregnant and so I converted and raised my kids jewish. still, it was still a religion about the big daddy in the sky even if there was no hell and they focused on living and doing good deeds and encouraged you to question everything. this was a reform judaism congregation. I could never have done orthodox or even conservative. anyway, I eventually left judaism behind as well and struck out on my own and I won't even try to explain where I'm at now because this isn't about that. it's about my very religious southern baptist cousin who started sending me tracts about the lake of fire when he found out I had converted to judaism. what I got out of those tracts before I asked him kindly to stop sending them to me was that they believe it doesn't matter how good a person you are or all the good things you do in your life, you could be a freakin' saint but if you didn't accept Jesus as your personal savior, you were going to hell. I could never understand how their god of love would ignore all the good in a person's life and consign them to the lake of fire because they didn't accept Jesus. personally, I have no use for a god that tests you by telling you to slit your one and only cherished child's throat as a sacrifice to him and then waits til the last second to go..oh no, wait, it was just a joke. don't need that mean bastard. what was worse about my cousin though was when my jewish son was getting ready to ship out to Iraq, he sent him a bucket load of those tracts because it might be his last chance to 'save his soul'.

Elephant's Child said...

Losing friends always hurts. I have been discarded by a few people, some when my MS was diagnosed. Did they think it was catching, didn't know what to say, or assumed that I would change? I don't know.
Just the same, I refuse to change (or attempt to change) the fundamental things which go into making me the person I am. And friendship based on falsity isn't one I am interested in.
I am however interested in your relationship with your friends who were paedophiles. Did they know that if they acted on their sexual preferences you would turn them in? And am I right in thinking that you didn't have any problem while their paedophilia was essentially a 'philosophical' position but that would change in an instant if they became praticising paedophiles?

Strayer said...

I will never understand how religious people justify treatment of animals, as "crops". If they really believe a higher species, their god, has stooped to take interest in a lower species, love a lower species (humans) would it not follow that our species who believe this way should act towards other species considered lower than us, as god acts to us? But no!! I have never understood such contradictions in religious thought.

lotta joy said...

I have a good internet friend 2,000 miles away(the best I've ever had) who is a mormon and sent missionaries to my doorstep to 'help' me.

I nearly adopted those boys and made sure they always had enough to eat and clothes to wear - while explaining why I would NEVER become mormon.

I have said, time and time again, that "I DO GOOD, NOT BECAUSE I'M TRYING TO PLEASE GOD, OR GET INTO HEAVEN.


And last year, I had the worst cussing, screaming, and viciousness visited up me by a man who had just gotten home from mass as my blind dog was aiming his stream of pee toward the man's grass.

Go figure.

rhymeswithplague said...

I know of a woman who used her shotgun to kill a neighbor's dog because it was peeing on her rose bushes. Sadly, for purposes of this post, I do not know the woman's religious beliefs.

Your post's title threw (Don and Grady) threw me because I was expecting a post about the Everly Brothers (Don and Phil), my bad.

I'm still taking Neurontin, perhaps you can tell. The shingles are now in their fifth week. Also, my modem gave up the ghost on Sunday and I didn't get a replacement until last evening. Explains my absence.

Charles Gramlich said...

It's pretty disturbing that some folks find Atheism more problematic than sexual molestation. I find that problematic.

I don't find hunting problematic as long as people eat what they kill. I wouldn't seek out an opportunity to hunt some specific species of animal requiring a lot of traveling.

Snowbrush said...

"Did they know that if they acted on their sexual preferences you would turn them in?"

No, because if I had told them, they would have hidden it from me, and I wanted to catch them. Friendship ranks lower with me than protecting children.

"I'm still taking Neurontin, perhaps you can tell."

I took 600 mgs at once last night (I never take Neurontin unless I'm in a lot of pain), and thought of you as I lay in the darkness watching the blackness swim in paisley patterns. Sometimes, I take 900 mgs at once, but last night I was glad I stopped at six.

"I don't find hunting problematic as long as people eat what they kill."

In which case, hunting is kinder than buying meat in the supermarket, but I think we would be better off if people didn't do either.

"I nearly adopted those boys"

Peggy and I did similarly with three women missionaries (they come in twos, but one got replaced) back in the early 70s, and I still corresponded with them for awhile after they mission duty was over.

"don't need that mean bastard [the Biblical god]

Yet, a reader recently wrote on my blog about how moved she was by her first reading of the Bible! I don't get how anyone can read the Bible and have the least respect for its deity. He's rash, petulant, unreasonable, bloodthirsty, etc. etc. etc., and then there's the whole thing about him sending his son to die as a substitute for us so that he might forgive us for our sins! If the Bible was unknown to us until some archaeologist dug one up, is it conceivable that the same people who love it now would love it then, in the absence of the widespread societal support that keeps religion going?

"my MS was diagnosed. Did they think it was catching"

I've wondered that too about religious people. Do they think an evil spirit will jump from me to them like a virus?

Snowbrush said...

"you could be a freakin' saint but if you didn't accept Jesus as your personal savior, you were going to hell."

I think that most churches believe this, the idea being that no amount of good can atone for sin, and so only the blood of Jesus can wash away sin. Of course, this means that a lot of fine people go to hell and a lot of scumbags who call out to Jesus two minutes before they die go to heaven. Ironically, Jesus is praised as doing away with Old Testament legalism.

All Consuming said...

"I’ve wondered from time-to-time how things would have gone with my former friends had I kept quiet about the subject of atheism" - I think they would have gone much the same way, it wuld just have taken longer and caused more unhappiness all round. It's you I'm thinking of though. It sounds like you were quite blunt, but so straight and honest with them, that if they really cared enough about others, especiually old friends, they would have accepted your points and then gone on to see what happened. I think you saved yourself a huge amount of grief. In real dropped by them can be so upsetting. I've had to do it to a couple, I don't regret my decison, but I know they hurt alot because of it. Thoughtful post, and I like the photographs very much too. x

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

How very Christian of them! I will never cease to be amazed at the hate and ignorance spread using God's name.

Deb said...

First, I could relate to feelings about the passing of your father. I too, was relieved of my Dad's recent passing, but only due to his pain and agony. It was a strange and confusing feeling. I'm sorry you lost these people in your life.

Like any other religion, I believe your enthusiasm for atheism may be seen more than a butt in the head by many people of faith, including myself at times. I totally understand that you have a passion for not believing due to the lack of evidence/proof, etc... but once you come head-to-head with someone who does believe with all their heart, and some who have even had "spiritual experiences" that led them to become religious, then it becomes more of a battle instead of sharing one's beliefs. Maybe they just didn't want to deal with the issue of atheism time and time again. Maybe they were threatened by the lack of their own faith --- you never know. But at any rate, I'm sorry this has happened. It's unfortunate.

I can also relate to being compared to a murderer, rapist and a pedophile over my own lifestyle of being gay (nothing to do with religion but it does)--- most religious people spew that crap out. It's frustrating because it has nothing to do with anything other than a plain ol' attack on your passion of an atheist.

I enjoyed this article, thank you for sharing...

Betsy Brock said...

I always find your posts interesting when I come to read. Thanks for sharing. Even if I don't agree with some things, I like to hear the opinions of others.

My dad's family was from Burlington, Indiana...and Kokomo, too. Bloomington isn't too far from there!

Loved the old sure were a cutie in 1961. :)