I remember when Darell used to talk to the Mormons at the Glenbrooke apartments. They would come by our house every few days, bibles in their hands, asking if he was home. They didn’t seem to realize they were fighting a losing battle, that the man they were trying to convert was converting them in hand. He saw them as targets, minds ready to be debate with the little facts that made their faith difficult.
I’ve never enjoyed confronting believers.
Once an old Black woman approached me while I was at the bus stop. As soon as I saw her car pull up, I knew there would be trouble. She came out with several booklets in hand, asked as she approached, “Excuse me, do you believe in Jesus Christ?”
You should know I’ve been an atheist a long time, still I answered, “Yes.”
Something about old people draws out the liar in me. I wasn’t raised without respect, and somewhere along the line that turned into comforting those who would be troubled by the realities of the present. Sex, drugs, rock & atheism. Maybe, I just wanted to escape what came next, though I knew that was impossible.
She handed me a pamphlet, a copy of Watchtower, her particular brand of christianity’s particular publication of doom and damnation. I couldn’t think of anything that would make my hour plus commute more comfortable.
Of course, I know better than to assume comfort is their goal. I am a proselytizer as well. Whenever I write, I try to craft a world worth living in, try to twist the reader to some new point of view. It doesn’t always work, rarely works at all, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. I knock on their door, dressed in a white shirt and black slacks, another piece of fiction in hand. I hope that maybe, this batch of readers will feel something, want to know more. I understand the impulse.
Once when I was at their Puyallup fair (recently renamed) with my friend Rhea, I was caught by a man with an urge to preach. Already Rhea was angry at me because every inch that I moved, I would find cause to apologize to someone I passed. Sorry for bumping your shoulder, sorry for stepping on your show, sorry for cutting you off. So it could not have been a surprise when a tall man in a suit stopped me with the question, ‘are you going to heaven?’. He kept talking, kept promising answers, and more than an answer to his question, I didn’t want to cut him short.
I answered his questions, yes I did what was right, no I didn’t sin, my family was christian and I did as I was told. I watched as he tallied my score, and calculated my odds of divine rescue at the end of days. Rhea, more clever than I, could have guessed the man’s answer.
I was going to hell. Even as a young boy, this struck me as a bad story. Back then I already spent nights writing fiction, filling notebooks with mythology of my own. It made no sense to me for a hero to complete his journey, save the day, and still leave the common man doomed. In this story, the one this man found fit to produce for young children at a public fair, Jesus was the only answer, yet his heroic power seemed stunted.
At home, I created better gods. In my worlds, god was real, present, helpful. God was flawed, but this was known, and everyone took it into account. God was our friend, and had the power, and the will, to fight his enemies. I created a god that was worth meeting, one that was worth allying with.
Then I threw away my gods altogether. As I created stories, I found better stories. I found allah, zeus, thor, the buddha, rama, and many more beings of make believe. Each as believable as my own Jesus, and therefore not believable at all.
In retrospect, when I see Darell flagging down those Mormons and sitting with them and a book of Mormon, I think he was doing what I did. It is a process, working through the pantheons, finding what could be true, separating it from what we wish to be true. There are kernels of good stories in the many bad stories we tell, and those bad stories will be told again and again so we can get the satisfaction of that little shred of comfort.
While I’ve never been one for confrontation, I can’t abide a bad story.