Why I Disliked the Family Dog
This is the first of a multi-part series detailing my path from Christianity to non-belief.
The Christian literature I consumed as a youth offered much for a young pre-adolescent American boy in the 1970s to be frightened of. Satan was alive and well, cruising for souls in his flaming chariot. Demons and dark angels controlled the bodies of sinners, and had to be cast out and banished after much hardship and struggle by valiant holy warriors. If you remained stuck to the carpet as God’s vacuum sucked up the believers in the Rapture, then you would soon be governed by the Antichrist. Panels of apocalyptic illustrations depicted this period, known as the Tribulation, which visited much misery and suffering upon the world’s remaining inhabitants. This period preceded Armageddon, Satan’s defeat, and Jesus chewing the scenery in the play’s final act, the Second Coming.
I turned page after fear-soaked page filled with frightening tales of a post-Raptured earth. The culmination of this eschatology of my youth was Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth, a book that drew on current events to predict the beginning of the end during the 1980s. It sold millions of copies, and was made into a movie in 1979, narrated by Orson Wells.
I was terrified of hell, and the threat of pain and suffering. I had trouble, at my young age, wrapping my mind around the concept of eternity. I couldn’t imagine the pain of being engulfed in flames for day after day after day, forever. I remember reading stories and watching movies about the Rapture, the Tribulation and Armageddon. One minute your pious aunt Betsy was cooking your eggs, and the next minute – poof! – your omelet’s burnt, the Antichrist is running for governor and there’s blood in the water supply.
I recall listening to the pastor of our non-denominational protestant church deliver a sermon about the binding of Isaac, in which god tells Abraham to strap his son to the altar and offer up the poor kid up as an offering. Abraham, the loving father that he is, complies with this horrific request, only to be stopped at the last moment, knife raised, by god’s command. A ram was conveniently provided, instead. This truly frightening story troubled me for a long time. What if god commanded my dad to tie me to the kitchen table, grab a dull kitchen knife, raise it above his head, and because he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids (again), fail to hear the admonition of the almighty to slaughter the family pooch, instead? I worried about this a lot. I still hold a grudge against our family poodle.
I remember asking respected member of our church if demons were real. Yes, he said, demons were real. As a young boy I believed what the elders in our church told me. For many years, I feared getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Returning to my room, I leapt beneath the covers from a few steps away to prevent the demons from beneath my bed from grabbing at my ankles. I spent many years walking uneasily through the dark, cursing the shadows in the middle of the night, when I simply had to pee.
I’ve walked through many darkened corridors since those bladder-wracked nights of my childhood. The demons never came. I no longer fear the Christian story, or desire its otherworldly promise, a promise that will most likely remain unkept. The course I steered through these bleak hallways of my intellectual laziness and credulous worldview, I hope, bears retelling.