Shortly after thinking of the title for the blog, I realized that a title like that opens the door for many questions. Chief of which is “how does one become an Arkansas Atheist?” So in honor of this question that I asked of myself I thought I’d offer a little version of how I became, undoubtedly not the first, an Arkansas Atheist. I will try to describe the most important moments that have led to this realization in the next few entries. This first entry will provide a few details about my first interaction with religious ideals. The rest of the entry will carry my story into my eighth year of life and the first real interaction with religious ritual. For now though, I will stick to the beginning of my street.
I grew up in a handful of small towns centered around the Northwest Arkansas area. All my homes have been between Springdale and extended as far south as Prairie Grove. Living in small communities like Cane Hill, Viney Grove, and Blue Mountain (which was really a hill in the Southern Ozark Mountains) I was rarely exposed to any non-religious opinions. Although it must first be said from my earliest memories, I had no connection to religion. I am sure I was aware of religious things, like the idea of God and angels by that time, but I didn’t create any memories of religious stock that stuck with me. I don’t think my family went to church while my parents were still together. Then they divorced. At the time, I was far too young to understand what was really taking place. I do remember the last time my father was in the house before he left for good. It was a reasonably peaceful divorce, as far as those things go, from what I remember. The next event that really strikes me is the death of my grandparents on my mother’s side. It was still the early eighties and Reagan was the new president. At my grandfather’s funeral I asked my mother if, “Grandpa was going to heaven?” Her honest response was “Grandpa has lots of cussing to get through.” This little joke from my mom was the first time I remember thinking that someone could have problems getting to heaven, but in all honesty I have no memory of pondering Heaven or Hell; I didn’t ponder a postmortem existence at that point. I don’t recall pondering morality or how morality could be used.
This all changed with my next memory, as my mind became more mature. There were commercials at the time for some self-help books claiming to hold the secrets to returning a busted marriage to health. I remember wanting to call the 1-800 number on the bottom of the screen to get the books for my broken family. I suppose something in me understood that without a credit card or check the number would do you no good, because I never called. I knew then, from the perspective of a child caught in the middle, a whole family would be better than a broken one, . Not that anyone would be more happy, but it seemed whole families were more healthy and, dare I say, normal. Soon, both of my parents would remarry, and the experience of going to church on a regular basis was to follow. I was then exposed to the internal gearing of a religion, unimpressive at first. I usually used the time at church to battle my cousin at hangman or to watch the musicians during the singing of hymns. The application of religion came after being in the church for a bit. I remember hearing a sermon about the “Ask and ye shall receive,” lines, and I went home to request a 4-wheeler from Christ. I circled my house trying the prayer in various places, giving various amounts of time after the prayer, all manner of techniques I conjectured would give me a better chance of getting what I was praying for. This prayer would get answered eventually, about ten years later in my teens my stepfather would purchase a used ATV that lasted for about two weeks before breaking down permanently. Awe inspiring I know.
I would eventually cross the next line into church membership in the 5th grade when I was saved at the altar of Christianity. Tears filled my eyes as pledged everlasting love to eternal triad with my father at my side and the preacher before me conducting the ritual. The next step was baptism; I never carried through with it. Something kept me from taking the next step. I, to this day, don’t really know why never went through with that next step. I do remember feeling there was something unnatural about the event, something I didn’t want to be a part of, so I avoided it. I guess that’s as good of a reason as any.