The Story of an Arkansas Atheist Pt. 4

College was not the first time I had attempted writing. At 23, I attempted to write a story based on some D & D characters from one of my many long term games. I did pretty well considering I had never really attempted fiction before. 17,000 words on an old Apple computer, a hand-me-down from my girlfriend’s uncle. Power Macs had been around for years, and this was no Power Mac. That computer died. I truthfully wish that story had survived. My backup copy of the story lived on a 3.5 inch disk. Nobody I knew owned a Mac at the time, PC was running away with the market, but a co-worker thought that he had software to convert the file to Word. I was stoked when I got the disk back taking it to my uncle James’ PC that was brand new at the time, and to my disappointment the text was there, but every other word, down to the letter to letter basis at some points, had crazy symbols interjected where spaces and punctuation used to exist. I admit that the task of cleaning all that up, backspacing and deleting and re-spacing, did not appeal to me, so after I put it away the disk was lost. Other than that, writing D & D stories, which I had entire notebooks full of gaming notes, plot lines, and characters, I didn’t do anything even remotely close to being a writer. That brings me back to my story.

I had began the relationship that would develop into my family. I had been fired from the last retail job I would ever be ambitious about, and I had moved back “home”, to Fayetteville, where my mom had an apartment. Horrible. To enter your thirties by moving back in with your mother, not to mention, hauling my young, new girlfriend in tow. I was received well though, as my mom knew that I would bounce back soon, but in the moment that kind of optimism is hard to come by. It did take a while. Nobody would hire me over the winter, spring yielded no different result, and by the end of spring I desperate. The relationship barely survived this period, but we did the best we could without any real resources except to burden my mom with our needs. Oh ya, low fuckin’ times. My despairing thoughts eventually settled on trying college for the first time in order to utilize loans and grants for income. I never had any doubters when I started telling people that I was going attempt college. My dad was the only real voice of negativity when he said that it “doesn’t really sound like you.” His doubts were well founded, as I am no model son. He taught a Sunday School class; I smoked weed, drank, partied, jumped from management job to management job, and really didn’t participate in family things unless there were some presents or food. The only thing he may have missed is my focus and resolve for doing things that I think are important. In a few months I will have played drums for twenty years, and that sounds like commitment to me. His words did nothing but strengthen my resolve. I turned the focus and drive I acquired from music and the ability to be officious from my business managing career to getting accepted at The University of Arkansas (Go Hogs!).

I took my first ACT at 31 years old. I started my first college class that fall, and began, unknowingly, the career path of professor to which I still aspire. This first semester is when I learned to research for writing. I found a talent I never knew I possessed. I had no idea that research would be so fulfilling, and I think it is based in the ability for research to empower a person with the ability to spread data that other people gathered. To back up factual information, or providing the tools to discredit false or dangerous knowledge can change lives. Whatever the real answer is, I began to gather lectures from the internet. Most of the lectures that I found mentioned books and sources I could gain access to thus allowing me to look into the matter myself. I also decided to take a language that I had no experience in, German. I did fairly well at that too. My morale for college skyrocketed, and led to me putting a ton of energy into transforming my self into a student. This period led to another profound change in my life, as the new girlfriend became pregnant with my daughter.

The pregnancy was unplanned, but no mistake. I had always known I wanted a family, and it was with that event that the dream of having a family of my own was truly conceived. The uneventful pregnancy actually ended up making my girlfriend as nice as she had been or would ever be, backwards, I know. That first summer after my daughter was born I worked about 34 hours a week at a liquor store and mowed about 15 hours week with a very good friend of mine. With a newborn and hours like that, I came into my second year of college very exhausted, and it showed. We moved into the home I now occupy at the end of that summer. 3 month old baby, girlfriend, myself, and mom relocated to a house less than a mile from the apartment. I would get my only D in college this year, my German grades suffered as a result of the distractions contained within all this newness. The move proved to be the right decision as, after that fall, I came into the spring semester recharged. It didn’t translate into instant success, but I there would be no more Ds to plague my transcript. By my daughters 1st birthday, we had a rhythm down for our life and it seemed that the family was stronger than ever. We were helping each other to achieve a high quality of life making us strong, right?

No, there would be fights that started in the spring between the adults of the house. Mom and the girlfriend would talk shit about each other, and I would get pounded as the man in the middle. If I took mom’s side the girlfriend would get angry and tell me I relied on my mother too much (“Get of your momma’s tit”). If I took the girlfriend’s side, mom would usually give up and hide in her bedroom which provided a chilly and unproductive result. This came to a head when the girlfriend and I broke up for the first real time. She took the baby out of the house bestowing a first taste of what it would mean to lose my family. We made amends and everyone tried to live in harmony again. As the 1st anniversary of living in the new house approached, everyone seemed to have their eyes on the prize. Looks are deceiving because the tension would get even larger hiding under the guise of reconciliation. The holidays were cordial with only a few angry moments, so the rest of the world, I am sure, figured that there was a balance being reached somewhere. Yet, that Christmas would show a result concerning philosophical ideas that were newly brewing within my intellect.

I had already taken Introduction to Philosophy, and when asked about God during that class my response had been, “I’m not really a big, God person.” My love of research had not quite reached any type of theological and philosophical idioms, so I had yet to find any opportunity to feel confident in a position other than God didn’t really like people. It must be mentioned that a relatively new tradition on my father’s side of the family had began. A birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas day was presented, and all the younger members gather around a cake that actually says “Happy Birthday Jesus,” on it. They sing the birthday song and blow out the candles. The family goes on to open presents saying nothing more about it. This bugged me because I had always been taught that Christmas was for family and kids. The interjection of a literal birthday celebration for Jesus seemed to somehow compromise the purity of my understanding. The only thing residual effect from this Christmas came in the form of my awareness at having a problem with the new tradition. This is the only event involving religion that had impacted me in years, and in retrospect, this event likely planted a seed. A seed that would germinate until the proper form of fertilizer arrived in the form of an interview with one of my heroes, Daniel Dennett, on a BBC television production called “The Atheist Tapes.” In this interview conducted by Jonathan Miller, and Professor Dennett mentions many things, but the subject that most intrigued me was that of morality in the atheist philosophy. A light at the end of the tunnel erupted into my mind with this simple interview. The nature of this tunnel was cloaked in a couple of questions: “is it possible to understand morality outside of religion?,” and: could religion actually be bad for people? I found lectures by Professor Dennett and his peers regarding my questions, and before my daughter’s 2nd birthday I had gathered enough information to decided that I was sure that there was no need for God any longer. Like the birth of my daughter and the starting of college, this would change my mind and  my life forever. We met the backyard neighbors, brothers, that were raised Catholic.  I met their very Catholic sister as well, and had already began to voice my belief that the Bible is fictional tale, mere mythology.  My admission of Atheism was allowing me to partake in debates, and flurries of questions about “how or why?” the philosophy of Atheism was my stance. Humanism and Atheism, noble causes that need educated voices explaining why it is more healthy than religion and in order to educate on the dangers of faith.  This may seem like a fitting end to my story but, there were ramifications and more suffering in store.

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