My son, Jeremy was born with a built-in bullshit detector. When he was young, I was still insecure and closeted about my unbelief. I sent my children off to church with my husband in the hopes that religion would give them the moral grounding they might otherwise be missing. But I was worried needlessly. Jeremy came pre-grounded with an acute sense of right and wrong, true and false. As a preschooler, he closely monitored his toddler twin brothers, earning a reputation both for tattle-taling and reliable babysitting. He loved science books and knew Santa wasn’t real. So I guess it’s not surprising that Christianity fell woefully short of his preschooler standards of decency and plausibility. Once I tried reading to him from a new Bible story book he’d been given by an aunt. He sat patiently through the story of the Garden of Eden and Noah and the Ark, but jumped up from the couch in the middle of the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. “Why does God all the time have to be so mean?” he called over his shoulder as he ran off to play. He has never looked back.
Not many years later, there was a strange incident at the dinner table. One of his twin brothers at age 4 inexplicably burst out with the comment, “God is dead!” The twin other countered that “God isn’t dead. It’s Jesus who’s dead. Remember? He’s the one at the front of the church being poked with a stick.” Their wise older brother, now in kindergarten, gently corrected them both: “God isn’t dead. He never existed.” We were surprised Jeremy knew the word “existed.”
Then there was the day Jeremy learned about evolution. “Where do people come from?” He had asked, “How did people came to be on earth?” I replied with a quickie, G-rated version of the story, appropriate to his age: One animal has babies that are like it but a little different, and so on, until you have a new animal.
“What comes after people?” he asked next.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Well, there used to be dinosaurs and now there’s not. One day there won’t be people.”
“I don’t know . . .” I answered uncomfortably.
“Maybe it will be a new kind of dinosaur,” he exclaimed with a smile, “And maybe THEY will dig up OUR bones!”
He was a brave thinker. He was probably in the fourth grade, when on the way to the park to roller blade, he turned to me and said out of the blue, “I don’t get what’s the big deal about Jesus dying. It’s not like he was the first person to ever die.” I silently patted myself on the back for sparing my children the indoctrination that that had prevented me from thinking that very same thought until I was halfways through college.
What brings up all these memories again? Well yesterday, my grown son Jeremy (now a doctor of physical therapy) was cleaning out his childhood room and found some old homework and proudly showed it to me. “You see! I was an atheist first!” he shouted.
I have no idea what era this quiz is from and neither does he, but he hasn’t changed much over the years. The reading assignment for this literature class was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards. Judging from the quiz answers, the reading was about how God hates sinners. He holds them over the fiery pit “like a spider . . . . or some other disliked insect” unless “people become christian and pray to his god.” There is a matching section testing the students on the following “Words to Know”: abhor, abominable, appease, ascribe, deliverance, incense, inconceivable, loathsome, mitigation, and wrath.
Question C on the quiz asks: “How do your views compare to Edwards’s? Write a brief description of the agreement or disagreement between your views and his, using at least five of the Words to Know.”
Jeremy’s response: “I abohor his ideas. I don’t believe in god and I find it inconceivable to believe. Someone else decides my fate. His speech wasn’t appeasing at all. I want to unleash my wrath on Edwards and see him receive deliverance from the cops.”
A sketch below shows two stick figures fighting, and a police car arriving on the scene. The picture is labeled “me,” “fist,” “Edwards head,” and “cops coming to save him from destruction.” The teacher has put a red question mark by the picture.
Nevertheless, my Jeremy gets an A.