Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Fundamentalist at Bob Jones University: Part 5


By the time the fall of ’97 had rolled around, I had abandoned my previous year’s decision to enjoy the ride as long as it lasted. I was sick of the ride, and wanted off.

The summer was just a week old when Bronwynne and I got back together. Her parents were out of town, and I had asked her to go to the movies. We went to see Scream, which was playing in the dollar theatre by that time. I had already seen the movie twice, but I had a plan. After the movie, we went back to her parentless house. Sure enough, when it was time for me to go, she told me that the movie had freaked her out and that she was too scared to stay in the house alone. I, being chivalrous of course, offered to spend the night with her. That night stretched into several days, and by the time her parents returned, we were officially back together, much to her parent’s concern. Thus began a whirlwind summer that I will only vaguely describe.   

Free from the restraints of being Bob Jones University dorm students, we were free to do whatever we wanted. She was interning at a radio station, and I was working at the library, and we both had plenty of free time. Having money, a car that I ended up wrecking that summer, and freedom (my parents were away for large blocks of the summer, and when they were home they never questioned my activities), I made the most of it.

Our two main activities were going to the beach or going to the movies. After I wrecked the car, on the way to the beach of course, we would borrow one of our parent’s cars. I don’t remember ever not having access to a car, in fact, I don’t remember if I wrecked that ’66 Dodge Dart at the beginning of the summer, the middle, or toward the end. Regardless, wrecking the car was only a minor hiccup that I don’t remember having much of a negative impact on our summer. The one hassle was hiding our beer from my sister. I was under the assumption that when our parents were away, my sister and I would stay out of each other’s business. I forget to clear that with her, though. She wasn’t happy when she found my Bud Ice in the fridge[1], and told me that I had to get rid of it. We got rid of it on the beach, which was also, not coincidentally, the day that I got sun poisoning for the first time in my life.

Bronwynne and I went to church almost every Sunday that summer - partly out of habit, and partly because not going wasn’t worth the hassle that it would’ve caused with our parents. During the entire course of our relationship, dating and marriage, I don’t remember having a single in depth conversation about God or religion. A couple of years later, when I finally admitted to her that I was an atheist, I simply said, “I don’t believe that there is a God.” She didn’t bat an eye and said something like, “If it works for you.” That summer, whatever “religious” conversations we had were usually of the variety of mocking the standards of our parents and college. We would talk about how wrong they were about things like rock music, movies, alcohol, and abortion, all while embracing our autonomous hedonism that our freedom afforded us. Standing on the steps of the temple, regardless of the temple, and loudly thanking god, regardless of the god, that you’re not like those miserable fundamentalists is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he called people “whited sepulchers.” 

So, by the time the end of August showed up, I was addicted to doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Rules were no longer mildly irritating yet slightly amusing challenges; I now resented any and all restraints. I did not want to go back to Bob Jones University, and this August was different than the previous August. A selfish maliciousness had begun to foment, and my kicking against rules and what I perceived as hypocrisy was merely the sprouts of what eventually flowered into a willingness to do whatever I wanted for whatever I wanted. Don't let anyone ever tell you that the Flood wasn't deserved.

Bronwynne was the only reason that I went back to BJU, and I went back kicking and screaming. I made sure that Bronwynne didn’t forget what a sacrifice I was making for her. Honestly, looking back on it, I think that my terrible attitude about being at BJU that semester put a heavy strain on our relationship that sowed some of the seeds of our marriage’s demise four years later. That being said, considering the genesis of our relationship (I'm mainly talking about my motives) and my utter and willful abandonment to jackassery, our relationship had been doomed from the beginning - both "beginnings." 

Like the previous year, I was housed in a hall leader’s room. Except, unlike the previous year, this hall leader was an arrogant douchebag who apparently existed to make my life miserable. His hounding me about things like never going to class, wearing jeans around campus, and demonstrating a complete and utter disregard and contempt for all things BJU was annoying. I thought that he should be happy that I kept the room clean and quietly went to bed on time, and stop harassing me about never going to church on Sunday evenings, refusing to pray in prayer group, and not having a Bible anywhere in sight. He obviously had different priorities than I did, and we butted heads quite frequently that semester.

One of my biggest and most visible acts of defiance that semester was pinning a marijuana leaf button on my book bag. Never mind that at that point in my life, I had never smoked weed, I wanted to distinguish myself from all the other “rebels” on campus. I wanted everyone to know that unlike the other “rebels,” I wasn’t playing a game. To this day, I don’t understand why I didn’t get in trouble for that button. It wasn’t as if people didn’t know what it was; I could hear them whispering about it behind me. Walking into chapel or the dining hall, I would smugly smirk when I would hear people incredulously whisper, “Is that a marijuana leaf?” or “Does he really have a marijuana leaf on his book bag?”

Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth and The Diaries of Adam and Eve, books that I had purchased a couple of years earlier, became my bibles. As did Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian. I was especially impressed by Twain’s argument about instincts/morality. For years, beginning with that semester, I would challenge people with the thought that if God created everything, then he created sexual urges. So, then why does God punish men for satisfying the sexual urges that He gave them? He doesn’t punish foxes for acting like foxes, does he? The juvenile and fallacious reasoning wasn’t the saddest thing about that; the saddest thing, in my opinion, was that for years no Christian gave me an answer other than that if I had faith, God would take my questions away. It was also at this time that I began my love of pulling out “intellectual” nuggets like, “If God performs miracles, why has he never healed an amputee?”[2]. Armed with my new found “intellectual” ammunition, I believed that my seven year old self had been justified – the seven year old self who had lain awake at night wondering how his parents could be so sure that God existed.

Atheist was still too big of a word for me at that point, and so I relished the role of the provocateur that wasn’t required to provide any answers. Whenever anyone would question my beliefs about certain aspects of Christianity, I would fall back on pointing out supposed contradictions in the Bible and logical and philosophical problems with certain teachings of Christianity. I was careful to phrase and deliver the questions as genuine questions and not direct challenges, so as not to be pushed back on what I did or did not believe. My end-run game plan didn’t extend to questions of standards, though. I had no problem directly challenging teachers, fellow students, and the Dean of Men about things like rock music, going to the movies, and alcohol. That semester, I got turned into the Dean of Men’s office[3] for arguing with the professor during the middle of class about why students were required to read Oedipus the King but would get in trouble for watching a movie like Seven. My immature and juvenile antics earned me the reputation as the immature and juvenile guy who would enliven class with his immature and juvenile questions and challenges.

As the semester progressed, I became more and more bitter about the constraints that kept me from doing whatever I wanted. Never mind that I pretty much did whatever I wanted anyway. I don’t think that a week went by without a trip to a movie theatre, and I no longer even attempted to hide my forbidden walkman. Getting alcohol wasn’t that difficult, and Bronwynne and I would frequently skip church on Sunday in order to drive down to Atlanta. As that semester progressed, my bitterness and resentment became less about the rules, and more about the fact that I was tired of hanging out with Christians. Christianity was everywhere. Several of my professors took a profound interest in me that semester. While I was sitting in her office one day, my Oral Interpretation of Poetry professor actually cried as she expressed her concern for me. I sat there and uncomfortably stewed at her presumption as she told me that she frequently prayed for me. I did not know that kindly, motherly women who were gentle yet firm in expressing their concern for me as tears rolled down their cheeks would be one of the hardest pricks that I would have to kick against for the next almost decade. 

Toward the end of the semester, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. It was terminal, and he didn’t have long to live. A week after Thanksgiving, my family, including my sisters and their husbands, planned what we assumed would be our last visit with him. At BJU during that time (it may be different now), you couldn’t just leave campus. Students were required to take “Cuts,” which came with a set of qualifications – school bill has to be up-to-date and the student can’t be on any form of probation, either spiritual or academic. My school bill wasn’t up-to-date, and I was on both types of probation. My brother’s school bill wasn’t up-to-date either. This meant that we had to get what was called “Emergency Cuts.” We naturally assumed that visiting our dying grandfather qualified as an “emergency.”

I don’t remember if I met my brother as he left the Admin Building (where the Dean of Men’s office was located) or if I ran into him somewhere else on campus. What I do remember is him telling me that the Dorm Supervisor manning the desk in the Dean of Men’s office had told him that visiting our grandfather wasn’t an emergency. I lost it. I was livid when I stormed into the packed office. My entrance was such, and I’m sure that the expression on my face helped, that everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at me. The guy who was being helped by the Dorm Supervisor at the desk backed away. It wouldn’t have mattered, because I wouldn’t have waited anyway. I rewarded the office’s attention with a stream of explicatives directed at the shocked Dorm Supervisor. During my tirade, I let him know that my grandfather dying was an emergency, and that my brother and I would be taking emergency cuts with or without his permission.

That Christmas break, my best friend got married and my grandfather passed away, but the most important thing for me was that I was finally free. Or so I thought.                   


[1] Honestly, if I ever catch my kids with Bud Ice, I will be livid.
[2] For the record, this is how you should answer if anyone is stupid enough to say that to you – first, look the idiot in the eyes and say, “You’re an idiot.” Second, ask the idiot how he/she knows that God has never healed an amputee. Do they have access to every miracle that’s ever been performed in the entire history of the world? Third, point out that Jesus reattached the soldier’s ear that Peter hacked off in the Garden of Gethsemane. Fourth, for good measure, finish by repeating, “You’re an idiot.”
[3] I got turned in fairly frequently to the Dean of Men’s office, but I don’t have the space nor the inclination to detail every single time. I highly doubt that I remember every single time.

5 comments:

  1. What is most disturbing is that you were drinking bud ice.

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    1. Haha - there should be a like button for this comment of yours.

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    2. It's too bad that Bud Ice isn't made anymore. I had/have an idea for a video series called "Drinks From Past," where, with a friend or two, I would review drinks like Bud Ice.

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  2. When I run into someone who proclaims atheism or agnosticism proudly, I rarely get into debates to refute their intellectual claims. I know nuanced arguments about the veracity of Scripture and the positive impact of Christianity in the world, but I have rarely found that conversation to be helpful for a person until the Holy Spirit has broken down their pride.

    I'm curious. If you run into a 20-something who is like you at that point in your life, and let's assume you actually know this person (you're friends or neighbors or whatever), what would you do?

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  3. That's a good question, and my response, as I'm sure yours is, is often determined by things like my relationship with the individual, types of questions, ect. I generally ask people like that lots of questions about their life and beliefs, and then I find that they reciprocate, and I then I tell them the story of how God saved me.

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