Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What I Learned About Writing About Religion.


The recent debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Creation Museum founder/Young Earth Theory proponent Ken Hamm put me in the mind of something that happened to me during my formative years.  For it was at the tender age of fifteen that I learned what Bill Nye has apparently yet to comprehend: There ain’t no arguing or even discussing the facts with a religious fundamentalist.

Back then, I hadn’t really talked to any.  I suppose I’d been around them my entire life, but the subject of their beliefs never came up until one day when I was talking to a friend of mine in class about the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”   Those who have seen it are aware that the film opens with the Dawn of Man, during which ape-like hominids are shown dying off due to lack of food and ingenuity when a gigantic alien obelisk arrives and provides them with the next step in their…wait for it…evolution.

This friend, who was considered by several in the classroom to be the “smart one,” told me about how that portion of the film had always scared him.  Assuming it was due to the incredibly violent death scenes, I mentioned the killing and was told that wasn’t the reason.

“Oh,” I said, mildly surprised.  “Then what scares you?”

“I don’t believe in that stuff.”

“What stuff?”

“All that stuff about evolution and people starting off as monkeys.”

My jaw nearly came unhinged.  I’d never heard anyone say that before.  I tried explaining to him that it was a viable and tested theory, but he put his palm up and repeated that he didn’t "believe that stuff" a few more times.  Finally, I asked him if he believed God took clay and blew on it to make a human being.

“I believe what the Bible says,” he replied.

“Well, that is what the Bible says.”

He seemed uncomfortable, unsure how to proceed.  It was as if an internal struggle was taking place deep inside him, one that probably wouldn’t be reconciled for years to come.  I dropped it, too stunned to continue.

Months later, our English teacher, a jovial man who looked like a less creepy-looking Jerry Mathers, assigned us a comparison research paper.  I knew instantly what I wanted to write about and set about doing so.  By the time we had to bring in our first drafts to go over with the teacher, I was rather pleased with what I’d accomplished.  So pleased, in fact, that I made the mistake of mentioning it to a group of five or six guys sitting near me.

“I decided to do a paper on the similarities between Greek mythology and the Bible.”

Imagine your eyes as a movie camera, slowly panning along a semi-circle of shocked, repulsed and enraged teenage boys and you might have a slight idea what things looked like from my perspective.  I thought they were angry because I’d come up with an advanced topic that was sure to make their efforts look meager by comparison.

Nope!

One of them started yelling at me about how there were no similarities between Greek mythology and the books of the Bible.  Then the friend with whom I’d once discussed the Dawn of Man launched in, demanding to know what similarities I was referring to.  I had five that I’d chosen but I went with my favorite.

“You know how Eve was tempted to eat the apple and wound up learning about sin? Pandora did the same thing when she opened the box she was told not to open. Both stories feature a curious woman who unleashes evil on the world.”

“THAT’S IT, THOUGH!” my friend yelled. “There aren’t anymore!”

“Actually, there are—“

A cacophony of voices erupted from those facing me, each louder and less coherent than the last.  It was only when a person who would become the sole voice of reason I knew at the school told everybody to calm down and let me speak that they stopped.  I thought about it for a moment and decided I had said enough.  At that moment, I’d learned a valuable lesson.  There was no reasoning with these people.  They weren’t thinkers, they were believers, and nothing and no one would ever come between them and what they’d chosen to believe.

The teacher’s reaction was a whole different story.  He was so impressed by the paper, he kept asking me if I’d had any help.  It wasn’t until I started going into detail about my fascination with mythology and the sources I’d used that he realized I was more advanced than my classmates.  In fact, he half-jokingly complained that there wasn’t anything in the paper for him to criticize or have me change, nearly leaping for joy when he found a minor formatting error.

That was when I learned my second lesson.  Never stop pursuing your vision just because people around you are narrow-minded.  I have never shied away from writing about polarizing topics and I never will.

On a side note, that teacher pulled me aside on the last day of school and told me how impressed he’d been by my writing and my intellect and how he knew I would do great things someday.  I’d never had a truly positive experience with a teacher like that and I have never forgotten it, although I do hope he’s not still waiting for me to do those great things he predicted.

And the voice of reason who had wanted to hear more?  We became close friends for years to come and then, one day, he turned to me and in a calm, rational voice, said, “You know science is the devil’s religion, right?”

The story never ends~