About a year after we arrived in San Diego, we started attending Trinity Presbyterian Church. Set jutting from the hillside, the bottom of the church, under the part that jutted, housed the Sunday school, and on top of that the Church proper. An A-Frame structure, somewhat futuristic looking, in a Disney Land way.
More troubling than the non-traditional architecture were the sermons. While I can’t say I understood the sermons delivered in Ora, S.C., I had the feeling they were generally gloomy and featured Calvinistic ruminations on grace and damnation. But in California, we received, as I slowly came to understand it, heaping dollops of Sweetness and Light. This was the pap upon which Sunday Morning Christians Suckled.
God was no Yahweh bent upon retribution for sliding from the path; he was instead the God of Forgiveness. In fact, He would forgive almost anything. He was not I felt a God John Wayne could respect. His Son moreover loved everybody. Nobody need feel unloved as long as He was around.
This whole sickly conglomeration was mixed up with grotesque and macabre events featuring persons rising from the grave and being tortured to death.. The whole business was distasteful, even vulgar; I couldn’t make any sense of it either. I could find no connection between the macabre events and the meanings assigned to them by the Bible as interpreted by our Minister.
How did getting strung up on a cross when one could have easily left town equal “dying for our sins.” How did dying and then rising from the dead equal “dying.” Deadness by definition is infinite. At best the Son spent a brief three days in the other place. And what was the big deal about a God becoming human. Was it so awful being us? Had God humiliated himself by assuming the form of what he had supposedly created? And to top it off, he returned for a while to this earth as a ghost. I am probably wrong; lots of odd things happen in the Old Testament but I don’t remember any ghosts.
I would sit at the sermons trying to understand but feeling more and more repulsed. How could the Minister use such word as “but” or “therefore” or “however”—those precious logical connectors—to create an edifice of unreason? I tried to understand. But that was difficult, not only because of the subject matter, but because the year before while a sophomore in high school, I had decided, not that I did not believe in God, but that He had not ever existed, for to say I did not believe still implied a disjunctive relation to Him.
I don’t recollect having been in any particular way upset that Sunday morning, but rather than get ready for Church I continued to read my novel. When my mother asked why wasn’t I getting ready, I replied calmly that I was an atheist and that going to Church struck me as hypocritical and a waste of my time. Perhaps I suffered a temporary lapse of sanity or maybe it was something like hope.
In any case, I should have known what would happen. My mother reported that I had become an atheist to my father. She then fell to weeping and wondering aloud what she had done to deserve such a son. He, having stopped striking me directly sometime before, thundered around the house, slamming doors, and cursing up a storm. Whereupon my youngest brother who was 14 years younger than I and about two years old began to cry at all the racket. The din was unbelievable. I was then informed by another brother that nobody would be going to church that day unless I went and we would all accordingly go to hell together because of my action.
I put on my church clothes, went to the car and waited; they all came out and got in the car, as if nothing had happened; the incident was never brought up again, nor did they ever ask me if I had changed my mind or why I had become an atheist or what my reasoning was if any. Really, they were not in the least concerned with what I felt or thought only with how I “behaved.”