14 October 2007


I remember the exact moment I became an Atheist. Most people don't have that-- that single moment of conversion. A lot of Christians do, the "born agains" all do. Most of them will happily recount for you the exact moment in time when they were "saved."

I met a guy at the mall one time-- an older guy named Charles. Charles took it upon himself to proselytize to me, even though I had probably logged in more hours in the church than he had. I was a student a Grand Rapids Christian High who had been forced to go to church twice each Sunday since birth*. I also went to Sunday school each week and was forced (until my protests grew too loud for my parents to bother fighting against) to take part in weekly Cadets** meetings. There was little Charles, a new convert to the wonderful world of Jesus, could tell me about "the good news" that hadn't already heard a dozen or so times.

Luckily, Charles wasn't from one of those churches were they stress "theology" and "thinking," oh no, he was from one of those "feeling" churches. Which, suffice it to say, as a member of the Christian Reformed Church, I was not well versed in.

He told me about the day he was "saved": One day, Charles recounted, he was in the bathtub and all of a sudden he got a warm sensation (no, really, that's what he told me), he felt like everything in the room was glowing. It was the Holy Spirit and Charles knew-- he just knew-- that it was the Holy Spirit and that he had just been saved. Charles then relented from whatever unspecified sinful ways he had been indulging in and opened a Yamaha shop. I remember that he clarified that it was bikes, and not keyboards or keyboards and not bikes, but for the life of me, I can't remember which.

After sharing his story, Charles asked if I were saved. Stupid, stupid me said: "I guess so." Charles and his Holy Spirit don't 'guess.' You know you are saved or you know you're damned. So Charles decided that because I couldn't specify the date, time and tub in which I was saved, I needed to be prayed for. Right there in the mall. The middle of the mall. At closing time. The security guards were making the rounds as the employees locked up their stores and the last few customers filtered out.

Had this been the middle of the day with more people around, it would have been less of a spectacle, but since there were very few other people milling about we were the main event. As Charles laid his hands on me and prayed with his head tossed back (the better to reach god with, I guess), the empty mall became one giant echo chamber for Charles' efforts to save me. He fervently prayed for my soul, that I might "know the sweet love of you, dear Jesus and take in your spirit to transform [my] life" for all the employees of Woodland mall to hear.

Of course, at the time, I was a Christian. Y'know, except for the part where I had serious doubts about the authenticity of the Bible and didn't really think of God as anything but something to yell at when life sucked, I still considered myself a Christian. This was during my "I just don't like organized religion" phase. Which means I still went to church, but I didn't like it. If I could find Charles again, I could really give him something to pray about now.

A few years before I met Charles, I had my own conversion experience: my siblings and I were gathered in our basement as our father berated us for some awful sin or another. Perhaps we had said we'd rather watch "The Simpsons" than go to Youth Group-- something terrible like that. Already by this time, Dad had become less threatening to us and more ridiculous. Especially when he was trying to be righteous. This was around the same time that he started watching videos which blamed the Jews for the terrible state our country was in and when he had our house declared "The Church of the Second Chance" so he wouldn't have to pay property tax. Being the smart kids that we were, that whole 'honor thy father' thing was getting pretty tricky.

Anyway, he was pointing out some speck in our eyes while ignoring the Viking long ships in his own when he pointed up at the ceiling and said "the big man upstairs isn't going to be very happy with you."

My older brother (always the quickest wit in the group) replied, "There's a guy upstairs? What, is he taking a bath or something?"

My father didn't find it very funny. His sense of humor had been killed off by years of hate and impotence. But my siblings and I loved it. We embraced the idea of a mysterious and uninvited figure hanging out in our bathroom. We named him Bathtub Jeff.

We would caution each other not to incur the wrath of Bathtub Jeff. I always pictured him as a fat bald man, (with blue skin for some reason) scrubbing his back with a toilet brush and just barely able to cram himself into our tub. I imagined him yelling at us from the bathroom to "Knock that off!" as he struggled in vain to get himself out of the tub, displaced water sloshing over the side. But, of course, Bathtub Jeff couldn't get himself out of the tub. He kept slipping back into it, getting more frustrated until finally he'd stop his struggling and exhaustedly settle back into the tub, muttering something about those "damned kids downstairs."

The moment Bathtub Jeff was born was the moment I became an Atheist. It'd be the better part of a decade before I'd admit it (even to myself) but the creation of Bathtub Jeff is what planted that seed. Something clicked in that moment and suddenly the notion of "the big man upstairs" was silly. It was absurd to think that there was this bloated being, looking down on us with disapproval but unable to do anything about it. Bathtub or no bathtub.

Maybe Charles and my bathtub related conversions (him to and me from) are karma's way of keeping balance. Maybe that's just Nature's way of making sure everything stays in tune . . . Or maybe an old man made a tinkle while taking a bath and he misinterpreted it as a divine intervention. I guess we'll never know.

*Actually, when we were little my twin sister and I didn't have to go to night church and instead would stay home watching "Charles in Charge." I think it's safe to say that I learned at least as much from "Charles in Charge" as I would have in church.

**The Cadets, for those of you not from the Christian Reformed Church, is like the Boy Scouts for Calvinists. We didn't just have to earn merit badges; we were predestined to earn them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bathtub Jeff, huh? I smell a cult in the works...