I became a Christian at the age of fourteen years old or so. Don’t worry, I eventually got over it, but it was generally a bad move and coused my some considerable life difficulty in the few years immediately thereafter. I recently found myself thinking about how it happened and what that memory did to me surprised me a little at first. It pissed me off. It did so because I was, for lack of a better description, duped into buying their particular bag of bullshit.
To properly tell the story, I’ll have to go back a few years and explain that, as a small child, my family was really not religious in any sense of the word. The earliest church-related experiences I can remember were of my family attending a Conmgregational church in New York, which was really like not being religious at all. I attended Sunday School, sang in the Junior Choir, and learned about David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, and, of coursde, J.C. But even the stories I remember about Jesus from that time didn’t really center around the “he died for our sins” bit so much as “look at all the sandwiches he made!” or “he turned water into wine!”
My family left Long Island for Phoenix in 1976 and once we’d settled there we started going to a congregational church there for a few years as well. Then, at some point, we just stopped. To this day i don’t know why that is, maybe sometime I’ll ask my mom. So, fast forward a few years (six or so, perhaps?) and now I’m thirteen or so and my stepfather gets invited to a chili dinner being held at a small local Wesleyan church. What’s a Wesleyan, you may ask? They’re somewhere between bibnle-thumping Baptists and more laid-back Methodists, but definitely closer to the bible-thumpers. They’re not charasmatics or pentecostal withthe singing,dancing, pew-jumping and speaking in tonges (a practice I never participated in or bought, by the way), but they’re definitely John 3:16 preaching evangelicals. We go to the dinner, have a fairly nice time (Christians are awesome when they’re trying to lure you into their ranks), and before we know it we’re going to the church regularly.
In the summer the church launched its Vacation Bible School, a Christian practice of trying to brainwash children into their beliefs, and they have classes and songs and arts & crafts and that kind of shit for a week. This was likely in May or June. In Phoenix, AZ, where the temperatures in the summer months reach highs of 115-120 regularly. That will become important in a minute or so. Naturally, everyone attends, as it’s pretty much expected of us all.
On the last night of the VBS, we are taken in groups from the chursh to the home of the youth leader and his wife (this dude would later be arrested on domestic violence charges after holding his wife and kids hostage in their home with a shotgun, but that’s a story for another time I guess. At this point he was just Gary who taught us to make pinewood derby race cars and took us fishing at Lake Pleasant). Here we were ushered in (in groups of two or three) to a mock “party” atmosphere where we were encouraged to drink alcohol (it was actually Kool-Aid in plastic cups, but those force-feeding the drinks were acting intoxicated), smoke (whether the rolled-up looseleaf papers they shoved in our mouths were supposed to be cigarettes or joints I still don’t know), and behave generally badly while KUPD (the local hard rock station at the time) blared on the stereo. Then we were ushered out back and into a pretend car (plastic chairs from the church arranged to resemble the front and back seats of an automobile), which, of course, crashed because the driver was too inebriated. We were then taken back inside into one of the back bedrooms which was bathed in red light and had several space heaters going at full blast. In June, in Phoenix. We’d died and gone to Hell, we were informed, and would now be tortured in this manner for all eternity.
We were then told it5 didn’t have to be that way and were taken back to the party. KUPD was gone, replaced by probably Amy Grant or Keith Greene, as was the “booze” and “drugs.” It was a “Christian” youth-gathering with bible-reading and Christian-ese speaking (people hanging out is “fellowship,” telling someone about your day was “sharing,” and so-on) and it was homogonenized and dull and everything you might expect an evangelical’s “party” to be like. Ride home, car crash, and now we were taken into the dining room which was cool and clean and candle-lit. A lace tablecloth adorned the table and a painting of Jesus was rested gainst the chair at the head of the table. A BIG one, so it was LIKE HE WAS IN THE ROOM! And, of course, we were told that our reward for living right and accepting Christ into our lives would be an eternity in a place like this, instead of like the room with the heaters. In retrospect it seems pretty dull, but still better than that sweltering heat. All of us, the other kids (who ranged in ages from about eight or nine to, well, me… at fourteen i was the oldest… lucky me) and myself said the words, recited the prayer and got “saved.”
So, i was basically frightened into it. Does that really count? I’d like to take it back, please. I’m ashamed to say that I did buy into it hook, line, and sinker at the time and spent most of my Freshman and Sophomore years as a genuine Jesus freak and Bible-thumper. I’m not proud. I was convinced that the rapture would not only happen but would do so within my lifetime and I read books by the likes of Hal Lindsey and Tim Lahaye and Bob Larson. Tools and charlatans, all, by the way. Larson especially. Back in the 80’s he was the anti-rock ‘n’ roll preacher who primarily railed against bands of the 60s and 70s (I remember the Beatles and Led Zeppelin were favorite targets of his) and later hosted a call-in radio show (Talk Back with Bob Larson) which often attracted calls from “Satanist” teens. Today he acts as an exorcist over Skype or the internet or something. No lie. It’s funny shit.
A curswory glance at Larson’s Wikipedia page (yes, he has one) provided me a biliography of his written work. I find a lot of the titles amusing, So I decided to list them here. Have a chuckle.
- Rock & Roll: The Devil’s Diversion (Creation House, 1967)
- Hippies, Hindus, and Rock & Roll (Creation House, 1969)
- Rock & the Church (Creation House, 1971)
- The Day Music Died (Creation House, 1972) ISBN 0-88419-030-7
- Hell on Earth (Creation House, 1974) ISBN 0-88419-072-2
- Babylon Reborn (Creation House, 1976) ISBN 0-88419-006-4
- Rock, Practical Help for Those Who Listen to the Words and Don’t like What They Hear (Tyndale, 1980) ISBN 0-8423-5685-1
- Larson’s Book of Cults (Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill, 1982) ISBN 0-8423-2104-7
- Larson’s Book of Family Issues (Tyndale, 1986) ISBN 0-8423-2459-3
- Strange Cults in America (Tyndale, 1986) ISBN 0-8423-6675-X
- Larson’s Book of Rock (Tyndale, 1987) ISBN 0-8423-5687-8
- Your Kids and Rock (Tyndale, 1988) ISBN 0-8423-8611-4
- Satanism: the Seduction of America’s Youth (Lightning Source, 1989) ISBN 0-8407-3034-9
- Straight Answers on the New Age (Thomas Nelson, 1989) ISBN 0-8407-3032-2
- Tough Talk About Tough Issues (Tyndale, 1989) ISBN 0-8423-7297-0
- Larson’s New Book of Cults (Tyndale, 1989) ISBN 0-8423-2860-2
- Dead Air: A Novel (Thomas Nelson, 1991) ISBN 0-8407-7638-1
- Abaddon: A Novel (Thomas Nelson, 1993) ISBN 0-8407-7796-5
- The Senator’s Agenda (Thomas Nelson, 1995) ISBN 0-7852-7879-6
- In The Name of Satan: How the Forces of Evil Work and What You Can Do to Defeat Them (Thomas Nelson, 1996) ISBN 0-7852-7881-8
- UFO’s and the Alien Agenda (Thomas Nelson, 1997) ISBN 0-7852-7182-1
- Extreme Evil: Kids Killing Kids (Nelson Reference, 1999) ISBN 0-7852-6870-7
- Larson’s Book of Spiritual Warfare (Nelson, 1999) ISBN 0-7852-6985-1
- Shock Talk: The Exorcist Files (WestBow, 2001) ISBN 0-7852-7009-4