I got saved!
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A boy from Savannah and his grandma
I grew up in the comparatively deep south but not one of the shit holes of ignorance. Depending on your vantage Savannah, Georgia is a small city or a big town. Not quite cosmopolitan but far from backwoods.
For my first few years I was raised mostly by my grandparents, particularly my grandma. Grandma Lucille as I recall her was a ‘saintly Christian woman’ with her hair tied in a bun. My first memory of going to church is with her, all I remember is the spare white church building, nothing of what when on inside. Grandma Lucille died about the time I turned six, her memory forever bright with the uncomplicated love of a little boy. Church to me meant grandma.
My parents didn’t go to church. My father went fishing, drinking and whoring on weekends, my mother happy enough to be rid of him. Still less than nine I’d sometimes attend Sunday school at a mainline Methodist church with my friend Tootie. It was there I got an idea of what Jesus, ah, looked like. And there were pasteboard fans (this was the South and not everything was air conditioned) painted with scenes from Bible stories. Theologically all I walked away with was confusion as to how the Apostles differed from the disciples. (The most exciting part of the trip was coming back and checking downtown Savannah’s dumpsters for interesting trash.)
No more than twelve when Donald a neighborhood boy invited me to his church I accepted. (I wanted to have sex with Donald but it would be a half-dozen years later that I figured that out.) If I hadn’t gone to church with Donald, Gullibility isn’t in the dictionary probably wouldn’t exist.
I could say it was an invitation that I shouldn’t have accepted. But one of the few premises of my life is to never regret what led me to being who I am now. It has been an entertaining experience and a different path might not have been.
Bible Baptist Church
The Bible Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia, Pastor Cecil Hodges was a member of the Independent Baptist Fellowship. The Fellowship damned the Southern Baptist Convention for the relative mildness that characterized it back before Charles Stanley and the unsmiling Biblical literalists and homophobic fundamentalists took control some years back.
One afternoon while Just as I am or some other altar call was playing after the sermon I walked up front, confessed my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.I remember being a little prig, disapproving of my schoolmates who used (oh this makes me blush) foul language. But I was a little prig anyway and didn’t like dirty words (this would persist into early adulthood). Besides my vocabulary had vastly outpaced my contemporaries so I could call them all sorts of things they didn’t know the meaning of (but the got the gist from my tone).
My Daddy finds Jesus
My parents started coming to church (my Daddy with Momma in tow). Daddy had fainted a couple of times out on the river. His doctor told him that he’d have to stop drinking (Kessler’s whiskey with an unsweetened Donald Duck orange juice chaser, damn if that didn’t stink) or he’d die. Daddy was a big strong man who could pick up the back of a 1960’s car and bent thick bolts in his hand. He was a coward too. The doctor scared him off the booze and right into the arms of Jesus.
Like me Daddy was baptized (full immersion, false Christians who sprinkle are going to hell - did you know that?), confessed his sins and became a constant Bible reader. Other times he’d listen to Christian radio and listen to (or make me) LPs by Dr. Jack Van Impe.
Wasn’t I too smart for born again nonsense?
By the time I got saved I’d assumed I’d grow up to be a theoretical or mathematical physicist for a few years. If I were reading about cosmology and cosmogony, how could I convert to childish nonsense? Oddly enough I’d never thought about religion. Not at all. Any notion I had that religion might mean anything other than Christianity was so dim as to be meaningless. (I was an ignorant kid.)
To me church meant Grandma Lucille.
Guess I was: unsaved
Einstein and Gandhi were my two saints (I was a pacifist). One day it hit me: they were going to Hell (“a real place, like Scarsdale” - W.F. Buckley, Jr.). Why were they going to Hell? Because they didn’t believe in the Bible. Well, why did I believe in the Bible? Er, um, shuffles foot … couldn’t think of a good reason.
However long I’d been converted my faith dropped clean away.
There’d been a few uncomfortable moment before I shook myself out of the nonsense. The water that made up the Flood that Noah built the Ark to escape from was supposedly a huge mass of water hanging up in space until God let it deluge the earth. The silly pastors would try to find something in what they called science to make this more credible. It was so embarrassing that I cringed even when I still believed.
Trapped with the morons
I still had to go to Sunday School, the main service, Sunday evening service and revivals. I wouldn’t dare tell my father that I’d stopped believing that the tripartite carpenter (G. Vidal) had died for my sins. I’d always been afraid that one day he’d get so mad at me that he’d beat me up (I was taller but as tough, no knife fights in a bar for me). Or worse. When my behavior baffled me he’d talk about sending me to a military academy or Bob Jones.
I could get a few laughs out of the main sermon and many out of revivals. The latter were always rich in crazed nonsense from the book of Revelation. Jack Van Impe was always the best of the visiting revivalists.
Sunday School with the head youth pastor could be grim. A more happily ignorant celebration of provincialism can’t be imagined. I remember once he told us some Hawaiian myths and then asked us if we knew how people could have ever believed anything so stupid.
The youth pastor’s finest moment for me was when he promised he’d show us something that had never been seen on earth and would never be seen again. Sunday rolled around and he held up a peanut, opened it, showed us the nuts and ate them. Well, nobody had seen those peanuts before or would in the future. Good old Christian humor.
I just wanted to cry. I forget how it was managed but my parents started taking me to the adult Sunday School. Pastor Hodges was an old fool but I did get a kick out of watching him pound the pulpit. While his expositions of Bible passages were the bravura masterpieces of Dr. Van Impe their creaky logic helped pass the hour.
Goodbye to God and Savannah
Finally I left home. I don’t remember when or why I told Daddy I didn’t believe that Jesus was anything more than folklore. Often I’d tell him what he didn’t want to know because he was foolish enough to ask.
So I’d get calls from him: “Son I don’t want you to go to Hell.” It would’ve been disturbing to hear otherwise but I never could think of anything cheering to say and just waited for him to finally shut up.
I’m glad I had my time as a member of the born-again. It has given me an appreciation of what passes through the mind of fundamentalist morons that most people can never have. The Lord’s anointed are either too alien or the formerly saved too resentful. (Near as I can tell Philip Jenkins is one of the few religious writers who really understands them.)
And I’ve had many, many years of happy laughter at their expense.