A Godless Fundamentalist: Chapter 15 “The Pigsty Part 1”

abandoned church

(The previous chapters can be found by clicking on A Godless Fundamentalist under Topics on the right hand side of this page. To receive email notifications whenever subsequent chapters are published, hit the follow button.)

by John Ellis

Looking back over my journal entries from my Jack Kerouac inspired cross-country pilgrimage, journal entries that stop abruptly about halfway into the trip, I made no attempt to mask my loneliness and disappointment while writing. I was hurting as I made my way to San Francisco. And that hurt was compounded by what I experienced along the way. My time spent in my counterculture Mecca, though, followed by the events of the subsequent months, finished the shattering of my atheistic worldview built on the good deeds of progressive ideology.

After trudging the near constant uphill climb from my hostel on Fort Mason to Haight-Ashbury, my first day in the City began with promise and ended in disappointed anger. The sight of the GAP Store mocking me on the corner of the intersection of the most famous streets in counterculture lore was almost too much to bear. The callous, self-righteous mood at the over-priced vegetarian café added insult to injury. The haughty tones of the workers. The unwillingness to engage in conversation by my fellow patrons. And the unexpected hit to my meagre food budget. All – all of it – combined to feed my growing suspicion that, whoever they were, these were not my people.

Sitting down at a table occupied by a female who nodded her approval when I silently gestured at the empty chair, I surveyed the other customers and, based on their expensive clothes, shoes, and other accoutrements, concluded that a $15 dollar vegan sandwich did not affect them the same way it affected me. As my friends and I used to say of the faux hippies of Asheville, NC, “If we had a trust fund, we could afford to sit on a street corner and play bongo drums all day, too.”

My suspicions were proving true; it was mostly a sham. Rich, white kids playing at being counterculture as an act of rebellion. And doing so on Daddy’s dime. Either via Daddy’s credit card or the expensive degree Daddy purchased for them at the prestigious university that those oppressed by Daddy’s system didn’t have access to. Virtue signaling, while perfected in our current age of social media, is not new.

Ruefully eating my overpriced sandwich, I turned my attention to my unplanned for lunch partner. Lacking any pretense of being committed to overthrowing capitalism, saving the rain forest, or burning down mansions, I found her refreshing, to my surprise. Friendly and chatty, unlike “my people,” she was an L.A. based fashion designer in the City on business. “My co-workers and I are having a party tonight,” she said as she wrote down an address located in the Mission District. “You should come.”

Partying with the frivolous, the superficial, and the purveyors of one the worst aspects of consumerism (the fashion industry) on my second night in San Francisco had never entered my imagination while planning the trip. Commiserating in dusty, used bookstores or locally owned cafes with like-minded souls about the evils of capitalism, the coming doomsday fueled by our individualistic consumer society, and the need to fight for the rights of the most marginalized in society was my expected pot of gold at the end of my revolutionary rainbow.

With nothing else to do that night, though, I told the fashion designer that I would see her later as she smilingly left the table.

The week spent in my revered City didn’t get any better.

By the time I returned to my brother’s house in the East Bay, I was far more disillusioned than I had been when I first had the idea to make the pilgrimage. Church the following day only made things worse.

With the words of the meddling traveler I had met in Denver ringing unwanted in my ears, I begrudgingly stepped inside that small Baptist church and sat in the pew my brother directed me towards. I don’t remember what was preached; I don’t even remember who preached. I do remember, however, the steady parade of smiling people eager to meet me and ask me questions about myself.

After the service, my brother’s friends who joined us for lunch appeared to be genuinely interested in me, which was unnerving. “Why do these weird, deluded Christians care so much about me?” I puzzled.

The evening service was no better. In fact, to my horror, I found myself enjoying the after-service volleyball game. An unreserved enjoyment I hadn’t felt in years. The trip to Denny’s upon the game’s conclusion found me steering into the newly found acceptance and, shockingly (to me), the love I felt from these judgmental, fundamentalist Christians. For the first time in years, I felt like I was appreciated and wanted for me and not for what I had to offer nor how I could be used.

The next morning, as I left the Bay Area on the way to my next stop, I couldn’t shake the warm smiles, the tender hugs of goodbye, and the genuine assertions that they had been happy to meet me and that they would be praying for me. Again, the words of that busybody traveler in Denver played in the background of my mind. I found I didn’t want to leave. Which confused me and made me angry.

Driving south on I-5, I unsuccessfully fought back tears. Hurting, confused, and angry, and without even really thinking about what I was doing, I drove past my intended next stop and the next and, instead, drove straight to San Antonia, TX.

Over 1,700 miles and 30 hours later, I collapsed into my cheap hotel room and, for some unknown reason, called my confused brother. In my sleep-deprived state, I confessed my feelings to my brother, which made me angry at myself when I woke up the next morning.

“Telling him how much you loved being at his church and meeting his Christian friends is only going to give him and the rest of the family undo hope, you idiot,” I scolded myself.

My anger with myself melded with my growing worldview disillusionment causing my internal struggle to begin to grow into a destructive rage.

Making my way to my parent’s house in Pensacola the following day, I found myself with an unplanned large amount of money in my bank account (large for me at the time). Having cut my trip short by about 3 weeks, I had close to 1,500 bucks remaining. Instead of doing the smart thing and leaving it in the bank, I began to burn through it in riotous living.

Over the next week, I basically camped out at Seville Quarter, the famed nightclub I had bartended at for a brief time that previous winter and spring. I quickly learned that $1,500 isn’t as much money as I had believed when I began my program of wining and dining newfound acquaintances of the female variety. By the end of that week, with my bank account nearly tapped out and assurances made to a few of my new acquaintances coming due, I made a retreat to Greenville, SC where I had two jobs and a free place to live waiting for me.

Returning to Greenville had not been high on my wish list, but beggars can’t be choosers, as the saying goes.

Back in Greenville, with my anger and despair growing, I unsuccessfully attempted to blind myself to my situation by engaging in evolving self-destructive acts. Waking up in unfamiliar places surrounded by strangers became the norm.

By early November, I had worn out my welcome at my free place to live. Finding myself living in a seedy motel populated by pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers, I gained entrance into a world I had only ever heard about. With two service industry jobs, I always had tip money in my pocket, and so, whenever I was there, I learned to expect knocks on my door throughout the early hours of the morning. For a very brief time, it was exhilarating being the center of attention and surrounded by those whom polite society is only ever exposed to via the glamorizing lens of movies and TV. But, as already stated, my feelings of excitement and adventure were brief.

Not long into my time at my new digs, I found my ex lying on her kitchen floor in a pool of her own blood. She had slit her wrists the wrong way, of course, and so I didn’t believe that there was any immediate danger of her dying. I was concerned, though, that if left alone she’d try again. After a very hurried trip to the closest CVS for thick bandages and medical tape, I sat on the kitchen floor with her that night as she sobbed on my shoulder.

Over the years since our marriage in 1998, we had both taken paths that led us far from our conservative Christian upbringing. Her path was littered with substance abuse and the loss of jobs. To be fair, she carried emotional and physical baggage that no one should ever have to carry. And it was baggage that I had made heavier during our short marriage by my fumbling and, frankly, self-serving attempts to carry it for her.

And, so, even though we had been incredibly bad for each other, I still cared for her and understood that her downward spiral was at least partially my fault. My new place of residence also gave me insight into her trajectory.

Sitting on that kitchen floor, already filled with growing rage at a God I still didn’t really believe existed and furious with the hypocrisy of my progressive worldview, I also began to become angry at the world in which my ex and I were beginning to occupy. Over the course of that night, as we cried and talked and fitfully slept, the exhilarating romantic view of my life among those whom I had convinced myself were real life versions of Steinbeck characters and a life which I believed I had led my ex into was stripped of its appeal for me. My eyes were opened to the ugliness of where I was and where she was. That night, all pleasure was shorn from my world.

Unbeknownst to me, though, that night was really just my entrance into the pigsty.

A few weeks later, I left that seedy motel and moved in with a co-worker. From a human standpoint, as I would discover later, that ended up being a mistake.

Two other things happened that swung the gate to the pigsty open.

In early December, on my night off, I started a fight while hanging out at the brewpub where I worked. That was the first event that led to the second event.

For some reason, that night found me in an especially bad mood. To make matters worse, those around me were friends of a girl who had decided that she was my girlfriend. She annoyed me, but she was always available. Her friends, though, not only annoyed me but served no purpose in my life. And on that night, they were all drunk while I was rebelliously sober.

I don’t remember his name, I may have never known his name, for that matter, but his friends called him The Clap owing to his frequent visits to the health department. For some stupid reason, he seemed to delight in his nickname – the kind of guy who thinks it’s witty and impressive to wear a “Bikini Inspector” t-shirt – a fact that only increased my disdain for him. That night, drunk, aware of my dislike of him, and sensing my edginess, The Clap began needling me. About being an ex-BJU student. About how much he wanted to sleep with my “girlfriend.”

“I’m going to do it,” he taunted me as he drunkenly poked his finger in my chest. “You’ll only find out about it after you get the clap from her. Then you’ll know that I did it.”

Already furious that my carefully curated image as a non-Christian had been jeopardized by his teasing me about Bob Jones University, his taunt and poke were too much for me. In my head, I knew that he was just teasing me, hoping to rile me up. I knew that I should just let it go, but all the anger that had been building up spilled out.

Losing my temper, punching him in the face, and starting a fight cost me my job that night. But the evening wasn’t over.

As my “girlfriend,” a smattering of her friends not too angry at me to still hang out with me, and I left the bar, one of the girls with us who was almost too drunk to stand took out her keys and asked who was going to ride with her. My “girlfriend” wisely deduced that I was the only one in any condition to drive and attempted to snatch the keys from her friend.

Stumbling into oncoming traffic, barely missing getting hit, the drunk girl evaded the attempted theft of her keys and made as much of a beeline as someone in her state can make to her car. My “girlfriend,” who wasn’t sober herself, followed, pleading with her friend to let me drive. Letting out a torrent of cuss words at her friend’s laughing entrance into the driver’s seat of the car, my “girlfriend” jumped on the hood and began pounding on the windshield. Still laughing, the drunk girl started her car and backed it into the street.

By this point, a crowd from the bar had gathered. As people became aware of what was happening, the noise and flurry of activity elevated. Amongst the loud and profane attempts to get the drunk girl to see the folly of her actions, I heard one of my now ex-coworkers instruct someone to call 911.

Considering the overall drunken state of the crowd and the fact that I just been kicked out of the bar for starting a fight, the cops were the last people I wanted to show up.

Jumping into the street, I began punching the driver’s side window as the car lurched forward, my “girlfriend” still clinging to the hood. Screaming at the top of my lungs that the cops were coming proved far more effective than my failed moronic attempts to shatter the window. The car stopped. Pushing the drunk girl into the passenger seat, I growled to my “girlfriend,” “Get in.”

Driving to the drunk girl’s rented trailer in Simpsonville, I stewed in my anger; my irritation was pushed higher and higher by the drunken perspective on what had just happened being shouted in my ear by the car’s occupants. By then, the near tragedy had become a comedic event for them. I knew it wasn’t. And I was sick to my stomach at what my life had become reduced to.

That night was the last time I saw most of that crowd.

Owing to my actions prompted by my lost temper, I needed a new job. The next day, I showed up at a theatre I had worked at multiple times. As “luck would have it,” to borrow a subtext from the Book of Ruth, they were in the middle of casting a show and offered me a part.

The money was far less than what I had been making at the bar. A fact that led me to make decisions a few weeks later that I meant for evil, but that God meant for good, to borrow the words of Joseph. As a complimentary piece of the puzzle that was the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart and life, that show also brought me into contact with someone who helped complete the destruction of my atheistic worldview while introducing me to an alternative. And while I believed that I was escaping a world and life that was ugly and destructive, little did I know that my growing anger that culminated in that bar fight actually set into motion the events that would take me into a much darker, violent, depraved world. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had just entered the pigsty.

Surveying my new residence, I gingerly placed my record player on the filthy coffee table. Covered with dirty plates stacked two and three high, overflowing ashtrays, assorted drug paraphernalia, and tattered magazines, there was very little room for my thrift store record player. The rest of the apartment matched that coffee table’s aesthetic. The whole place may have been filthy but at least its décor was symmetrical, with one glaring exception: among the mess on the coffee table sat a Bible, which I found half amusing and half irritating.

Taking the mattress on the living room floor, my new roommate graciously gave me the only bedroom. I suspected that he had been sleeping on that mattress long before I floated the idea of moving in.

His mattress took up the remaining floor space between the TV and the mound of junk that I never bothered to look at closely enough to know what was in the pile. The one bedroom served as a repository for the rest of my roommate’s stuff, including an inflatable pool penis. Yes, you read that correctly.

Among the mess sat a decrepit and tiny futon manufactured, I guessed, in the late 60s. My bed.

Built for an occupant well below my 6’2” height, that futon had one spot upon which I could (un)comfortably lie without having multiple springs dig into me. For three months, though, I contorted my body into position and slept on that thing. No doubt, if I ever get cancer, its cause will have been whatever test tube birthed the disintegrating and now powdery material that futon was made of.

After peeking into the bathroom, I made a mental note to buy some shower shoes. And some Lysol, cleaning sponges, and rubber gloves.

Heading back down to my car to collect the rest of my belongings, I convinced myself that, all in all, the apartment was still much better than the cheap motel I had just vacated.

Looking back on it, my optimism in the face of what should have been obvious warning signs was buoyed by the fact that I had just landed my first theatre gig in almost a year. In my mind, as I unloaded my car, the disappointments and lows of the previous twelve months were behind me. Having survived rock bottom, I believed, it was now time to hit the reset button and begin focusing on my acting career again. Only good things from here on out.

Later that evening, after a Wal-Mart run to buy cleaning supplies, shower shoes, and groceries, I walked back into the apartment to discover my new roommate with a needle in his arm. He wasn’t alone. A heavily tattooed and gaunt female was on the other end of the needle. With eyes narrowed into slits of suspicion, she looked me up and down before turning back to her task at hand after hearing my roommate mutter a welcome to me. On the ragged couch beside him, a dude and another chick were sprawled out, their glazed eyes barely registering my entrance.

“I’ll be in my room,” I muttered as I picked my way through the maze of junk that had been tossed from the couch onto the floor.

A few minutes later, my roommate appeared in my door. “I didn’t mean for you to see that; I thought you were gone for the evening. Sorry about that,” he said. “I can ask them to leave if you want.”

“No worries, man,” I laughed, attempting to play it cool. “It’s your apartment, too.”

In truth, I was a little peeved. If I had wanted to hang out with junkies, I would’ve stayed at the motel. Deciding to make the best of it, though, I called after him, “Hey, do you have any weed?”

Ever since leaving Bob Jones University six years earlier, drugs had been a presence in my life. Minus my summer in Atlanta, not an important presence, mind you, but still almost always there. Working in theatre and the service industry, marijuana was always available. Mushrooms, acid, and prescription pills were also readily found among my peers. Speed and cocaine popped up in my circles now and again, especially at cast parties, but I didn’t like the high provided by either one. Whenever I got high, it was usually via weed. And in December 2003, getting high was mostly an occasional activity for me. The closest drugs had come to taking over my life was that summer in Atlanta.

In early June 2002, after one of the first rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the actor playing Bottom invited me to a small party he was hosting at his house. With nothing else to do, I accepted the invite, joined the production’s assistant director and the actress playing Puck in his car, and headed off to a party with people who had been complete strangers just a few days earlier.

Being new acquaintances, Bottom gingerly broached the subject of getting high. After feeling us out and receiving affirmative responses that made him comfortable, he confessed that the main purpose for his invitation was to share his X with us. It was obvious that his motives also involved the actress playing Puck, but I figured that was none of my business. As to his stated purpose, my ex-wife and I had discussed trying X but had never followed through. Now was as good a time as any, I concluded.

It took a while for the high to hit, but when it did, taking me by surprise, my second thought was, “I now understand why it’s called ecstasy.”

That kicked off a summer of getting high on X since Bottom and his roommates possessed a seemingly never-ending supply. Eventually, though, I began paying attention to my new friends. Doing so provided me a clear picture of where my cognitive abilities were headed if I continued to enjoy ecstasy. So, I stopped. Flashforward nearly a year and a half to my new living arrangements, and drugs remained an occasional part of my life, but I couldn’t be considered a habitual user. Up to that point, though, I had never lived surrounded by it – as in, literally surrounded by it. On my first night in my new digs, when I followed my roommate back into the dining room repurposed as a living room, I stepped into a new reality.

As “luck” would have it, two short weeks later, I met my new co-star. An actress who provided the exact opposite example and influence from that of my new roommate. Soon, owing in large part to her role in my life, the existential tension that had been building over the previous year was threatening to rip me apart.

I fell in love with her at the first table read. To be honest, I had made a habit out of falling in “love” with actresses I worked with. This time, though, and by God’s grace, my lust was ultimately used for my good. However, at that table read, that good was a long way down a road I didn’t even realize I was on at the time and all I could think about was how best to ask her to join me for a drink after rehearsal without coming across as too eager.

She smiled as she politely declined, explaining that the following day was going to be a busy one at the theatre for her and she wanted to make sure to get plenty of sleep.

Disappointed, but undeterred in my resolve, I returned home and told my roommate about her while we got high.

During a break at our next rehearsal, I turned my undivided attention towards my desired paramour. Among other things, I discovered that she was a devout Christian. That fact, which would’ve caused other guys to cool their jets, only served to pique my interest. As my objective seemed to move farther out of my reach, she became more desirable. Over the next couple of weeks, she wisely rebuffed all of my advances, albeit in a manner that never completely slammed the door shut on my designs.

In hindsight, and while I want to make clear that she never crossed a line with me and while also acknowledging that she was faithful to share the gospel with me and that the Holy Spirit used her to break my heart of stone, I must admit that if I had been her pastor at the time, I would’ve been concerned about her interactions with me. For example, she failed to tell me about her fiancé until after the play had already opened. Furthermore, I was not naïve to the nuances of the fairer sex, and she looked and smiled at me in ways that let me know that she was not offended, shall we say, by the attention I showed her; in fact, I was not the only one who picked up on the fact that she enjoyed my attention. The theatre’s technical director and his crew became my unofficial cheering section. However, the acknowledgment of her lack of wisdom aside, I am thankful for it. If she had shut me down completely, the way I would now advise a Christian young lady in her shoes to do, I wouldn’t have read Mere Christianity.

After several weeks of asking her out followed by her polite rejections, she finally told me that if I would read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, she would go out for coffee with me and discuss the book. As “luck” would have it, my parents had recently given me a copy of it. To this day, I don’t know what possessed my parents to give me a book by a man whom my fundamentalist pastor father despises and considers a dangerous heretic, but, praise God, they did. And with the carrot of the potential coffee date dangling before me, I began reading the book. Even though I finished the book, I never went on that date.

Opening night was a success. The reviews confirmed what audience members told us after the show. The second night, while a success on the stage, was a personal disaster for me. Walking into the greenroom, I barely noticed the dude sitting alone on the couch. Family members and friends were frequent visitors backstage. It didn’t take long, though, for me to discover that he was her fiancé. That night, my co-star and I didn’t even look at each other offstage, much less speak. Her fiancé was there the following night, too. Adding insult to injury, her stupid book recommendation was becoming a problem.

Combining with events from the previous year, Mere Christianity helped destroy the final vestiges of atheism in my mind. C.S. Lewis’ anthropological insights at the beginning of it – our human propensity to act in accordance with what we innately know to be wrong, with Lewis concluding that, “these two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in”[1] – rang true for me and cleared away some mental brush allowing his arguments about atheism’s problematic simplicity, the existence of morality (especially in reference to forgiveness), and Lewis’ beliefs about free will to settle in the crevices of my mind’s doubt that had begun opening up after my encounter with the stranger in Denver.

While it took about two more months for me to finally surrender (or admit) to the notion that God did, indeed, exist, what took atheism’s place in my mind was, in many ways, much worse. I believed that God was lying to us. That He was frightened of us, and that we could beat Him. Later that spring, sitting on the back porch of my next apartment, I told my roommates that I hoped that I was the Antichrist. I wanted to be the one to finally pull God off His throne.

Over the opening weekend of the play, though, my anger was far more focused on my costar and her fiancé and less on God.

Complaining to my roommate as we passed the bowl back and forth, I began to slowly slip out of my role of wooer and into the role of the scorned. Minus the hope of winning her affections, any existential brakes on my activities and personality in front of her were released. Like a pouting toddler, I decided to punish her.

My childish pettiness ranged from things like no longer brushing my teeth after smoking before the scenes in which we had to kiss (early in the rehearsal process, she told me how much she hated kissing smokers) to openly flaunting my drug use in front of her, a side of myself I had kept hidden up to that point. It worked.

She went from being my only real friend in the cast to the two of us having an antagonistic relationship off stage. No doubt, our chemistry was negatively affected on stage, but you’d have to ask those who watched opening night as well as several shows throughout the destruction of our friendship. To be fair, the antagonism was one-sided; our lost friendship was my fault. After having not directly spoken to each other off stage for a couple of weeks, I was surprised when she pulled me aside after the final curtain had fallen on closing night. Giving me a hug after handing me a card, she told me that she would be praying for me.

In the card, she wrote that I was on the verge of wasting my talent and that her heart was broken for me over the path I was on. She encouraged me to put my faith in Jesus. Her words stung, but my growing rage fed by my increasingly confused worldview proved a callous recipient.

During the show’s run, as I ramped up my efforts to “punish” her, and almost on a lark, I offered to sell some of the other cast members some weed. She was in the room when I made the offer, and her response let me know that my aim had hit the mark. Standing up, she exited as she sadly and softly said, “I don’t think I want to hear about this.”

As a Christian, she was often on the outs with the rest of the cast where extra-curricular activities were concerned. She didn’t drink, much less party. Never cussed. Had different priorities. And always had a quiet humility about her that very few actors possess. Everyone liked her, and we definitely respected her talent, but she never really became part of the group. Until that opening weekend, I was the closest friend she had among the cast and crew. Having grown up in conservative Christianity, I knew what to say around her and how to say it. Even though she knew I was a professed atheist, I still always played a role around her. Never giving away the depths of my depravity while also angling to tap into whatever savior role she may want to play to a lost, hurting preacher’s kid, I was essentially lying to her the entire time. Sitting in that green room, offering to sell drugs to other cast members, the façade of our friendship was completely ripped off. To make matters worse, and completely unexpected on my end, I found the responses from my new customers thrilling. Because of that, what had started with the juvenile goal of hurting a friend turned into an actual pursuit.

In my short time selling drugs, I learned that occasional users outside of the drug culture often have hyperbolic, movie shaped views of drugs dealers. As an actor, I relished the opportunity to play the dangerous villain stepping out of the underworld to provide otherwise good citizens the product the authorities didn’t want them to enjoy. The vast majority of my clientele were college students, theatre people, and white-collar professionals. And except for one (my ex-wife) my customers with whom I had a prior relationship before becoming their dealer all changed around me. I enjoyed their timid deference to me and began playing it up. I could tell that my roommate, who had introduced me to his contacts within the drug culture, was amused by the role I was playing while simultaneously looking down on me for it. I didn’t care; I was having fun. Well, mostly.

I also learned that their hyperbolic, movie shaped views of drug dealers exist for good reasons. The reality of that world was far darker, disgusting, and frightening than I had been led to believe by movies that tend to romanticize a decidedly unromantic world. If my customers had known the truth, they wouldn’t have been afraid of me, they would have been afraid for me. I was in over my head, and I knew it.

My first deal with my castmates was not only (stupidly) exhilarating for me as an actor, it also taught me that I could make easy money selling drugs. So, I began to actively seek out customers, contacting those whom I knew enjoyed getting high from time to time. Of course, that also meant that I would have to procure larger stashes of drugs.

After offering to pay for my roommate’s drugs if he would introduce me to his contact, he asked, “Are you sure?” To which I naively responded, “yeah, man!”

The house he took me to was in the shadow of Paris Mountain. It was set back in the trees, dark and grimy.

The front room was too dimly lit for me to get a good look at the people sprawled out on the various couches and chairs, but from what I could see, the room’s occupants reminded me of the worst of my neighbors at the extended stay motel I had recently escaped from. They didn’t say a word to us, and they didn’t move out of our way as my roommate and I picked our way through them. I could feel their eyes on me, though.

Over the years, even as a writer, I’ve struggled to find even merely adequate words to describe the eyes and presence of many of those whom I rubbed shoulders and did business with during that time of my life. While that living room was too dark for me to see their eyes, there was a palpable presence of evil hanging over the room’s occupants. Over the coming weeks and months, I struggled to force myself to look directly into the eyes of many of my new acquaintances. Even while laughing and joking, their eyes often betrayed their embrace of the survival of the fittest in its most Nietzschean of terms: an ethical escape from notions of good and evil allowing for the fang bearing seizure of power coupled with a deeply entrenched willingness to take whatever was in front of them regardless of the cost paid by others. I knew that even those who claimed to be my friend, were not my friend. I was merely a means to an end, and if the balance of scales tipped away from those ends, well, I was as expendable as the refuse piled behind that house.

Scarily, as my own worldview became dominated by swiftly increasing levels of despair and rage, that same abyss of utter autonomy threatened to swallow me. As my atheism faded away, I gave up any pretense of caring. It was easy to discard my role as a liberal activist; I no longer believed that anything mattered apart from the pursuit of pleasure. And anything that served as a speed bump to that pleasure was an obstacle to be removed. The problem was, though, pleasure shorn of meaning is elusive to the point of being ultimately unattainable.

As 2004’s winter drug on, I began to get high on a daily basis. Coming home from the theatre at night, I would smoke a bowl while I rolled a joint. The joint was followed by another bowl. My roommate, if he had managed to make it to work that evening, would get back to our apartment not long after me. Whenever his work schedule contained two or more days off in a row, his junkie friends would show up; they’d get high, and then his friends would disappear, usually leaving him passed out on the floor.

One afternoon, I arrived home from my day job as a pizza delivery driver and found him passed out in his usual position on the floor. This time, though, the bathroom was covered with vomit. The floor, walls, and even ceiling. Disgusted, especially since I had wanted to take a shower before going to the theatre, I stormed out of the apartment.

The next morning, cursing my roommate, I entered the bathroom with a can of Lysol and wearing rubber gloves. My roommate had managed to find his way onto his mattress, but no other signs of life were evident. I continued cursing him as I finally left the bathroom, my can of Lysol empty.

Throughout it all, that Bible sitting beside my record player taunted me. To make matters worse, my roommate would often read it after getting high. For me, the God of that book was a capricious, vindictive being who was terrified of His creation. For me, the words in His book represented oppression and lies, not to mention representing my childhood past that I had worked hard to escape. While at the time I wouldn’t have acknowledged it, my anger over my roommate’s Bible reading has more to do with my running from God than it did with my self-righteous indignation directed at whom I believe to be enemy #1. I got high to escape my increasing thoughts about God. My roommate’s Bible reading circumvented that objective. Being unable to escape God increased my anger.

Picking fights with strangers whose happiness offended me. Searching out surprised BJU students around town to profanely accost. Violently arguing with my roommate about the absurdity of reading the Bible. My violent behavior ran in conjunction with increased thoughts of self-harm. Unable to get to sleep, even after getting high, I would lie awake, imaginary arguments about theology with people from past playing unwanted in my head. Unable to quiet my mind and unable to see a path forward out of my increasing feelings of alienation and loss, suicide seemed to be my most viable option.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper One, 2001), 8.

One thought on “A Godless Fundamentalist: Chapter 15 “The Pigsty Part 1”

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