Becoming a husband and father is a great motivator in getting a man to think. I wouldn’t have called myself an atheist before 1997, but any ideas I harbored of a god were along the “let’s just hope for the best” line of reasoning. If God existed, I’d surely done nothing to offend him. If he didn’t, well then, no loss there, either.
Like I said, though, a wife and children make us reconsider our understanding of the universe. If I was wrong about the life hereafter and the prerequisites for entry into heaven, then I was risking more than my own soul. Three other people lived in that house. My job as a father was to protect them and ensure that they were provided for. That includes physically, financially, and spiritually.
But I was an engineer. A man who loved all four of his physics classes so much that I almost changed majors. I loved everything science and space-related. How could this image of a long-bearded god in flowing robes fit into my scientific brain?
I’d like to say that, once I considered the possibility of an all-knowing god, I jumped immediately into deep research on the subject. I did not. Instead, it was another two or three years before I felt the urge to investigate the matter further. In 1996, a group called Promise Keepers was making headlines. I read a newspaper article about them and decided that their conference sounded like a nice place to sit and listen to the arguments for this god. In the midst of thousands of attendees, all men, I wouldn’t be noticed and they surely couldn’t get too weirdly religious in that large a setting.
I found an excuse not to go.
In 1997, the newspaper article appeared again. By then, I was feeling somewhat empty, as men often do at the age of 30, when they are hit with the realization that their youth has passed by and they settle into the routine of middle-age, one that will last another 30 years. I didn’t hesitate to call the 1-800 number in the article (the internet wasn’t quite up to speed yet, and we didn’t trust it for more than checking our AOL email). A nice woman took my information (the event was free) and told me I’d get my registration package in the mail.
Sure enough, an envelope showed up a few days later, which was lightning fast way back in those days. Included in the envelope was a list of things I should bring to the two-day event, which was held at the Pontiac Silverdome, where the Detroit Lions once provided practice games for winning NFL teams.
One of the items mentioned on the list was a Bible.
Maybe I was wrong about this Promise Keepers group. Maybe they were weirdly religious.
We did not own a Bible. Again, this was almost before electricity, so no quick Bible apps to download, either. Our across-the-street neighbors saved me, providing me with a Bible. I thumbed through it the day before the conference, wondering what all these strange titles and words meant. For those of you who don’t believe there are people completely unfamiliar with the Bible, they exist. I existed. The onion-skin pages and odd verse separations may as well have been written in the original Hebrew.
On a Friday afternoon in June, I drove my silver Chevy Silverado to the Silverdome. Alone. I didn’t ask anyone to join me. After all, I was going to hang out with religious nuts. No way would this go public. I told no one at work and none of my friends. Only my wife and our across-the-street neighbors knew. And they only knew because I needed the Bible.
As a writer, I’m screaming at myself to stop with the backstory and get to the point. But this is one of those cases where the foundation must be laid. If I have not convinced you that I was as neutral on religion or God as a man can get, then I have failed. Truly, to me the existence of God ranked at the same level as the existence of Bigfoot. Interesting to speculate on, but lacking hard evidence.
With that non-committal background and a borrowed Bible hidden under my registration paperwork, I walked into the Pontiac Silverdome on that wonderfully warm night in 1997.
I would never see my old world again.