I was born in Long Beach, California, to parents who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and if not for my father’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, I would either be Canadian or not exist at all. (I do live in Canada now, coincidentally.) But therein lies the conflict for a staunch atheist who thinks that our world would be better off without religion—my father’s religion may have been necessary to allow my birth. I shrug off this “debt” to religion by recognizing that African Americans do not owe anything to the slavery that brought their ancestors to the United States stuffed into ships like cordwood, nor was Manifest Destiny a justifiable means to the ends we enjoy today. So what were the circumstances that resulted in my not being a Jehovah’s Witness? It’s complicated.
When it thunders, God is bowling. When lightning strikes, God is taking pictures. This was the extent of my God-belief in my toddler years. I was being “educated” weekly at Kingdom Hall. I rather enjoyed my yellow book of children’s Bible stories. I enjoyed books in general. Two pictures from that book stay fresh in my mind: the poor sinners being swept away by God’s Great Flood and Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt. I thought about Lot’s wife often, wondering if she was still living and breathing under all that salt. Nothing about going to the Kingdom Hall was all that bad. I was bored, of course, like all toddlers, but it was not a painful experience. Until one day.