Friday, June 19, 2009
Father's Day 1972 Revisited, Part 22: Radio Preachers on the Road to Paradice
The day came for me to get in the company service truck and set a course for Paradise--California. I headed out early in the morning and as I settled in for the long drive up the I-5 I scanned the radio dial, as was my habit. I'd stop at a station if it were to be playing one of my favorites, but I was mostly looking for radio preachers. My determination to come to a conclusion about whether Jesus was a con man, a nut or really was indeed all the Bible claimed him to be was for me now stronger than ever.
I had finished reading the paperback modern English New Testament I'd been given the previous year. I was fairly certain Jesus was not a confidence man--out to scam gullible souls for his own profit or phony fame. The Jesus described in the Bible simply didn't fit the M-O of a con man. That narrowed the choices down. Could it possibly be that, for two-thousand years, millions of people had followed teachings and had even sacrificed their lives on the basis of some mentally ill man from the first century who'd believed a religious delusion that he himself was the only path to God? If that were the case, human history would be absurd--a planet thus deceived would be the laughing stock of the universe--if there were anyone out there to laugh.
The teachings attributed to this Jesus: were they the teachings of a schizophrenic, a delusional megalomaniac? That didn't seem to be the case at all. If it were the case, Christianity was the biggest fraud to ever come down the pike. I felt that, although I did not fully understand many of his parables and teachings and his dialogues about the nature of God and the way to eternal life, taken together they seemed to have a certain coherence and underlying logic to them. The Jesus I found in the Bible was not spouting theological speculations or mere personal religious opinions, but was making authoritative and bold declarations about God, himself and all humankind. If these things were not true, then he was a madman indeed.
I listened to many radio preachers of all kinds. Only a couple of them did I find intelligent and somewhat compelling. Most of the rest of them I felt were charlatans or out for money or, if sincere, then nutty as could be. Some wanted me to send in for a little piece of some cut up revival tent which was guaranteed to heal me or bring me money or success. Others were begging for money to keep broadcasting the gospel and saying they'd pray for me personally if I'd just send them money. I thought, "If--just supposing--if I were to ever, somehow, some way, to be convinced of the truth of Christianity, why then I'd have to be associated with all these nutty idiots. I'd be in their same Christian club." The thought of it made my intellectual skin crawl. No--I couldn't stand such an association, could never do it. No way. Not in a million years.
But then I'd think, "Well, what if it is real after all, and everything about Jesus were to be true? What then? Do I reject it all because there are some wacky religious fanatics running around doing stupid stuff in his name?" I had to admit that that wouldn't seem right. "I suppose I'll have to just ignore the crazy radio preachers and base whatever decision I come to on what I find in the Bible and whether I can believe it or not," I thought to myself. I continued in this vein, thinking, "...and even all that finally comes down to the one big question about Jesus. If he was not all that was claimed for him, I can forget the whole thing. No need busting my head trying to figure out if this or that miracle took place," I figured, "because if Jesus fails the test, then the whole thing--the Bible, Christianity, the church--they all go up in smoke and I can proceed with my life and not be bothered."
If in my mind I became convinced Jesus did not live up to what his followers had claimed for him, I felt I could then honestly assert that I had put the Biblical Jesus to a fair intellectual test and found that he and all the rest of it was unbelievable to me. These questions about the meaning of life, God, life after death and all the rest would no longer be worth my being concerned about. Could I believe what I'd read about him in the Bible or not? I still didn't have a definite answer to that one question. That's what I was hoping to I'd be able to determine at some point. Does God--if he exists--ever help a seeker with any hints? Does God communicate with people in some fashion? Christians claimed so. If so, how does he do it? As I pondered this last question, I notices a tall A & W Root Beer sign signaling a stand right near the next off-ramp.