Grundy over on Deity Shmeity had a good story of a friend’s “miraculous” conversion to Christianity and his evaluation thereof. That reminded me of something somewhat similar that happened to me so I thought, hey, it’s on my mind, might as well write it down.
I went to a very religious private high school. Most people there, myself included, were serious Bible thumpers, we were all “on fire for the Lord” and relished religion. The one notable exception was Ben. Ben was a self-proclaimed Satanist. He wandered around school carrying the Satanic Bible and spoke openly about it. Now you might think that a Christian school would object to someone openly advocating Satanism. It was against school rules not to be a Christian, you supposedly had to leave if you lost your faith, but to have someone demonstrably playing for the opposing team? Sure, but the school was extremely hypocritical and Ben’s parents were very well off and the school valued those donations more than they valued their own ideals. Ben stayed, the money kept flowing, they were happy.
Now I was never great friends with Ben, he was a year ahead of me and I never saw him outside of school, he existed on the periphery of a couple of social circles I ran in. Ben never tried to convert anyone to Satanism, he was just matter-of-fact about it, that was what he believed, so there. He was also very funny and an extremely smart guy, well-versed in philosophy and always seemed to know something about just about everything, so people used to let him hang around. His real crowd was with the stoners and the outcasts, which believe it or not, do exist even at Christian schools.
So anyhow, after he graduated, he faded from memory and I didn’t see him again for a number of years, until after I was married and we were moving into our first house. I ran down to U-Haul to rent a truck and there he was, standing in the lobby, doing the same thing. Now the old Ben I had known wore thick Buddy-Holly glasses and was grunge before grunge was a thing. The new Ben was clean-shaven, dressed in a suit and tie and had contacts, I hardly recognized him. He also had a little golden cross in his lapel. Now by this time, I had rejected religion and was an atheist, but I wasn’t so jaded that I considered all Christians automatically stupid. After talking for a couple of minutes, he said we should get together and have dinner sometime, we exchanged numbers and went on our separate ways.
A couple of weeks later, we and our wives got together at a restaurant and had a very enjoyable meal. Ben’s wife, Gayle, was a very charming woman and we had a great time. The only issue, I suppose, was Ben’s insistence of inserting religion into every conceivable conversation. It was always “God this” and “Jesus that”. At one point, Ben related his conversion story. I’ve forgotten a lot of the details over the 20 or so years since, but it went something like this.
After high school, Ben really didn’t know what to do with his life. He didn’t go to college, he wandered around, working low-wage jobs, doing a lot of reading and reflection. He would always have a bunch of books, ranging from philosophers to religious texts, in his backpack and when he wasn’t working, he was off sitting somewhere reading a book. One night, it was just starting to rain, he was riding his motorcycle over to see Gayle and suddenly, Jesus started talking to him. On the road. On his motorcycle. So here were Ben and Jesus having this rowdy debate on the highway and something happens and Ben goes down on the asphalt. He’s wearing full leathers and a helmet, but he’s sliding along and ends up sliding backwards off the road and into a pile of rubble, including a pipe or a piece of rebar that punches through his back and into a kidney. The paramedics come and take him to the hospital, he has a concussion, multiple contusions and a big pipe-shaped hole in his kidney (seriously, he kept calling it a pipe but the way he described it, I’m relatively certain it was rebar). When he comes to, he’s told he was lucky, any more force and the rebar would have gone further and punctured his heart. When he finally got to open his backpack, which he had been wearing, he found that the rebar had first gone straight through the Bible he was carrying and if it hadn’t, he’d have been dead.
Now I won’t say I became good friends with Ben and his wife, although I did see him quite a few times after that. He wasn’t a bad guy by any means, he just had a bizarre Jesus fixation, where Jesus would find his way into any conversation, any topic, no matter how strange. I also did manage to talk to Gayle alone about Ben’s experience and she did confirm a lot of the details of his story. He did indeed have that accident, and she says he was an excellent rider that had never crashed before. He was indeed “saved” by the Bible taking the majority of the impact. She also added a lot of detail to the account. In the hospital, Ben had drifted in an out of consciousness for a couple of days, due to the head injury and he had suffered from intermittent memory loss in the weeks that followed. She also said there were other things that he says happened, appearances of Jesus, etc. that supposedly other people including her were present for, yet she cannot confirm them ever happening. Worst of all, she says, she felt responsible for the accident in the first place, the reason he was racing over to see her was she had just told him she was pregnant. She said she didn’t really know what to make of it all, but the accident did turn his life around, he did man up and marry her, he did go to college and they’ve had a wonderful life together ever since.
Like I said, I never became really good friends with them, after the first couple of months, it dropped to 4-5x per year and then tapered off to hardly seeing them at all. I don’t think I had spoken to them for a year or two when, about 8-9 years ago, Gayle called me out of the blue and told me Ben had died of a drug overdose.
For all the insults I heap upon the religious, here was a case where religion had helped someone live a life they might not otherwise have lived. I’d like to think that he could have found a better, more rational way to achieve the same results, but he had a happy marriage, had two children, supported and cared for them all and even if he was a bit damaged, the people he left behind were happier for him having been there.
So what does this all tell us? Of course, it’s a cautionary tale about being careful on your motorcycle on wet pavement, it’s also an illustration of what can happen with the onset of brain trauma, but I suppose sometimes, it’s a reminder that not all religious people are wingnut crazy, and even if they are, they can still be decent people. I haven’t seen or heard from the family since the day of the funeral, I hope they’re all doing okay.