Former Bible Beater Wishes Famous Relative Had Been A Stronger Influence on Priest Friend

November 10th, 2010

One of my best friends from college became an Episcopal priest.  I blame myself for this.  I was such a Christian whack job in college (hosting bible studies in my dorm room, heavily involved in multiple campus ministries, going on mission trips during every Spring break and working at Christian camps every summer) that I easily influenced a few close friends that weren’t particularly religious when they came to college.  One friend lived across the hall from me my Freshman year.  We shared a lot of things in common including an oddball sense of humor and the ability to laugh until our spleens shot out of our mouths and hit each other in the face.   This friend introduced me to Monty Python and The Young Ones.  She was stuck with a roommate who loved to undress in front of their dorm room window while talking to KU football players on the phone so she frequently sought refuge in my room.  My friend was an Episcopalian, which seemed to mean that she went to church and sang in the choir,  but didn’t actually believe in much of anything.  I have a vague memory of her telling me that she believed the stories in the Old Testament were largely symbolic and that Noah’s flood didn’t really happen.  I prayed pretty hard for her after I heard that heresy coming out of her mouth and eventually my religious zeal seemed to infect her as well.  I am positive that if I had just been a normal freak instead of a ‘Jesus freak’, my friend would now be teaching French or Japanese on a gorgeous university campus in some trendy little town instead of preaching sermons to a bunch of Episcopalians who just go to church to talk about the gallery openings/wine tastings they attended on Saturday night.  So even though being an Episcopalian priest is probably about as close as a Christian can get to atheism without actually renouncing faith entirely, I still feel kind of weirdly responsible about the whole thing.

When I first became an atheist, I emailed her and told her that I didn’t believe in God anymore.  She responded with perfect equanimity saying basically, “that’s no big deal Rechelle -  for Chrissake I’m an Episcopalian!”

But the next time I got an e-mail from her, I simply could not open it.  I e-mailed her back saying, “I’m sorry.  I just can’t read your e-mails right now.  Religious people are just freaking me out.  Even if there religion is only Episcopalian.  I am so so so so sorry.”

Of course, that was almost a year ago when all the Christian homeschoolers were attacking my website in angry hordes and I was in the midst of one extra large, heavy duty, anxiety attack.  Eventually I had to take anti-depressants to get a grip on my emotions and then I stopped taking them because I felt like I had guard rails on my brain and then I had another break down and started taking them again but in a much smaller dose and then I stopped taking them again because I felt like my brain was in a sling.  So far – I am doing okay without them.  I feel pretty good and relatively in control of myself, but I still can’t open my priest friend’s e-mails unless they are clearly marked ‘kids in Halloween costumes’ or ‘daughter’s second birthday party’.

I never mentioned to her that I blamed myself for her becoming a priest because that makes me sound like a psychotic nutter.  Even if I was a religious freakazoid and one of her closest friends, she was a smart, sophisticated girl.  But I still kind of blame myself.  I have an email sitting in my inbox right now from her and I can’t make myself open it.

This friend’s mother always hated me.  From the very moment she laid eyes on me she hated me.  She hated everything about me.  Except for a toothless, alcoholic boyfriend on welfare with seven children from three incarcerated ex-wives, I was this mother’s worst nightmare for her daughter.  I lacked pedigree.  I was not in a sorority.  My parent’s were blue collar.  I did not attend a private high-school, but worst of all, I was the opposite of a proper Episcopalian.  I was one of those Christians – a bible beater.   And my friend’s mom could smell it on me from miles away through her highly trained stuck-up nose.

Remember a few months back when I wrote about my first and last abortion march where the congressman’s wife laid hands on the VCR and tried to cast a demon out of it? Well, my friend’s mom was visiting that weekend and I told her about participating in the march.  She just looked at me and said, “But why would you do that?”  That was when I realized that Episcopalians were basically atheists and I had a lot of things to teach my friend and hopefully together we could save my friend’s mom.  I think my friend’s mom detested me from that moment on and now I totally understand why.  Sorry best college friend’s mom.  I thought I was saving your daughter, but it turns out I was simply inviting her into my personal delusion.

I do have to say that I was not the only religious freak in my friend’s life.  She had a close relative who founded a very conservative church in Lawrence, Kansas because I guess every other church in Lawrence wasn’t quite holy enough for him and his family.  So maybe I am not the only whacked out religious influence in my friend’s life.  Plus – on the opposite side of me and her church founding kin, she did have a different kind of relative.

This dude.

Remember him?

He was my friend’s so totally not a bible beater relative.

So my friend’s mom knew that her daughter had the genetics to go places.

And her daughter did go a lot of places.

She studied and worked all over the world and eventually held a position at one of the embassies in Washington D.C.

But then she decided to enter the priesthood.

And sometimes I think that if she hadn’t met me…

She might have chosen an entirely different career.


  • jalf:

    Hah, I thought I was the only one who sometimes just can’t bring myself to read an email (or forum posts or other online messages for me). I’ve figured out it’s a bit easier if I hover the mouse *right* over the close button, and kind of quickly scan the first sentence, being careful not to look at the rest of the message, and then quickly close the window. Then, if it appears to be a benign message, I feel a bit better about re-opening and reading it in full.

    But honestly, you should read that damn mail. From what you’ve said, she doesn’t sound like the preachy type, and what if she’s not even trying to convert you? For all you know, she could be having her own crisis of faith and want to discuss it with you. Or she could just be writing to suggest you go out for a cup of coffee, or an all-night Monty Python marathon. ;)

    If all else fails, get your husband to read the email, and then he can tell you if it’s safe for you to read it.

  • Open it! OPEN IT! An unopened email is like a present, there could be something good in there or it could just be socks. You have had plenty of time to adjust to being an atheist. Originally you may have been worried about being challenged about your viewpoint, now you can have a reasoned conversation about it. And it sounds like Lyle Waggoner’s Niece is a perfectly reasonable person. LWN is probably more interested in finding out about how you are doing and what you are thinking then getting you to do what she wants and think the way she wants you to. And perhaps LWN is reaching out to you in other ways. Maybe she hasn’t met many militant bomb-throwing baby-eating puppy-stomping atheists like us and wants to expose herself to that perspective. You might even be on the verge of having a second round of influence on LWN…LWN’s mom would have all kinds of new reasons to dislike you.

    As a strong non-accomadating atheist there are some religious people who I don’t have time to talk to. I have spent years dealing with young earth creationists, and I don’t want to loose another brain cell listening to that garbage. But I have no problem talking to moderate religious people, especially those who understand the line between reality and make believe, and theology and philosophy. LWN probably has more of a background and interest in philosophy then theology. She’s seems like the kind of person to keep around. When your older, you’ll be sitting around laughing about the good old days together.

    BTW, Robert M. Price, a well known atheist and Bible Scholar, attends an Episcopalian church…

  • Rechelle:

    I totally relate to the duck and cover method of reading online messages. I have gotten the CD to read a few for me from different folks, but he always insists that they aren’t bad at all and then I read them and fall totally apart. We have very different ideas of what is ‘harmless’. But you’re right, I should read it. I should. I should go read it right now. Here I go. I am going to read it right now. One, two, three. Here I go. Arrrrrrgh!

  • Nikki:

    this post made me laugh. i grew up Episcopalian . Seriously Episcopalian. Episcopal Church every week. served alter Guild, Episcopal youth group. Episcopal summer camp.

    now.. Im either Episcopal, or atheist. i cant decide which.. but I guess it dosent make much difference.

  • Huh. Being a former cradle Episcopalian (baptised at 5 weeks old), I love your analogy. Perhaps that’s why I don’t believe anymore; I was half way there to begin with!

    Like Nikki, I was fully immersed. Even served on the vestry of our parish.

    This morning, as I was comforting a woman whose 41 year old son recently died of a heart attack, I again, thought, how can god exist & take this wonderful woman’s son from her! Simple answer. He doesn’t.

    I’ve had to ask (my husband’s) relatives to quit sending me BS religious, anti-Obama/Muslim/etc. e-mails. I’m sure a lot of them don’t like me anymore & several have “un-friended” me on FB, but, oh well.

    I doubt that your priest friend would send you a scathing “I’ll pray for you, blah, blah blah” missive. Bite the bullet & open the e-mail! Maybe you’ll feel like sharing what was said with us…! :o)

    • Rechelle:

      I opened it. It was benign. Phew!

  • I’ll never forget before I left for college my mom told me to stay away from the bible-beaters. Just use your good Catholic sense and you’ll be fine were her exact words. Makes me giggle. Anyway, one day I’m sitting, waiting for one of the green buses to come, and down sits this girl. She sat down next to me and said hi. Of course I said hi back. Then not two seconds later she scoots closer and asks me if I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. Now, I have personal space issues anyway, but this girl had for sure invaded the 3 foot rule. I did not respond and she moved closer, picked up my hand and asked me to come to church with her. The only response that came to mind was,”Is it a Catholic church, because I’m Catholic?”. She dropped my hand and walked away. The one and only time being a Catholic saved me in any shape or form.

    Also, I want to know the size of Linda Carter’s waist in that picture! Holy crap! That’s crazy!

  • Kay in KCMO:

    When all else fails you can always write a letter to the lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen.*

    *Young Ones reference. :)

  • Nancy:

    Here’s the thing….your friend sounds smart, savvy, educated, and kind. So whether or not you influenced her decision to enter the priesthood, if it didn’t make her happy -she’d leave it. Just as you have changed the way you think and feel about life in the years since college, I’m sure she has too. She probably wouldn’t hesitate to make a change if she wasn’t fulfilled by her choices. I doubt that it was you that prompted her to follow the path that she did – by then she’d been out in the world, working in D.C., meeting all sorts of people from all walks of life. She did what she wanted. She did what felt right for her. It must still feel right. To me, that’s the beauty of my freedom from religion – I’m more accepting of whatever works for you. Everyone is entitled to find their peace in their own way. SO your friend believe sin God, so what? She’s still a sweet part of your history, someone with whom you shared special moments and loads of laughter. She didn’t tell you that she could no longer open your emails because you’d become an atheist – why in the world would you cut her out of your life? Be kind to yourself, embrace your friend – even if you disagree with her on that one topic. I’ll bet you still laugh at the same things and still crack each other up. I don’t want to be dismissed for my views, so I can’t fairly dismiss anyone for feeling differently. I do make an exception for people who use religion to promote hatred, discrimination,etc. But I’ll bet that’s not your friend. Don’t exclude someone who was once so dear to you.

  • susan:

    Dang Rechelle – you are so interesting. Little did I know that you were once what I cannot abide; a bible beater. And it appears you were REALLY into it! This information makes your transition to atheism much more profound. Being so direct and overt about this truism is really admirable knowing you would be chastised and shunned by many.

  • km:

    my son mispronounces Episcopalian as “miscellaneous” . It makes sense:)
    Oh, Rechelle, bible study in the dorm room of college. what a waste of freedom :) You had to crack sometime!
    I did the whole anxiety attack, meds, etc so know what you describe. Turns out I had endometriosis and once they scraped that alien life form away the anxiety never returned (nor did the menstrual pain). Hurray for laproscopic surgery !!!
    Crazy bible beaters, all that smiting and smoting makes them frenzied. Down with that sort of thing!

    • Rechelle:

      Miscellaneous! That is hilarious!

  • Lyle Waggoner?!!? For real?!!!

    I had a TOTALLY inappropriate crush on him when I was, like, ten.

    Thanks for the memories!

  • You only got her to be an Episcopalian priest? Piker! When I was a Jesus Freak I got my big brother to accept Jesus as his personal savior, yada yada.

    He is now a Southern Baptist preacher. In Oklahoma. With home schooled kids.

    My only consolation is that his eldest son is doing his best prodigal son imitation, so there is hope.

  • Priss:

    Not really on topic but kind of in response to Nancy’s comment that Rechelle’s friend would leave the ministry if it stopped making her happy.

    A paper by Dan Dennett discusses non-believing (and not very happy) pastors:

    and ABC news had a story on the topic just the other day.