Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Another reason I’m an atheist is that I tried my hand at proselytizing Catholicism at an early age and failed miserably. I guess a product is only as good as its sales force.
I had this friend when I was about seven, named Howard. He was Jewish. I had no idea what that meant, and I didn’t care because his grandfather, I think it was, owned a corner store in the city and stocked baseball cards. I lived for baseball cards at the time. Topps. The kind that came with a stick of pink bubblegum and smelled like bubblegum. One day Howard showed up at my house with a grocery bag full of baseball card packages — unopened — and said they were for me. His grandfather heard what a fan I was and must have said something like, Give the little goy boy a treat. I was agog. I tore into that bag like a rooting warthog.
The funny thing is, each package had five or six cards in it, but I was looking exclusively for Cardinals. I didn’t want a damned Ernie Banks or Don Drysdale. I wanted Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver. I wanted Lou Brock. I specifically remember having both a Willie Mays and a Willie McCovey, and I traded them both away for now practically anonymous Cardinals whose names I can’t even recall. Out of that huge grocery bag of cards, I probably came away with only a handful of Redbirds.
So I was disappointed, and that’s probably why I was a little mischievous when Christmastime rolled around that year and I noticed, at Howard’s house, that they didn’t have a Christmas tree. Everyone I knew had a Christmas tree, including my Aunt Bonnie, who was married to a Jewish man (though I had no idea what that meant). I also noticed that Howard had warts on his fingers, so I started piecing together that it was because he was Jewish and if he got himself a Christmas tree and started believing in Jesus he’d lose the warts and everything would be great. I asked his mom why they didn’t have a tree. She said they were Jewish and didn’t believe in Christmas.
In Howard’s bedroom I tried to set him straight. I explained, fresh out of Sunday school, that Jesus was the son of God and had been sent down here to get us back on track and preach the gospels, or whatever. I wasn’t entirely sure. Howard said, see that’s the thing — Jews don’t believe that Jesus is the son of God, and they think the messiah is yet to arrive. I kept pushing my case, and soon Howard ran out of the room upset. His mother appeared and told me it was time for me to go home. Okay, I said. Merry Christmas!
By the time I’d walked home, Howard’s mom had called my mom and told her what happened and would she please keep me from proselytizing her son. Mom apologized and said something like he knowest not what he does. And when I got home she explained that it was bad manners to tell people of another religion that they’re wrong about things. But if we’re right about things, I asked, and they’re wrong about things, shouldn’t I try to help them? As I recalled, they were headed straight to Hell if they didn’t come aboard.
Mom hedged on that one, telling me just don’t do it anymore. Don’t preach to Howard or any other Jewish person. What about Uncle David, I asked. No. Especially not Uncle David.
The upshot is that Howard’s mom didn’t want me coming over to their house anymore, and that was fine with me. The next year we moved to a new neighborhood anyway, and there were no Jewish kids in my new school so I wasn’t in danger of ruffling any religious feathers. There was an American Indian kid, though …
What I came away with, as my own ideas about religion began to form, is that all of the religions think they’re right and that everyone else is headed to one kind of Hell or another. Proselytizing might be a way to save some souls, but ultimately it’s just lording it over other people — you’re going to Hell and I’m not. It seemed more honest, to my young mind, to admit that nobody has any idea what’s going on ontologically and we should just man up and face facts. No one can dangle Hell over my head if I don’t believe in Hell.
The one regret I have about all this — and I certainly don’t regret turning into an atheist — is that I didn’t hang onto the Mays and McCovey cards. They’d be worth something now in this life.