Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Apathy as a blessing

I found out today, in an off-hand comment e-mailed from someone I rarely contact, that the preacher who founded the church where I grew up has died. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Relief - although he ceased to have any power over me decades ago, and apparently ceased to have any power over anyone else at least a few years ago. Pity - the only reports I have were filtered through three or four sources at minimum, and few of those charitable, but it appears that he died a desperately miserable, addled old man, possibly in pain and probably shunned by the leaders of the church he founded. But even these were fairly subdued reactions. He just didn't really matter to me anymore.

This man caught my mother in his web of Bible verses and demands for contributions when I was child. He encouraged her to sell her home and donate the proceeds to the church; to enroll herself and her children in the "Bible College" and "Christian Day School," respectively, that he launched; and to fall into an unthinking haze of blind obedience to "God's will." Even setting aside the other abuses of body and spirit which thrived in that environment, he personally had an enormous impact on the direction my early life was forced to take.

There's a web site (several, actually) with message boards full of comments from former members of the church. On one of them (, there was a discussion of whether this man truly went to heaven or to hell. There are strong opinions from both sides, as you can imagine. One person likened him unfavorably to Hitler. But my own minister, a UCC guy with whom I have a very bumpy relationship, asserts that God's love is enough to cover any sin - even those committed by Carl H. Stevens, Jr., a bakery delivery man who 50 years or so ago decided to do some preaching.

Me - it's not that I'm apathetic on the issue. I'm just glad I'm not the one who must decide on that man's eternal fate. I try very hard to remember that all of humanity are siblings, born from the same family and prone to the same faults. I try to avoid grudges and think of a person's potential for future good. But I don't think I could, or certainly should, sit judgment on this pitiful little man in a bad toupee. No matter if his actions did cause irreparable, and possibly incalculable harm to me and to those whom I love.

They say that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. If the corollary is true, then perhaps my lack of real reaction to this death is a blessing. I have let it all go.

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