And why me? Why am I so het up? Well, it all started like this...

When I was five or six -- no, I must've been older than that...let's say I was eight -- I was friends with three brothers my own age who were Pentecostal. I was raised Anglican (Episcopalian to you Yanks), and never really thought all that deeply about religion, or how different people believe different things. So when they started to tell me one Saturday afternoon about the end of the world, I took it all at face value. I mean, we all believed in God, right?

They told me about how the Devil was going to be coming back (soon, too), and how dangerous it would be to be Christian then, and how a lot of people were going to die in some really horrible ways. (I seem to remember beheading being a prominent feature.) God would come back after that, and He was going to start throwing a whole lot of His own wrath around. Either you'd be in Heaven, with Him, or you'd be in Hell suffering forever.

And they had these comics, too, drawn by the same artist who worked for Archie comics. Might've even had Archie and Betty, too. (Theological question: would Reggie and Veronica go to Heaven? Hmm...) I devoured them, of course, same as I did every other comic I came across. And they scared me shitless.

I didn't know what to do. I was only a kid. I knew, though, that I didn't want God to be mad at me, and I didn't want to go to Hell, and I didn't want my family to go to Hell either. So when these kids told me that giving my parents a copy of the Bible to read would be the first step, I did it.

I sat my mother down, gave her the Bible (opened to the Revelation of Saint John, natch), and asked her to read it. I crept off to my room in embarrassment; I knew it was important, but I knew my mom probably wouldn't like it, either. And I was right.

My parents were very upset. "Do you think we're bad people?" they asked. "Do you think we're going to Hell?" I could only cry, because I was unable to put it all into words: that I didn't think they were bad people, but I wasn't sure that was enough. That I was frightened of God, frightened of the Devil, frightened of Hell, and I really just wanted everyone to be safe. That the friendly, grandfatherly God I used to know had suddenly turned into this angry old man, but an angry old man who could send you to burn forever if He wanted to. And going by what I'd just found out, He probably wanted to.

My parents told me that I couldn't talk about religion to my friends again. They said that we had our religion, and they had theirs, and that was that. And I cried some more, and felt really, really bad. I didn't know what to think. All I knew was that I was scared.

There was one scene from the comic book that stuck in my mind. Things are going badly for everyone, what with the Devil and all. A girl opens her Bible for advice about what to do, and that's when The Rapture hits: everyone is suddenly floating up to Heaven. Well, for at least a month after that I was afraid to open a Bible, because wouldn't that mean the End of the World?

Eventually I got over it. My friends and I still played together, and every now and then we'd secretly talk about God. My family moved away a few years later, or maybe my friends had moved first; I can't remember. Every now and then I'd wonder why different parts of the Bible were taken seriously and followed very closely, and why others weren't.

Reading The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail and Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger within a couple weeks of each other pretty much turned me to atheism when I was fourteen. It wasn't a hard decision; I'd never been a very spiritual person. And when I went to university I found a copy of The Rev'd Ivan Stang's High Weirdness By Mail, an excellent book that introduced me to all the strange things that people believe.

I began to be interested in religion itself. And I found myself absolutely fascinated by Christian fundamentalism and eschatology, the things that had frightened me so long ago. I learned a bit about the differences in attitudes toward the Bible and its different books, and how fundamentalism had arisen, and how interest in the end of the world had waxed and waned over centuries. I read all I could from the scholarly end of things, while still seeking out and being thrilled and amused by the weird things I could get in the mail.

I've still got two sides to me: the scholarly part that sees the validity of belief, and the snarky part of me that can't believe that anyone believes this crap. You'll probably find the tension between these two sides all over this site; that said, I've tried to be polite most of the time, and restrained when I haven't been polite, and amusing when I've not been able to restrain myself. I hope you like it.

Next: Part 1

Texas preacher internet conspiracy UN blah blah blah.