July 18, 2019

No News from Doodlebug Island . . . by William F. Jordan

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In what must be regarded as one of the more remarkable turn-arounds, Giles Ferguson, our resident atheist, has gone from a major critic of those within the community of believers to a fellow of sympathy and understanding, and no one on  Doodlebug Island can explain the change. It’s wondered if, like Saul of Tarsus, who undoubtedly suffered heat stroke on his way to Damascus, and who went from a persecutor of Christians to the self-proclaimed Apostle Paul, Giles might be experiencing the results of a brain tumor or early signs of a mental breakdown? There’s general approval of the difference, but Islanders find themselves wondering if he will revert or show further signs of mental deterioration? To date—and surprisingly—he has done neither.

The skepticism is understandable, for Giles has never made a secret of his disdain for religion, per se, and his contempt for those who practice it. His metaphoric barbs in which he has compared believers to something venial or unsavory have struck home too many times. “He’s as trustworthy as a pedophile priest around a day-care center!” Or, “The situation is nearly as strange as a TV evangelist not hawking prayer cloths!” In short, no faith nor believer has escaped the application of similes such as these, so, when they suddenly stopped, the silence was not unlike that of a hurricane whose eye is centered on the Island, and which leaves inhabitants waiting for the other wall of bad weather to roar overhead, fearful for themselves and their property.

When Giles’ new behavior was seen to continue,a few braver souls asked him for an explanation. “This is one of those situations that, if you haven’t lived a life of doubt, you won’t understand,” he answered. “And, if you have lived in your own doubt, you won’t need to ask!”
The explanation was more puzzling than the behavior. Had the man ‘gone round the bend?’ Had he adopted a far-eastern philosophy of some sort in which hashish or meditation helped him achieve some mysterious guru-like sublimity? General consensus was in favor of the old maxim, ‘better the devil you know  than one you don’t.’

The old Giles had often been hard to deal with, but time and proximity had helped folks build a certain immunity that this new Giles somehow threatened. Besides, if you or your religious view weren’t the immediate target of his caustic humor, it had been satisfying to see and hear your neighbor, mistaken or misinformed as he might be, getting his comeuppance. Now that this had gone missing, a wave of nostalgia took its place.

Until this moment, I had taken no part in the matter. My thought was that Giles had the right to provide or withhold information, as he saw fit. To my surprise, however, he dropped into my office and asked for my help.” People don’t know if I should be avoided as a mental leper or prayed for as someone possessed by the devil. I think you can help, and I hope you will.” I agreed to try.

An opportunity presented itself sooner than I expected. The barbershop was busy when I kept a 2:00 o’clock appointment, and it turned out that speculation regarding Giles’ new persona was going the rounds. When it came handy, I simply embroidered a bit on what Giles had said to me while the two of us were fishing together a few weeks before. That is if a sunburn is in any way a substitute for the fish we didn’t catch.
“As I see it, if defining yourself and your reality by what you believe, and then living up to it is difficult under any circumstance, think how hard it must be when you can’t define either yourself or your reality except in the negative! Giles must say, ‘I’m not this; I’m not that; so who am I?

And to what purpose shall I direct my life?’ It seems to me, he has stopped looking for a reality outside himself. He’s concentrating on finding positives. One thing is certain, he isn’t and won’t be a believer. He’s simply struggling to refocus on those positive goods that transcend belief or disbelief. He’s looking for his and our humanity!”

The barbershop went quiet while those present considered the great lesson being taught by a man who, until now, represented a threat to any and all ideas of formal religion. “Imagine that! Tolerance taught by an atheist!” said someone.

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