4. Beyond the pale

During college, as my awareness of the world of events and the world of ideas grew, my drift away from the faith of our fathers became a waterfall, and an intro philosophy course pushed me over it. I suppose much of my original skepticism was fueled by objection to the moralistic code that came along with church, but by this time I had cleared that hurdle and found an even stronger basis for morality in rational humanism.

I began to study history and to read widely, and realized at some point that I no longer had any doubts about my ideas concerning the existence of God. It just seemed clear to me that it was a pretty foolish notion. It wasn’t so much that it couldn’t be proved, it was just that it didn’t seem to fit the case of existence as I had experienced it.

This created something of a break with my family, though they didn’t stop loving me or accepting me, they just were very unhappy with me. It was just something that my parents and all their contemporaries found incomprehensible. They had never expected a child of theirs to go beyond the pale. I was the first among the cousins, as far as I know, to openly flout the whole Judeo-Christian tradition in this way, and they were just shocked and disappointed.

But I managed to graduate despite my moral decay, and found myself in a moral quandary. Having graduated and passed my Army physical, and with no exemptions left, I was prime draft bait for the Vietnam War, as it was called. I considered myself a pacifist, but without a religious community to support me I had no basis to claim exemption due to opposition to war.

Not that being a Baptist would have helped a whole lot. It was pretty much “Quakers only” in the pacifist exemption department. (I had never heard of the Koinonia Community in Georgia at that point.) I considered Canada for some time, but I just couldn’t go that far. It wasn’t the geographical distance that stopped me, but the personal and emotional distance that step would have put between my family and me. Especially my father. Daddy was a WWII veteran, a navigator in the Army Air Corps, and spent 15 months in a German POW camp.

Leaving the Baptist Church was one thing, leaving the country to avoid the war was another. Maybe it was the cumulative effect. Maybe it was all those years of war stories. I just couldn’t do it.

I began to look into the Air Force – Daddy’s preference – and though I was drafted by the Army, was able to enlist in the Air Force and eventually get a slot in OTS, as a pilot. I foolishly thought, oh cool, become an Air Force pilot, then I won’t have to go to the war. Not.

It was 1969 when I entered, and they were going through pilots like popcorn in a movie theater. Well before my year of pilot training was over, I knew I was headed for Vietnam. I was just praying they wouldn’t ask me to drop any bombs or shoot at anyone.

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