Title: Religion Versus Dungeons and Dragons
Date Occurred: August through December of 1981
Date Written: December 11, 2005
Date Prepared for Web Site: April 26, 2019
Written by: Joel T. Kant
Copyright (c) 2019 by Joel T. Kant
At the end of August, my parents and siblings helped me move my belongings to Cornfield University. I was assigned a room in Morrow Hall, I think room 304. Morrow Hall in the campus literature was claimed to be a dormitory for engineering students. A tall wood totem pole stood in front of the building. Rather than Indian and animal heads carved on the pole, it had figures that represented different branches of engineering like civil, mechanical, and mining. One of the figures had a slide rule, which made it look dated since scientific calculators were already commonplace by 1981.
In the lobby just inside the main lounge and entrance desk was a wall with a colorfully hand-painted mural on it. It had cartoon cowboy figures with a slogan that went something like this, "WHEN I GOT HERE, I DIDNíT KNOW WHAT AN INJUNEER WAS, BUT NOW I BE ONE!"
My guess is the deliberately garbled grammar comes from the common perception that engineers cannot write.
My room was on a floor labeled as Third West. There was a ground floor, so it was four flights of stairs up. There was no elevator in the building. Although it was many steps to climb, I brought so few things that I was quickly moved in.
My new roommate showed up. Tall and lanky with fashionably styled hair and expensive-looking clothes, he came from Chicago. He was polite to my parents. I do not recall meeting his parents. I had never met him before now. He had been randomly assigned.
While I suppose it would not be that hard to track down his real name and I do remember what it is, I will give him the name of Jason.
My family and I then had dinner at a pizza place someplace in Cornfield City. Being a college town, there were plenty of them. I have no idea what my new roommate did for his dinner.
Soon enough, I was back in the dorm. Goodbyes were said, then my parents and siblings were off back to the Village of Biron. Biron is about a hundred-fifty miles from Cornfield City. Without a car and only a bicycle for transportation, that distance seemed great.
Jason introduced me to a friend of his, who I will assign the name Greg. Jason and Greg knew each other from Chicago. Greg was shorter than Jason, but much heavier. He was not fat, but built like a weightlifter or football player. Greg also lived on Third West, just down the hall.
Jason announced, "Greg and I are hitting the bars. Want to come?"
"No, thank you," I replied.
Although a starting Freshman also so I do not know how he would know this, Greg said, "It's traditional. You've got to come."
I responded, "I wouldn't even be let in if they check ID's. I'm still seventeen."
At that time, the drinking age in Wisconsin was eighteen. A number of my fellow high school students had turned eighteen during their senior year so were legally going to the bars while still in high school. Although starting college, I was seventeen for about two weeks yet.
Greg said, "You're kidding!"
I shook my head.
Jason asked, "When's your birthday?"
In hindsight, I should not have answered or else have guessed what was coming and countered that immediately, but without a second thought, I gave it.
Jason and Greg gave no more argument, and left without me.
There was not much for me to do that evening. Classes had not started yet. Other students continued to arrive. Many carried massive speakers and stereo systems up those four flights of stairs. Loud rock music started playing from some of the rooms.
I wandered around, meeting people. With nothing pressing to do, I felt it would be fun to play something like Dungeons and Dragons if I could find a game.
I asked some men about that. They laughed hard.
One of them thrust a can of beer at me and said, "That's a kiddie game! You don't want to play that. We're going to play quarters. That's a man's game. Take this beer and join in."
"No to the beer, but thanks for offering. I don't drink alcohol," I said.
As for the quarters game itself, which I had never heard of until this moment but based on the name, I thought it might involve gambling, which I would not do either.
Referring to the beer, the man said, "Why not?"
What he really said had lots of swearing laced in that I am editing out.
"I'm not old enough to drink legally," I explained.
He and the others had a hard laugh about that.
He explained, "Weíre not checking ID's!"
"It's okay. Go ahead," urged somebody else. I guess he meant there was nearly no likelihood of getting caught and punished for drinking before the age of eighteen.
I still refused.
The group complained what a sissy I was, then ignored me as they started the game. Quarters were bounced off a hard surface toward a cup. The quarters did not seem to be changing hands, though. Despite the name, the game was not about money, but only about encouraging each other to drink heavily. I left them without ever figuring out the rules beyond that.
Once classes started, the days passed quickly. I got back to my dorm room early in the evening of my birthday Jason and Greg were waiting for me, as well as a group of other students.
Greg announced, "You're legal now!"
"Time to hit the bars," Jason explained.
I countered, "Even if I wanted to, it's a weeknight. I've got Calculus early tomorrow morning."
Somebody laughed and said, "Missing one class won't hurt you."
I wondered if that student had ever taken Calculus. I found the subject taxing enough that I thought missing even one course could indeed hurt me. I decided against saying that aloud, though.
Jason smiled and said, "As your birthday present, you don't have to pay anything."
I explained, "I appreciate the offer, but I simply do not want to drink alcohol."
The people in the group got angry. I was told how Jason and others had worked hard to set up this drinking adventure. Yet, I still refused.
The group then went off to the bars anyway, although it was a weeknight so I felt they lacked an excuse.
I spent the rest of my eighteenth birthday alone.
When Friday evening rolled around, the group again pressured me to come to the bars with them. I no longer had the excuse of classes the next morning. Nobody had classes on Saturday morning. Yet again, I refused. Jason acted like I had grievously insulted him even worse than the earlier weekday evening.
I finally said that I would like to see the bars at least once to see what was going on there, but I would not drink a drop of alcohol. The group agreed to let me come even if I would not drink. Since they seemed to accept that, I went along.
The bars were clustered on Second Street, which was less than a mile from campus. So many students crowded the sidewalks of Second Street that one had to push through. Some of the bars had bouncers in front.
The group I was with went up to one bar. A bouncer explained that he could not let anybody new in until somebody left. We were welcome to wait until enough people left for our entire group to go in. He added that this was because of fire codes, so he could not break the rules.
The group instead went to another bar next door. As I walked inside, the music was so loud that I could feel it as much as hear it. Heavy bass made table tops vibrate. There was no place to sit. There was nearly no place to stand. I did not see how any fire code would allow a building to be this full of people. Perhaps the owners of this place unlike the one next door simply ignored the fire code.
A strobe light flashed, with the beam visible in the thick cloud of tobacco smoke. The smoke was so thick it was like smoking oneself just from breathing the second-hand smoke.
A pitcher of beer was bought by somebody, and a stack of glasses were brought. Jason tried to give me a glass of beer. I refused. I explained that I had said before coming that I would not drink a drop of alcohol.
Jason, Greg, and their friends then tried to persuade me that I should change my mind and have a beer. I guess I should have expected that.
We headed to a different bar down the street where they met some of their other friends. There, I learned of something called a cover charge. It was the first time I had heard of such a thing. Money had to be paid to merely enter. Not wanting to be a spoilsport, I coughed up the fee. Inside, it was about like the other bar with the smoke and loud noise, only slightly less crowded. My guess was the cover charge fee led to the smaller crowd. Switching bars did not lessen the peer pressure for me to join in the drinking.
When we left the bars and headed back to the dorms, my ears were still ringing from the noise in the bars. My ears continued to ring for the next hour. I suspected sound that loud could permanently damage hearing. Yet, there seemed so many students eager to enter. I wondered if they were insane, or if it was me that was insane for hating this experience so much. I did not enjoy or understand loud rock music. I did not understand the appeal of smoking. What I knew could happen to those addicted to drinking alcohol over the long-term terrified me so much that I did not want to touch a drop.
I felt completely out of sync with my peers if I considered this group my peers. I would not have to refuse going to the bars with them after that night, because I was never invited again. That suited me.
Word got around the dorm fast that although I was now legal age to drink alcohol, I still refused. I desperately wished that could have been kept secret, but I did not see how. The cat was out of the bag.
Three well-groomed young men showed up a week or two after I visited the bars. They told me that two of them lived on Third East Morrow. The third lived in Morrow, but on a different floor. Third East was the same floor of the same building as Third West where I lived, but a center lounge with large windows on each side separated the east and west sides of the building.
The three had heard about my refusal to drink alcohol, so then assumed I must be a devout Christian to do that. One of them said that they were going to a bible study. They invited me along.
I had been raised Roman Catholic. My parents had taken my siblings and me to church every Sunday. I had not gone to the Catholic high school, but the public one. Still, I had gone through the Catechism program with its weekly meetings. I had gone through the Confirmation ritual at age fourteen or so.
On Sunday of my first week on campus, I attended the Catholic church on Cornfield University campus just once. I felt that priest had displaye a strong anti-military stance in his sermon. This offended me as a number of the people I graduated high school with, both male and female, had gone into the military rather than being in college like I was now. In contrast, the priest at my parents' church in Wisconsin Rapids, Father Doyle, was a former military chaplain. Father Doyle was extremely pro-military. For Memorial Day, Father Doyle's were always the longest he would give in the entire year. Therefore, my issue with the Cornfield University priest was an attitude just for him, not the position of the Roman Catholic religion in general. As if all that were not bad enough, the Cornfield University Catholic church had a cat that wandered around even during the mass. I am very allergic to cats and out of many pews of people, the cat came to rub against me! I was sneezing with watering eyes, barely able to stay for the whole mass. It may have felt clever and progressive to have a cat at the church, but it made it a miserable experience for me. I did not attend Catholic church again at Cornfield University, but did at St. Mary's Church whenever back in Wisconsin Rapids with my parents.
That evening when I was invited to the bible study, I had gotten all caught up in my homework. With astonishing naivete, I honestly thought this would be an academic discussion of the bible.
The meeting was in a lounge that I think was in the lowest floor of the engineering building, Ottensman Hall. This was not a dormitory, but a classroom building. It was in the evening so after hours for classes, but I guess one of them had the key to the building and the specific room. There were about a dozen students and one older man. I think the older man was a pastor from somewhere.
Keeping my mouth shut and listening, which is something I should do far more often, I quickly realized this group was into bible literalism. This includes the claim that the planet Earth is only about six thousand years old. I find this an astonishing claim. I think current scientific theories have the planet as several billions of years old, with life starting hundreds of millions of years ago. There are many more zeros in a billion than in six thousand!
I had heard enough. I wanted to leave. I was not able to escape quietly, though. The eyes of everybody were on me.
I lied about suddenly remembering someplace else I had to be or some urgent studying I had to do.
Nobody was falling for that. People pleaded with me to stay. I needed to see the light. I would burn forever in hell unless I accepted Jesus. They informed me to be a Roman Catholic was not the same thing as being a true Christian!
I left anyway.
The religious group kept coming to my room despite how I would never go again to their bible study. To my great irritation, my roommate Jason kept inviting them in. I was never really sure of Jason's religion or religious beliefs. Once Jason invited the men in, they instantly ignored Jason to try to convert me. Jason would sit back looking like he was fighting off laughter. When Jason's best friend and drinking buddy Greg was around, Greg would make a quick exit when the bible study people came around. I do not think Greg liked them, and it seemed vice versa.
Most often, I got out of that uncomfortable situation by simply leaving. The library was a common place for me to go to get out of the room for a while. The library was not open on Friday and Saturday evenings, but Jason was out drinking then like clockwork, so these encounters where Jason invited the bible study people into our room never happened then. Instead, the library was open when he invited them in, so I had someplace to go to escape. Not once did they follow me to the library.
It turned one student in the bible study group was in Calculus with me. He came by alone one day wanting to discuss math. When studying math, he never mentioned religion. I ended up working on homework with him many times without him ever mentioning religion when we were alone. Although this did not convert me to his version of Christianity, I thought his low-key approach was far more effective than the high pressure tactics of his bible-studying friends.
One evening, he and I were studying math in his room on Third East. Another man stopped by, announcing that it was time for the bible study. This man did not address me, having given up on me by then.
The man whose room this was refused, explaining that he had a midterm tomorrow in Calculus. We were studying for that.
"It won't hurt to miss one bible study," he said.
I found it an eerie parallel to those who claimed it would not hurt me to miss one morning class the next day if I went out drinking the evening of my eighteenth birthday.
"I'm taking Calculus, but Iím going to the bible study. I have my priorities straight," noted the other man.
This was not persuasive enough, so he went off alone to his bible study group while the two of us kept studying math.
The two of us got high A's on the test. The other man barely passed, but he did not quite flunk either. Quite a few in the Calculus course had flunked the test, with another one that had flunked also being in that bible study group.
I had heard those in the bible study group claim that the answers to all problems are in the bible. Based on what happened, I maintain that if preparing for a calculus test, the textbook has better answers for that than the bible!
I knew not to mention having played Dungeons and Dragons to any of those trying to convert me to their flavor of Christianity. Even without my mentioning it, I did hear vague comments from them on how that game was very evil. Those comments were mixed in when they were talking about rock music also being evil.
Throughout the semester, Jason kept inviting the religious people over despite my objections. During one of the visits, I was told that evolution does not exist. The planet was far too young for that, being only six thousand years old. I knew that came from counting the begats listed in the bible. Adam begat Cain...and continue on until you get to Jesus, then simply add roughly two thousand years. That gives a result of about six thousand years, more or less.
I told them when hiking with my parents and an uncle, I had personally found fossils of sea shells on the top of a mountain outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. The shells got up there because geological rising over millions of years brought what was once sea floor to the top of the mountain.
They told me I was wrong about why the fossil was there. They said that those shell fossils came from Noah's flood.
I gave some arguments why this would still not adequately explain these fossils.
One of the religious people then gave an argument that stunned me. I finally learned I could never win an argument with these people. It was impossible and futile.
He argued that the Earth was created six thousand years ago, just as the bible claimed. However, as a test of faith, G-d created the Earth six thousand years ago in such a manner that it would appear to be billions of years old with life on it starting hundreds of millions of years ago.
If I assume G-d has the power to create the universe with its planets and stars, why not with the power to create a planet crafted to appear much older than it really was? Any possible argument I could have against the Earth being more than six thousand years old would get dashed against that. Carbon 14 dating, stratification of rock, the gradual wearing of water forming the Grand Canyon, the ice age that shaped the hills and plains of Wisconsin more than six thousand years ago, and so on were all countered by the argument of a deliberately deceptive G-d.
This ended my having any desire to discuss things like this with them.
One evening, I came home exhausted and sick. I had been studying hard, and I had the sniffles. I went to sleep much earlier than normal.
I woke in bed out of a sound sleep because a hand was on my shoulder. Still more asleep than awake, I heard a voice say, "Jesus, help Joel see..."
With a yell, I leapt out of bed. Jason was there, but it was not his hand on my shoulder. Jason had let in group of the bible study students were there, then stood back to watch the fun. It was the one who had nearly flunked the math test who had had his hand on my shoulders. A clock read it was about nine pm. Although about a half a dozen of them were there, I was relieved that the religious student who had gotten an A on his calculus test was not there as I liked that guy.
I screamed and swore at them. I rarely swear, but I certainly did that night. I was shaking with fury, shoving hard at them to physically force them to leave the room. Jason did not hide his laughter this evening. He laughed so hard that he held his gut and tears poured down his cheeks. I realized I was standing there wearing nothing but underwear as a crowd gathered to find out what all the shouting was about.
Those in that bible study group never seemed bothered by Jason's hard-drinking ways.
Some days after I had thrown them out of the room as much literally as figuratively, two of the group came by. Their manner suggested an apology, but I doubted that was what was really coming. To my surprise, an apology was actually given. They told me they had not thought what it would be like to be woken the way I was.
I asked why they had acted so rudely.
The man who had had his hand on my shoulder explained that they had learned from Jason that I had been raised as a Roman Catholic. I was in great danger of hell unless I was saved from that!
He brought out a comic book written and drawn by Jack Chick describing the supposed evils of Catholicism. It was full of incredibly bold and flagrant lies compared to what I had seen of the Catholicism. I had never encountered anti-Catholicism like this before. With the Inquisition, the antics of various popes, and so forth, why bother with outright lies anyway?
He explained that this told me things I needed to know about Catholicism. He said that this is why they resorted to such an extreme measure that led to me waking up with his hand on my shoulder.
In the comic book were claims that good Roman Catholics are loyal only to the Vatican rather than their own countries, communion wafers signify worship not of Jesus but of an Egyptian G-d, the Mary whom the Catholics refer to is a re-named pagan G-ddess Isis and not truly referring to the mother of Jesus, and the pope is the actual anti-Christ.
With the very name of my parents' church being St. Mary's Church back in Wisconsin Rapids, I found the idea they were claiming St. Mary was really Isis in disguise as shown in their little comic book to be beyond insane!
I did not find myself shaking with fury after hearing this like I had been when I had been woken unexpectedly earlier in the week. I felt instead exhausted and depressed. I had simply had it with these crazy people. I informed them they were not welcome in my room, regardless of what Jason told them.
As final exams started, Jason informed me that Greg's roommate would not be back next semester. Jason was going to move in to be Greg's roommate in Greg's room. I would be assigned a new roommate, although at this point I did not know who.
It was a great Christmas gift that year to realize that in the next semester, I was no longer going to be roommates with Jason.
Back at my parents' house in the Village of Biron, I had no more lectures, tests, or computer programs to write for the next two weeks. I had not received the grades in all my classes yet, but I could already tell it had been a successful semester, at least academically.
My brother Tim was in high school. He too had been highly successful academically. He had gotten his high grades while continuing to play weekly Dungeons and Dragons games with his friends, although the beginner games that I had played had with him that summer apparently died out after the school year had started.
Tim asked whether I had played the game at college. I told him that I had not. One attempt to find people to play Dungeons and Dragons had been treated with scorn. While there still likely were players somewhere on campus, I had not put much effort into searching for them. I had feared flunking classes so much that I had avoided most time-wasting activities.
Probably I had overcompensated, but I taken to heart a lecture during the first week in a course called Computer Programming for Engineers. In the first week, the professor told us to look around the room. Look to the right, look to the left. One or both of those people you see likely will not make it. He claimed less than half the students in that room would ever complete a degree in engineering, probably only a third or even less. He said that if we put in only an average effort, then we might be one of those who would bomb out.
Even before the semester was over, it was clear that the professor had not been exaggerating. Some students had already changed majors out of engineering, although more seemed influenced to do that by the difficulty of Calculus and Chemistry then of Computer Programming for Engineers.
Now for about two weeks, I could relax and do the time-wasting activities that I had avoided for a semester.
For those in my graduating class at high school, the popular activity during Christmas break seemed to be going to the bars. After what had happened with Jason and his friends trying so hard to pressure me to drink alcohol for most of the semester, I did not even want to set foot in a bar. This was even though I suspect my fellow high school graduates here in the Village of Biron and nearby Wisconsin Rapids would likely have far better manners. I felt it was easier to just stay away from the bars.
I had time to play Dungeons and Dragons again. However, I could not join in with Tim's regular game because they had been playing and advancing so long that what Tim described bore little resemblance to the beginner's games that I knew. The player-characters in Tim's regular game had advanced so much that they could without difficulty defeat dragons. To find worthy opponents, as well as some allies, the games were turning to mythology and ancient religions.
The company TSR had published a book to assist in doing that, as apparently there was a demand for it. Tim showed me a book with the title Deities and DemiG-ds. It was similar in layout and style to a book I had seen and used that previous summer when I ran the simplistic games with the title of Monster Manual. While Monster Manual had beings like bears, mermaids, dragons, wolves, lions, bats, vampires, and giants, Deities and DemiG-ds instead had beings like Thor from Norse mythology, Zeus from Greek, and Isis from Egyptian.
That this D&D book included Isis reminded me of those in the bible study group at Platteville who claimed the Virgin Mary was really the Egyptian G-ddess of Isis in disguise. I wonder how that group would react to this book my brother was showing me.
Tim enthusiastically told me how educational playing high-level characters in D&D had helped him in high school classes on mythology. I recalled studying Greek and Roman mythology under the same teacher that Tim had now. I been bored and confused with the strange names and weird stories about people turning into flowers. Tim claimed all of this came alive when these G-ds, G-ddesses, and heroes were encountered in a D&D gaming context.
Mom overheard this conversation. She chimed in, although Dungeons and Dragons was not a subject I expected her to have much noticed.
I knew that going back some years, a group had tried to ban books from the Wisconsin Rapid public library. These included Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, and the other usual books most of which do not offend me in the slightest. Some I consider great literature, so find the idea of banning them highly disturbing. Mom expressed puzzlement about one tactic the group used. They checked out the books that they felt the library should not have. They would never return the books. After a while, the library would demand payment. They would dutifully pay for the book. With the money, the library would then buy a new copy. Sometimes, seeing how the book had not stayed on the shelf, that proved an indication to the library to buy more copies of the same book!
Mom agreed with Tim about the value of learning about ancient mythologies and religions. She said that she had learned the same group that wanted these classic literature books banned from the library had chosen Dungeons and Dragons as their new target.
I felt the existence of the book Deities and DemiG-ds took the religious argument against the game in a direction I had not expected. I had thought the controversy had been merely over the use of magic in the game as well as how much of the game involving combat and killing. However, the book Deities and DemiG-ds struck me like a deliberate and direct confrontational challenge to some ultra-conservative Christian believers. The book was chock full of what could be described as pagan G-ds. After all, the very first commandment is to have no other G-ds other than G-d.
Prior to my first semester in college, I would not have thought there would be any danger of anybody seriously coming to believe in ancient G-ds and G-ddesses like Zeus, Isis, or the rest. I felt otherwise after meeting the group of Christians at Cornfield University who had invited me to their bible study. They claimed there was a vast scientific conspiracy to deceive the gullible like me into believing that life on the planet Earth was hundreds of millions of years old and the planet itself was billions of years old while they knew from the bible it was only six thousand years old. I felt if people could be persuaded of that despite what I consider overwhelming evidence against it, then maybe I was wrong about the risk of people coming to believe in ancient G-ds and G-ddesses if merely exposed to them in a D&D fantasy game.
Mom told how one of the women decided to investigate Dungeons and Dragons herself, rather than just accepting what she had been told about it. From some teenager who was not my brother, this woman borrowed some Dungeon and Dragons books. Mom expressed admiration that the woman was willing to investigate. Mom had previously gotten so frustrated with those trying to keep out books from the library then discovering they had never even read the books, but merely accepted on hearsay how bad they were supposed to be.
However, this woman was destined not to actually read the Dungeons and Dragons books. This was in December in Wisconsin. As happened every year at that time, the roads and sidewalks were covered with snow and ice. People do their best with shoveling, scraping, sanding, and salting, but some icy spots always remain. While carrying the books and walking outside, the woman slipped on the ice. She fell hard. She was hurt, perhaps a sprained ankle.
This kind of minor tragedy is sadly common in mid-Wisconsin during the winder.
However, because of what she was carrying, the woman had insisted to Mom that this was no accident!
The woman claimed, "The devil found out what I was up to! He pushed me down!"
The way Mom told the story, it seemed it was eye-opening for her because it then felt hopeless to argue with this woman or her friends any more. Conventional logic and argument did not seem like it could accomplish much when a commonplace fall on an icy sidewalk in Wisconsin in December meant an act by a physical devil!
It felt to me like Mom had come to a similar conclusion as I had that semester when I discovered there was no way to argue the Earth was more than six-thousand years old if the counter-argument was a deliberately deceptive G-d.
With no objection from Mom, I got the D&D game for beginners going again while I was home for break. Due to the cold and snow, the unheated detached screen porch we called the playhouse could not be used as it had been during the summer. These games were indoors in the dining room. These games were at far too simple a beginning level to include anything from the book Deities and DemiG-ds.
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