I've just read, for the umpteenth time, William J. Murray's autobiography My Life without God. Murray is the son of Madalyn Murray O'Hair who sued her son's school district in order to remove prayers from public schools. Two decades later, Murray became a Christian. A large part of his conversion consisted in his realization that there must be good because he's seen evil; there must be a heaven because he's experienced hell; there must be a God because he's already met the devil and shaken his hand.
I don't know what draws me back to this book. I'm sure in one sense it's just a morbid interest, like slowing down to look at a car wreck. "Dysfunctional" doesn't do it justice. Madalyn would tell William regularly that she wished she'd aborted him, she tried to get him to murder his grandfather (her father), who was the closest thing to a stable person in his life, etc. But I think there's more to it than that. I'm haunted by how closed and small their world was. Their entire lives centered on anger and hatred, everything turned on it. His mother just wanted to hurt people as badly as possible, and I guess we're fortunate that this was expressed verbally much more often than physically. She wanted to hurt people, and since she knew that a person's religious beliefs are very close to their sense of self, she would say the most offensive thing about religion that she could think of in order to cause as much distress as she could. But if this is the center of your life, it paints a one-dimensional portrait that just leaves me cold.
Another reason I think I'm interested in Murray's story is that by becoming a Christian he became estranged from his mother. About 15 years later, O'Hair, her other son Garth, and her granddaughter Robin were kidnapped and murdered by some people involved in her atheist organization. So William Murray's mother, younger brother, and daughter were all murdered, and the only reason he wasn't among them was because they completely repudiated him after he became a Christian. I'm not trying to imply that God always keeps his followers physically safe and lets those who reject him suffer -- that was the error of Job's friends -- I'm just saying there's something deeply intriguing to me about how God seems to have saved him twice.