My first wrestling class consisted of me and my high school buddy getting tossed around by a giant. I survived and persevered, my buddy did not; he received a nasty concussion and never set foot in another wrestling ring.
For a couple weeks, I was the solitary student of the McKeever School for Wayward Grapple-Hopefuls; until another trainee showed up, Dan Richards.
Dan was tall (around 6’6”), lacking in social grace, yet friendly, and a highly devout Christian. So devout that one of our mutual friends joked, “I think Dan’s so scared of sinning that he doesn’t even touch his d__k to piss.”
His lifestyle with it’s abstinence from adult language, f__king-for-fun, and alcohol, along with his obligation to the preach-and-reach Christian mission, and his foot-in-the-mouth, unfiltered speech alienated him among our peer group.
I’ve always loved him, though. Despite the fact that it seemed to hurt his soul that mine wasn’t saved, he always showed me, and others, much kindness with no expectation of it being reciprocated. His home was always open to traveling wrestlers; not just his couch and floor, but his bed, as well. I rode around in his Jeep Grand Cherokee for my first couple hundred matches; he never charged me a dime of gas money.
He quit wrestling for a while to have a semi-normal life and travel the World. When he returned he was different. The only time I had heard him say “f__k” during our days as five dollar wrestlers is when I kicked him so hard in the back of his head that he yelled it, into a crowd of special needs folks, through his just-chipped, from the impact of his mouth slamming shut, tooth. Now, he had a healthy appreciation of the ol’ f-word. Even more shocking, though, I heard him make a blasphemous joke and came to learn that he had left his Christian faith back in the abandoned-school gymnasiums of our early lessons in living the dream.
Dan is now an openly agnostic “Progressive Liberal”, traveling to some of the farthest of far-right towns in the back-est of backwoods areas, fearless preaching the good word of social justice to not-so-receptive crowds who un-lovingly refer to him as a snowflake, while looking like they want to be the July Sun.
How long have you been an agostic?
Dan: It’s hard to say exactly, but I will guess six years.
For me, it was a gradual transition from believer to non-believer. Part of that, I think, was because of an on-going debate in my head. Combine that with fear of backlash and/or rejection from people and that’s why it didn’t happen at the flip of a switch.
I’m agnostic because, in a nutshell, my belief is that, while I don’t think there is a higher power, I don’t know. I argue that makes me a humble person, someone who is willing to say I don’t know. Because no one on earth truly KNOWS. They can believe as strongly as possible, but they cannot tangibly prove they’ve seen their god of choice.
Imagine someone has never been exposed to the concept of agnosticism and you wanted to get the essence across to them in one sentence, what would that sentence be?
Dan: The essence to me is your moral obligations are no longer governed by a chosen religious context, but by your personal beliefs. I think that’s where people of different faiths struggle. They are told “this is how it is”, per the scripture, and some of it they may not identify with. So, in a sense, they feel like they’re fitting a square peg into a round hole. That leads to negative feelings, thus their religion now feels like a burden and they’re left feeling dismayed because they believe they are failing and may have a rough time of it in the afterlife as a result. That understandably would leave people feeling broken.
Now that you have their attention, what would you add, if anything, to help them really understand what your beliefs, or lack thereof, are about?
Dan: My beliefs are simply evidence-based. I don’t think all of existence can be explained by something unexplainable like the existence of a god. How was a god created? Religion sells feelings, nothing tangible. I wouldn’t buy a car without seeing it, much less without checking under the hood, so why would I base a way of life on a book or what someone told me when I was young?
When I met you, you were quite Christian. What drove your decision to leave that faith?
Dan: A lot of it came back to what I was saying earlier. There were elements of that faith which did not work for me. You mean to tell me if someone is gay that they are going to hell even if they’re an otherwise faithful disciple? I’m not down with that. I choose not to worship that god. If that is the case, then I will willingly burn in hell with the gays.
I’ll give another example. How can a jealous god hold me accountable for the sin of envy? Jealousy is a petty emotion that people can get over, yet the Christian god says you cannot worship anyone else before him.
Look, I’m not here to lambast Christianity or any of the other religions. I just saw those and other conflicting theories, beliefs and said, “no longer.”
Do you think there are common misconceptions about agnosticism that you would like to clear up?
Dan: Yes! First, I think people believe the term “agnostic” or “atheist” is a synonym for “devil worshiper”. Incorrect. I don’t believe in the devil either. Also, I think a lot of people feel personally attacked and get their feelings hurt by my saying I’m atheist. That’s not how they should feel. I just see things differently. I have plenty of friends who are Christian. Hopefully that remains the case after this interview. I totally respect their beliefs and I’m not here to make them feel they are wrong. Maybe they’re not…
Do you have a quote about skepticism/agnosticism/scientific rationalism that sticks out in your head, most often?
Dan: At the end of Bill Maher’s “Religulous” he has a four-minute monologue, and one part that stood out to me was the following quote: “The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that's what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong.”
Does being an agnostic have an influence on you, as a wrestler?
Dan: No. I’m trying to hone my craft as a wrestler with my physical actions and reactions in the ring. Different wrestlers I admire are from all different faiths, and that doesn’t influence my opinion about their work.
Have you gotten much negative feedback being openly unreligious?
Dan: My policy is to only speak on my beliefs if asked directly. It’s an understandably touchy subject for some, so no need to stir the pot. If I’m asked a direct question, I will answer honestly and without the intent of making someone feel stupid for believing differently. When I first decided I didn’t believe, I was forwardly caustic in stating my beliefs, and that was an unfortunate choice.
Anything you would like to add?
Dan: I want to address anyone who says Christianity/Christmas is under attack. Please, get back to me when there is a website called “atheistsmeet.com” which is allowed to advertise on TV, or I can have a snowball’s chance in hell at winning a local/state/national election by being an atheist candidate. I think more people are coming to terms with how they feel, but there is no concerted movement to disband your church or make it pay taxes. If you are a fervent believer, don’t worry about what others are doing. Instead go forward and witness as the Bible says. I totally respect that.
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