The Devil Didn’t Do It

If you didn’t listen to This American Life over the weekend, you missed a really disturbing opening story.

In essence, it was about David Maxon who, as a child, attended a fundamentalist church camp as a kid. One night, he challenged the Devil to show himself.

That’s when a horrible thunderstorm began. Lightning from that storm struck six kids, two of whom died as a result.

One of the two kids killed was David’s close friend.

For years, David lived with the guilt that he was responsible for his friend’s death.

Of course, adults around him told him it wasn’t his fault. And they were right.

But this wasn’t the reaction he expected. In fact, it seemed to contradict what he had been taught. Whatever happened to the notion that one shouldn’t challenge the Devil? If he was being taught the Truth, wasn’t he, somehow, directly responsible for his friend’s death?

David recalls:

It’s kind of like, after I talked with the priests, I thought, like, “don’t you believe this, dude?” I mean… here you are, a priest, and I’m telling you… this very serious thing happened within the system that you advocate and then you’re just telling me to ignore it. It’s almost like, “Oh, we’ll drop this because it’s convenient now… This stuff is only real as long as it’s not taken really seriously.”

It wasn’t until he broke away from his faith years later that he was able to shake the guilt.

For anyone who questions whether religion can actually brainwash a child, here’s some damning evidence.

The whole story is under 10 minutes and takes place at the very start of the program. You can download the episode here (MP3). If you don’t already subscribe to the podcast of the show, you can do so with this link in iTunes.

  • http://stevemegan.blogspot.com Megan

    Wow. What a powerful story.

  • Spork

    http://feeds.thisamericanlife.org/talpodcast

    If you missed it, you can grab it there until next weeks episode.

  • Siamang

    What a horrible story.

  • Justin

    I worry that, as long as coincidences can occur, (never mind how few times out of a thousand or a million they occur) religious belief in miracles or the devil will continue. I hope I’m wrong.

  • Norm

    I listened to that show earlier today and was reminded of an article that was in the St. Paul paper last Monday about a program called Camp Noah. It is run by a Lutheran group and ostensibly teaches coping skills to kids who have been through natural disasters, but it does so using the Noah story while trying to simultaneously portray the god in that story as merciful.
    Here is the original article: http://www.twincities.com/ci_9873131
    Here is the letter I wrote in response (entitled “Nature and Noah”):
    http://www.twincities.com/opinion/ci_9913755

    I haven’t seen any hate mail in reply yet, but you never know.

  • BeanFlower

    That’s terrible… I’m glad he had the strength to not let that event ruin his entire life.

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  • Ron in Houston

    When I look back, it was things like the devil and demons that really started my loss of religious belief. I probably never believed in the devil or in evil spirits, but when people started trying to convince me they were real, I just knew that religious belief was insane.

  • http://bamoon.com BrianM

    Interesting that the coincidence of the terrible thunderstorm and his challenge caused him to eventually lose his faith. My first guess would have been that it would have confirmed it, instead, through attributing the deaths to Satan.

    Thanks for sharing this. Funny how minds work, huh?

  • rae

    this was a very powerful story. I heard it Sunday morning.
    I remember feeling possessed because I was playing with a kitten we just got when I was nine. I threw the Kitten higher than I knew I should have and when it landed on the floor it had a seizure and died. I thought I killed it. It turns out at that exact moment it choked on a hair ball. I was raised catholic and everything bad that ever happened was God punishing me.

  • Karen

    I heard that show also, and thought it was incredible. What guilt these poor people must have to live with – through no real fault of their own. Sad. :-(

    “This stuff is only real as long as it’s not taken really seriously.”

    Exactly. This is why even theists who believe in the power of prayer and miracles and supernatural healing still insist on going to the best doctors and getting into the top hospitals. There’s a weird dichotomy between believing deeply in something like religion but not taking it totally, completely seriously when it comes to real life.

    It’s really odd and goes along with the tricky ability that believers develop to hold contradictory thoughts in separate parts of their brains.

  • http://agersomnia.blogspot.com Agersomnia

    I know of somebody who actually did as this story, but with God, at a very early age…

    And nothing happened. Fortunately.

    And so, he went atheist.

  • grazatt

    I bet a lot of kids would think being able to call up the Devil was pretty cool!

  • Spork

    You’ve only got a few days left before that episode is yanked.