Suddenly, Matthew’s entire expression and demeanor changed. He leaned even closer to Donald and me, and with more force than I had ever heard from him, said, “Why would you teach evolution? It’s a myth. There’s not one shred of evidence for it.”
That was pretty unexpected at first, but after a few moments' consideration it wasn’t, because Matthew has always taken his religious life very seriously. What was even more surprising was the way Donald replied to Matthew. He said, “You know, Matt, when you say that you sound just like a goddamn idiot.”
My cousins had boiled both sides down perfectly. Donald succinctly encapsulated how secular Americans view people who, in their opinion, take their Christian worldview too far, in this case, far enough to ignore thinking that has been considered settled science for a long time, while Matthew, standing in for religious America, resented being called a goddamn idiot for believing what he believes, and who could blame him? Each side accuses the other of a kind of blasphemy.
They went back and forth a few times, neither man elevating the dialogue or offering the other any accommodation. Eventually, Donald browbeat a scowling Matthew into retreating to his fiancée’s picnic table. When she asked him what was the matter, he replied, shouting for Donald, myself and everyone else to hear, “Oh, he (meaning me, Wormwood, not Donald) went to Columbia University, and he writes for a newspaper, he’s a (this isn’t the exact phrase, but it was something like “media elite person”; I was too shocked to say anything back out of fear that it would end up in a fight, because no matter what happened, I couldn’t punch a cousin at the family reunion; no matter how righteous the haymaker, that it got thrown at all would have been the one thing everyone remembered), so of course he’s gonna go and tell people that evolution is true, when there’s no evidence at all.”
By then I was really dumbfounded. Not only had I triggered a family reunion culture-war skirmish, but was also I shocked at how Matthew described me. My Ivy League MFA, combined with two dollars, gets me a cup of coffee. Plus, nobody at the Phoenix even comes close to media elite, and I would have thought that Matthew realized these things. But then again, maybe to Matthew writing for a weekly paper that is available to a good chunk of the state’s population is a huge proposition, and more power than with which I ought be trusted. Maybe he thinks that we Phoenix contributors just sit around waiting to be told by Dan Rather, Hillary, Michael Eisner, or Osama himself which piece of American life to undermine next. Who knows? I left without asking.
Have you ever, after holding it together through some bullshit incident that would have set you right off in the old days, ended up two or three times as pissed off as you would have you been had you just picked up the gauntlet? That was me. And it was then, as I drove back to Portland, muttering all the things I wish I would have said, that I knew I would actually go to Yarmouth, speak with this biology teacher and find out if what I had heard was true. I wasn’t going to absorb all that crap from my cousin for nothing.