BENYOLA: This is the Baptist church?
STARKWEATHER: The Baptist church. A good church. However, they were Arminian. This was central Michigan, Lansing. That was when things were good in Michigan, you know. They made Oldsmobiles out of steel, and all that kind of stuff, not just blown plastic stuff. [laughs]
BENYOLA: They don’t make them like they used to.
STARKWEATHER: Yeah, so fortunately, we didn’t stay in Lansing because it went downhill. It’s a tough place to live right now. So I went to that and I had a lot of questions for this pastor. I was kind of a person, I was always a questioning person. I knew I wanted to be a scientist from day one. I wanted to work on research because I wanted to know what God did with this stuff. I just had this innate curiosity. I built my own telescopes … And I didn’t like the way the church looked at that stuff. They wouldn’t give me straight answers … Now as a Christian, it never made me doubt. It just made me wonder why they couldn’t do this sort of thing. What’s wrong with this? For example, if you drank wine in this Baptist church, it was a real mark of, uh, degeneration. And I’d go to the pastor and I’d say, “But … the Greek word for what Jesus means was oinon … that’s wine.” “Well, that’s not what it really means.” [John 2:10] So I mean, yeah, they’d give you this kind of pushback because if they ever tilted in your direction, the whole house came down, because they had all these pre-built no-nos. Um, you shouldn’t dance. You gotta be real careful with movies.
BENYOLA: It sounds like an old-school Baptist church.
STARKWEATHER: Yeah, it was. And so it was, “I don’t smoke and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls that do.” And so I always had these questions in the back of my mind. Fortunately, this church was very forward-looking … We were maybe five miles from Michigan State University, where I went to college. We had five busloads of college kids come in every Sunday, and we’d have just college classes for these kids. And they weren’t like, “How to date.” None of that kind of stupidity. They’d bring in Christian professors from Michigan State who would do a theological analysis of the Apostle’s Creed, and would look at what it said and what it didn’t say … So they would tell us and they would help us to critically analyze creeds and so forth so that we could be more alert as to what we were doing.
BENYOLA: In a positive way?
STARKWEATHER: In a positive way, absolutely a positive way. Not in any way to create doubt, but in a way of being biblically analytical. Like the Bereans, search the Scriptures and see what it says [Acts 17:11]. So it was absolutely uplifting, so that really energized me in what I did because I was very well-trained in church. At the Sunday school classes, I was taught all kinds of wonderful things. It was very good. I mean, they had these idiosyncrasies of no wine and no fun, but outside of that, the biblical instruction was marvelous. So when I got to Michigan State, they had a class called sociology that you had to take. It was one of these crazy requirements. I wanted to be a physicist, I wanted to measure and electrocute stuff. I didn’t want to sit and listen to how the Eskimos spent their winter. But you had to do that anyway. So they decided to do a history of Western culture, and it was one of the classes you had to take for a year. And of course, to be fair — they were fair at that time, not sure they’d be fair anymore — they covered some of the Book of Romans, because Paul was part of Western culture. So this professor gets up to talk about Romans. He didn’t know diddly about Romans. I nailed him to the wall so hard, I think it took him a month to come off. Was I Christian about it? I think so. But when he stood up there … they read the part they wanted to read.