David Wood: From Nihilism To New Life
As a young atheist, David Wood rebelled against society’s moral values and attempted to murder his father. In prison, his arguments with a Christian led him to salvation
I don’t remember ever not living with violence in the family. My mum was habitually with very abusive boyfriends. One of my earliest memories was hearing a lot of screaming and walking into the kitchen and seeing blood everywhere, and my mum saying: ‘It’s ketchup, go back to bed.’
Another of my earliest memories is of my dog dying and having no feelings about it, so there was probably something genetic going on that led to my mental health problems. But I thought: ‘There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s everyone else who has a problem. I’m the only smart, sane one.’
BREAKING THE RULES
My atheist world view was: throughout the universe or through time, we’re collections of cells. Whatever we do we’re determined to do by natural cause and effect. You could kill 1,000 people; you could spend your entire life helping people – it doesn’t make any real difference. You might as well just do whatever you feel like doing with the time you’ve got. My view of ethics was affected by my not having normal emotional attachments to people. When someone died, it didn’t affect me.
I was angry at society for brainwashing me into thinking that I had to follow their rules when I really didn’t. By the time I was 18 years old, I thought, ‘I don’t have to do any of this. I can do whatever I feel like doing. Who are you to stop me? You are sacks of molecules, just like I am.’
I was thinking of bomb-building and I realised it would take years. I was thinking that even then it’s not good enough. Anyone can blow up people they don’t know. It wouldn’t really have stripped away the moral brainwashing I’d gone through. I thought I had to do something that would really get to the heart of the matter. That’s when I decided to kill my dad.
I wanted to make it look like someone else did it. I decided to use multiple weapons so it looked like many people had attacked him. I had a hammer and a knife. So I walked in, stood over him for a while and tried to get angry. At that time, I usually got angry very easily. I tried to think of something he’d done to me. Right now I can think of all kinds of things, but right there I couldn’t think of anything he’d done wrong to me. I thought: ‘This is good; this is how it has to be. I’m not killing him out of anger, I’m just doing it.’ I drew back the hammer and whacked him as hard as I could.
I hit him in the head, and I assumed that if a 230-pound guy whacks someone in the middle of the forehead with a ball-peen hammer, he would be dead. But he wasn’t, so I carried on hitting him. Blood spilt everywhere.
When I heard my dad was still alive, I thought, ‘Now they’re on to me. He’ll be talking to the police.’ Actually, he had no recollection of what had happened, but I didn’t know that then. So I told my mum I had done it. She knew I wasn’t all there, so instead of taking me to the police she took me to a psychiatric hospital. I was sentenced to ten years for malicious wounding. I met a Christian named Randy when I was in jail. He had turned himself in for 21 felonies. Randy seemed like he was from another world. There would be a fight in the dorm – our main source of entertainment – and he wouldn’t watch. He would turn his head away and pray for it to stop.
I mocked him for reading the Bible. But when I made fun of Randy, he fought back. He had an annoying habit of questioning everything I said. When I tried to answer, it became clear to him – and to me – that many of my atheist beliefs sounded stupid.
I was in my cell one night reading the Gospel of John, and I couldn’t help but think that Jesus was better than me. At the time I thought I was the best, most important, most advanced human being that had ever walked the planet! Yet it was so obvious that this guy was better than I was. Everything I had confidence in collapsed.
THE POWER OF PRAYER
I thought: ‘How could praying hurt? It might be true.’ When I prayed, everything looked different. I didn’t have the kind of violent urges or delusional thoughts I had previously had. That was in 1996. I was in a cell for a long time after that, but I was reading the Bible for a few hours every day.
My dad died of a heart attack a few years ago, but we had reconciled beforehand. I still have good relationships with all my family, and I have had all the way through. I still have sociopathic tendencies; I don’t have any feelings about bad things happening. The only time I experience something close to a feeling that would get me choked up would be if I’m praying. But I do recognise things that are wrong and unjust.
Now it’s about everyone else. It doesn’t matter what happens to me, or whether I get my way. But before I became a Christian, that’s all it was about.
DAVID WOOD was speaking to Heather Tomlinson