Nobody Expects the Redneck Inquisition!
Having been born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I grew up an atheist in the Bible Belt which was definitely an edifying sociocultural experience. I knew I was in for it from the beginning. When I returned to class after I "saw the light," I shared my newly found truth with a decidedly less intelligent classmate who promptly declared, "You're a communist!" I don't think so. I was talking religion, not politics. Of course, communism is an atheistic religion, and I reject its claim to "ultimate truth" as I would for all religions. But then, the distinction is far too subtle for an ignorant child to comprehend. Ironically, a few years later, he and some fellow "anarchists" were busted for vandalizing school buses in the school system's central lot.
More times than I care to remember, I was called "devil worshiper" or asked if I went to the "atheist church" which, of course, was a reference to some alleged Satanic temple. I would attempt to explain along the lines of, "Sorry, children, but Satanists are theists; they believe in a deity. I'm an atheist; I believe in no deities, or anything supernatural for that matter." Most of these future voters and taxpayers never quite seemed to understand the difference.
All too often on the school bus, I found myself surrounded by baby Bible thumpers intent on interrogating me. The usual procedure was to shower me with incessant and overlapping questions which I attempted to answer as best as I could. No matter how good my answers were, they were never satisfactory. Of course, these children of God weren't seeking enlightenment; the whole point of the exercise was to socially pressure me out of my heresy. When this failed, they resorted to the hellfire-and-brimstone sermon they had learned in Sunday school in an attempt to frighten me out of my heterodoxy. As a result, I probably learned Revelation (666, Antichrist, Rapture, Armageddon, etc.) better than most Christians. When I mistakenly rejected Biblical supremacy, I had the book literally slapped into my head by good Baptist children who had grown frustrated with my abject stupidity which prevented me from realizing that the Bible proved them right and me wrong. Of course, physical assault proved to be an equally effective argument.
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Enter the Grand Inquisitor
Though the puerilism I had experienced in junior high dissipated somewhat in high school, in the ninth grade, I got every red-blooded teenage infidel's greatest desire: my very own personal Grand Inquisitor! For most of the school year during gym class, I suffered the bullying of an ignorant, fundamentalist goon who apparently thought God had annointed him to force me back into the fold. He was much taller and stronger than the other freshmen which was understandable considering that he wasn't fourteen, but sixteen as he had failed two grades. He bullied almost everyone but delighted most in making my life miserable on two counts. First, I was a "devil worshiper" as he usually called me, and second, I always made a point of openly resisting him as I would any bully. He generally resorted to simple intimidation and badgering which I always defied. Often he would try to "convert" me back to Christianity with basic arm-twisting. He never could twist hard enough to make me say "I love God," "Jesus is Lord," or some other utterance of faith as he desired; all I ever gave him was "Let go of my arm!" snarled loudly and stubbornly. Aside from a couple of backhands, he never went beyond that point; he knew better than to push past "kid stuff." None of my classmates ever understood why I insisted on opposing this bully, but then, they knew nothing of personal integrity, self-respect, honor, and courage.
In retrospect, it wasn't all that bad really. I've always enjoyed being unique. I even consider my year with the bully to be one of my finest periods, and it remains a source of pride for me. At times, it was rather fun being the "class atheist." Several times in high school, I was approached by people I had never seen before and have never seen since. They obviously knew me by reputation. They would approach me sort of cautiously and would ask me somewhat respectfully, "You're Matt Wallace, aren't you?" I'd answer firmly, "Yes." Sheepishly, they would follow up with, "Do you believe in God?" I'd answer confidently, "No." Their eyes would open wide and their jaws would drop in absolute astonishment; I could tell they were thinking something like, "Oh my God, it's TRUE!" Then, they'd turn and walk away completely dumbfounded. Always amusing.
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