Monday, July 03, 2006

forget my vote

"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation - context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase 'under God.'" - Barack Obama

I did.

I grew up an only child and an Air Force brat. My father joined the Navy in 1944, switched over to the Army Air Corps in 1946 and became part of the new U.S. Air Force in 1950. He served continuously until 1972.

My parents were of different religions when they met. My mother was a French-Canadian Catholic and my father was a Minnesotan Protestant. He adopted my mother's faith when they married.

They raised me in Catholic traditions, and we went to church weekly for many years. I always had a fascination for the theatrical aspects of church, was always drawn to the usually-classical music that was used in services, and enjoyed the artistry of the surroundings and the exotic nature of Latin, incense, stained glass, and architecture.

However, I was a precocious child who started reading long before I started school, and was compelled by the study of science in all of its aspects. As we were Air Force, we were transferred regularly, and the year I was to enter school, we moved to France. My first school experience started in French school, but a year later were changed to a newly-constructed and Air Force-operated school on the base where we were stationed. Class size was very small, and school was very carefully designed to impart the traditional "three R's" of education.

In the summer of 1963, we returned to the United States. I started fourth grade that year. Those first couple of years, my schooling was on-base, and it was entirely secular, with no crossover of religion into the school environment of any sort.

At the start of sixth grade, I was sent to a local school in Florida. There, for the first time, the educational experience was less than satisfactory, and a sudden and overt turn of religiosity came into the picture. There were prayers in the morning announcements over the PA system, prayers at gym, and the phrase "under god" suddenly became part of the daily Pledge of Allegiance.

By this time, I had already started realizing that there was a tremendous disconnect between science, which had already established itself to me as a powerful and reliable tool for understanding the universe, and religion, which was less and less believable to me and seemed to fly in the face of common sense no matter how I looked at it

Also by this time, I had come to grips with the notion that I did not, could not, and would never actually believe in god and religion. It was impossible to reconcile faith with the scientific method, and to my parents chagrin, I made such a fuss about it that I was no longer required to attend church with them.

I was a nerd when I was young. I was overweight, unathletic, socially underdeveloped, and an easy target for the undisciplined bullies that I encountered when I started attending public schools.

The school day always started off with the Pledge of Allegiance. I was raised with a great respect for the United States of America, and I said the pledge because I felt the meaning of what it said. However, when I got to Florida's public schools for the first time, I noticed that my pledge didn't quite synch up with what the other students were saying. So did my teachers. My gym teacher singled me out in class one day to point out the difference.

I was told that the proper way of saying the pledge was "one nation, under god." I politely explained to my teacher that I had never heard it said that way before. The response was a command that I learn to say the pledge "the right way." I explained that I really didn't believe in god and said that I would just keep saying it the way I had been taught.

My gym teacher's response was to pull out the two-foot long wooden paddle that he carried with him, to order me to the front of the room where I was to bend over and hold my ankles, whereupon I received three licks, my first encounter with corporal punishment in school.

I have never felt so humiliated in my life. My lack of god-belief had suddenly made me a target for physical violence. I was slapped, punched, pushed, towel-snapped, and one time even hit so hard by a god-believer that I fell on my face in the dirt and had my lips torn up by my brand-new braces.

After nearly a full school year of hell, the following spring one of my tormenters followed me off the bus and forced me to either stand my ground and fight or to stand there and get beaten up.

I fought.

It turned out that I was not quite as easy a target as my classmates thought. I was much larger than the kid who started the fight, and although I didn't do it with any skill or style, I ended up beating the shit out of him, so badly that he was hospitalized for a couple of days with a broken jaw.

I was still a pariah at school, although now all that I had to deal with was taunts and spitballs instead of physical assaults. I never said "under god," and the pain lingers to this day from how unfairly I was treated and how my right to not believe was trampled upon by the school and my fellow students.

All of this happened because I wouldn't say two words that would have been a lie for me to have said, and that the laws of the United States say quite clearly that I am not required to believe.

And that is why Barack Obama can kiss my ass.


Blogger Mary K. Goddard said...


1:34 PM  
Blogger liberal journal man said...

thank you for your post.

I was raised Catholic as well, and it never felt right to me to invoke God as I would in church, knowing many of my classmates were of different religions.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Mary K. Goddard said...

Now I understand....

9:56 PM  

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