I was never beat up for being an atheist. I was beat up for being fat, smart, or walleyed (my right eye was strongly misaligned to the far right, just as Sartre.) I was fat at 10 and in sixth grade I was the slowest and supposedly least fit student in my class. Fitness became a lifelong quest, burden, and assumption. Being smart combined with the inability to keep my mouth shut meant I pissed off a lot of “peers”—what fucking peers, like Abbie Hoffman in the trial of the Chicago Seven, how could I have peers in Middle America?
My eye going to the right meant people didn’t know what I was looking at, thought I was being impertinent, or that I was just crippled–yeah, crippled, no distance focus, no depth focus, no eye-to-eye contact (“what are you looking at oldwoman?”)
Back then I would have Sartre be my avatar and Hemingway my thug. The first because he was ugly like me and the second because of courage. This is a male story but truly women are what saved me and I will not, even in a male story, let this pass in silence. I knew I was finally acceptable when the smartest person in school, period, wanted to date me and yet I couldn’t even do that.
In Salt Lake City’s East High School, a somnambulant outpost in 70′s activism, I was comforted by well off Mormons and university professor brats. Well, not really. I had nightmare after nightmare of Mormons coming to get me because I wasn’t like them. To them it was clear I wasn’t going to a spiritual place and they were so superior and did not date nonMormons, gentiles. My nightmares usually revolved around Mormons coming to our house high up in the avenues and searching for me, with the occassional cross burned in our lawn.
In my nightmares I created elaborate schemes for getting out of the house unawares or building tunnels in our basement or just hiding uner the bed behind a wall of dirty clothes and open books. Thank goodness for the university professor brats since our high school was nearest the U of U. Shit if I had gone to West High I’d a been killed or killed someone. As you might guess I didn’t socialize a lot and this persecution complex is often given as reason for my reclusiveness. Instead I worked at jobs and socialized with adults.
Ann Arbor taught me to be street wise and Westerns, yes Westerns, taught me observance and self-defense. Wyatt Earp and Bill Hitchcock always sat with their back against the wall and knew where the nearest exit was–always have a defense and an escape strategy. Salt Lake City taught me how people could have a polite conversation and then rip the crap out of you later. Trust?, my ass.
I was still stout and fast (hyper) so I never got beat up too bad. This was before it was popular to use weapons and large groups to enable pummeling anyone, any way. I exercised a lot. So though I was terrible at sports and speed I was strong–weight training became my zen. Books saved my life and because of them I even learned to empathize with oppressors, somewhat, nawww.
Fatness, crooked-eyeness, and intelligence can’t be hidden easily but atheism can. For some Mormons being nonMormon was considered a missionary opportunity–woo hoo, bonus points in their future planet, uhhhh, celestial sphere, uhhh, spiritual ground.
It really wasn’t until I married the second time that atheism became an overt social issue and by then I was too old and strong to beat up. The oddball relative just says I am crazy which from them is a compliment and yet…great harm can come from there.
Yet…yet, being fat, intelligent, and ugly are all wrapped up in Abrahamic religions. The quest for perfection. The importance of icons and appearances. The greater emphasis on obedience. The emphasis on social hierarchy. Combine that with the American flair for extravagance and I would have to say that religion was responsible after all.