My Brush With Fundamentalism - The American Kind

Can you imagine a man of god holding a 14 year old version of me so my mother could whack me with a belt? Can you imagine the same man of god throwing a left/right combination punch at me simply because I yelled something the man considered sacrilegious? This man of god was not the kind who took inspiration from the Quran, his book of choice was the Bible.

Fundamentalism scares the hell out of me. Any kind of fundamentalism. Not just the Us Against The World come-to-the-desert-and-join-the-Jihad permutation. I am equally scared of Jewish fundamentalists and Christian ones, too. If I ever learn of Buddhist fundamentalists who subjugate their women, put all kinds of restrictions on matters pertaining to dress, diet, and deeds, then I will be scared of them as well.

Good punches need to be properly set up. Before we get to the Main Event, let me give you some background. Perceptive readers will have deduced that I am no longer 14. Why have I waited until now to tell the tale of what happened in 1972? Mainly because my mother has passed and she would have been deeply hurt if this story had been shared when she was still alive.

Secondly, with all the attention paid to Muslim Fundamentalism, I felt motivated to share my experience in order to strongly suggest that all religious fundamentalism is a fearful thing - no matter which Holy Writ is used to justify it. When any human or set of humans becomes convinced they are part of a small group that truly knows and understands the wishes and desires of an All Powerful God, then the poop hits the propeller with the end result of lives being potentially ruined in any of a myriad of ways.

I am not some whiner. Please allow me to own up to the behavior on my part which lead to the Holy Punch Out. My story is not original - parents got divorced when I was a wee one. Their divorce was not in any way amicable. My parents could not agree on what day it was, so there was no working together to try to make things better for my two brothers and me - me being the baby of the family. I was a troubled youth - I became even more troubled after the death of my brother Doug, the middle son, in a completely freaky car accident in which no one else in the car was even scratched. This drove my mother to move us to Tucson, some two thousand miles away from our relatives. Part of why I mention this is to cut my mom a little slack. I cannot imagine the pain of a parent losing a child and it helps explain her seeking to know the Will of God. Prior to her immersion in fundamental Christianity she explored the occult with the intention of contacting my deceased brother. Les, the oldest of us, moved in with my dad prior to the Doug’s death.

I jumped right in to Acting Out 101. Tucson in the early 70‘s was an easy place for young boys of a certain mind set to get into mischief. One could purchase 4 fingers of Mexican weed for ten bucks. Since we lived on the periphery of the U of A, other drugs were readily available for my best friend Stanley and me to try - black beauties, mescaline, blotter acid and the like. Stanley and I got pretty good at trying stuff and we got pretty lax at showing up for classes. Many times my physical body was in attendance, but my grip on reality was tenuous at best.

The culmination of my juvenile delinquency came when I snatched the key to my mom's car and left in the middle of the night. My intention was to drive to San Diego with my best friend Taffy, a long haired mutt who was my constant companion.

I was not the most able of car thieves. For that matter, I was not the most able of drivers. I taught myself that night, thankfully no one was injured. My Great Escape was cut short with a flat tire on the freeway just west of Casa Grande – I didn’t even make it to Phoenix, much less San Diego. Total distance traveled was less than 75 miles. If the cops would have given me 6 more minutes before they stopped to help, I might have gotten further.

My mom let me sit in the jail for the day. A wise move that motivated me to never return to a cell. She picked me up accompanied by Reverend Bill. I had to ride with him while my mom drove her car home. I was pretty exhausted from my all night caper and brief imprisonment, so we did not talk. I was informed he was coming over in a couple days to help my mom administer some much needed "discipline". This scared me. I told Stanley and my best adult friend at the time, my guidance counselor at school. Mrs. Young was the best. While she did not tolerate my errant behavior, she also recognized the severity of the problems at home and in the end was very instrumental in helping me move on. She discounted my fears about the upcoming discipline, because she could not conceive of the eventual outcome.

I fully confess to being a teen age boy in need of correction and direction. My behavior was not only illegal, but it was not much in the way of effective resume building either. That said, my actions did not warrant a beating.

One of my favorite places to hang out was about 17 feet up in one of the trees in our back yard. When Reverend Bill showed up for our appointment that is where he found me. After the ensuing debacle, I wished I had stayed aloft, because there was no way he could have climbed up to get me.

It was disconcerting when we came in through the back door and my mom slid around behind us and locked the dead bolt. Being a bright little weasel, I realized things were about to get real when we reached the living room and Bill pinned my arms behind my back and my mom bolted the front door. Too late I asked myself why all of the drapes were drawn in the afternoon. Bill was a pretty big guy. I had not reached my height of 6'3" and at the time Bill did the Lord's work I probably weighed about 160. It was relatively easy for Bill to get the jump on me and hold me still.

Up to this point I was fairly compliant, but I commenced to struggling in earnest when mom approached with a belt and started letting me have it. She was whacking my legs for the most part, but it stung and I decided to get all wriggly and really started to make Bill earn his keep. As you might imagine, I started hollering as did mom and Bill. When the belt continued to do its thing, I started doing my best to get away. I was scared spit less and dug deep for strength and let loose some foul language to boot. Bill was reminding me of my sins while trying to hold me as mom continued with the belt. I managed to escape his grip a couple of times but with no effect on account of both the doors being locked securely. If I had been just a little bit faster I might have made it out the front door, but Bill managed to grab me. The blows from the belt were now landing on my back and arms. This was due to the fact that mom was getting amped up and because Bill no longer had my arms pinned behind me. It became an ugly free for all with me doing everything possible to break away. Bill hung on to whatever part of me he could and mom got her licks in when and where ever she was able. My adrenaline was off the charts and the belt lashes were hardly noticeable.

Things were getting really loud at this point. Bill started telling me how I was doing the Devil's bidding. He told me I was not serving the Lord and that Satan was having his way with me. At this point I figured what the hell - Satan is not in our living room kicking my butt – this guy is the pastor of a church. I got away from Bill, spun around and sealed my fate.

"You are so worried about the devil," I screamed. "If there is a devil, then praise the devil."

Not the thing one wants to shout in the face of a fundamentalist preacher who is busy wrestling you into position for a whipping. His eyes widened and he screamed, "Don't ever say that." What else could I do at that point but let it rip one more time even louder. I tried to push him away and swung an ineffectual punch. The third time I hollered an offering of praise to the Prince of Darkness Bill let me have it with a combination punch that put me on the floor and did me in for the night. Just as the fight left me, it also took leave of my mom and the Reverend.

In pure speculation, I would wager Bill imagined himself to be on the front lines in an epic battle with evil. He probably thought he was doing me a favor and that his punches would steer me from the road to perdition onto the straight path of righteousness. This brings to mind one more reason it has taken so long to share this. It took 43 years, with several of those spent in therapy, along with a couple of years of meditation to get to the point where I no longer want to stomp Bill. He was stuck in a rigid religious reality where he was convinced he was doing the will of God.

In spite of his monstrous behavior, I do not believe Bill was or is a monster.

Perhaps this is the most frightening thing about fundamentalism – the people involved just might be sincere and well-intentioned. Outside of their inflexible beliefs and the desire to impose the same on others, they might even be nice people when and if you could get by their self installed armor of God. However, as current events demonstrate lines drawn in the sands of fundamentalism are almost impossible to cross. It only worsens when two or more brands of fundamentalism are facing off.

EPILOGUE: The best thing that came out of this was that once I reported in to Mrs. Young the next day, my life went in a different direction. Poor Mrs. Young, she just about fell out of her chair when she saw my face and the assorted welts and bruises. She was barely able to comprehend that my wounds came about at the hands of a minister. Long story short - she contacted my dad in Michigan and got the ball rolling for me to get out of Tucson. For that I will always be grateful.

Fundamentalism of any stripe is best handled like poisonous snakes. Both may have their reasons for existence and they may do some good things for the world, but for the vast majority of us our lives will be better served not messing with either one
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