The first insult I remember as a child was from a boy who exclaimed, “MY dad can beat up YOUR dad,” after I edged past him for the highest spot on the jungle gym. No matter how loudly he protested, I refused to yield my position. That's when he used the go-to insult by boys who feel they've been unfairly beaten. The implication is that, while they may not be able to prove how tough they are at that moment, their dad will prove they have a genetic predisposition to being a badass.
In this case, the boy was right. His dad could beat up my dad, but not for the reasons you might think. Though physically capable, my dad was a committed pacifist and believer in non-violent means to effect change.
In my high school algebra class, Troy Schutzle sat directly behind me. Troy was a bully. He would lean forward to whisper quiet insults in my ear while a clueless Miss Roberts bleated on about variables and polynomials. I hated math for a variety of reasons, but in this class, it was Troy Schutzle who made my life a living hell.
When his taunts didn't get a reaction from me, he stepped up his game by spitting on my backside. I endured this every day in class for several weeks. As bored with the subject as I was, this is how Troy chose to while away the time.
Instead of deciding enough was enough, I wore a windbreaker that could be easily washed when I got home. I’m not sure why I put up with this. I don’t remember having my father in mind. My motivations were vague. Perhaps I was motivated by fear of what would happen if I allowed myself to uncork. Perhaps I was subconsciously motivated by wanting to follow my father's lead.
Perhaps I was simply a coward.
Whatever the reason, I preferred his spitting on my windbreaker over defending myself. He finally gave up when he realized I would not respond, no matter how long he persisted.
Many years later, we met in a convenience store. I was paying for gas while he was picking up a six-pack. His face had striations of broken capillaries common to alcoholics. He acted like we were best friends. While I acknowledged his presence, I made no pretense of being his friend.
I would like to say I went on to live a life devoted to ending bullying and defending the defenseless, but my record in this regard has been rather inconsistent. In some ways, I was the abused who became the abuser. In high school, I felt good about calling someone gay, a faggot, or whatever slur would question a weaker boy's manliness.
While tripping on LSD in college, me and a friend noticed two frat boys crash our party and drink our beer. While most of us were punked out in leather cycling jackets and ripped blue jeans, they were dressed in pastel Izod V-neck sweaters, pressed white slacks, and tan deck shoes. They weren’t hard to miss.
We watched as they slipped out our front door. My friend and I shot each other the "What the hell?" look, then he said, "Let's go beat the sh** out of them!"
For the first time in my life, I chose the path of violence. Looking back, I would speculate that a subconscious connection had been made to the anger I suppressed when Troy Schutzle made a hobby of hocking up loogies on my back. Such speculation is in search of a shred of redemptive motivation for what I did next.
We ran out the front door and spied the pair of frat boys half-way down the block. One happened to look back and spotted us in pursuit. They took off running, but we were a tad faster, no doubt fueled by the superhuman effects of being on a psychotropic drug.
We caught them just as they reached the door of their frat house. Too bad the front door was locked. As one tried desperately to get the key out of his pocket, we proceeded to pummel them while yelling, "You fu***** Jews, go back to Chicago!!!" I don't know why we were under the impression they were Jewish, nor do I recall ever thinking ill of Jewish people up until that point. Recalling this makes me cringe. It was truly a low point in my journey as a human being.
At the time, I think I congratulated myself.
"See? You ARE a man!"
This is the word picture that comes to mind when I consider the apoplexy Muslims have over Jews - or conservative evangelical Christians over Muslims - or Muslims over Christian "infidels" or....need I go on?
Each hurl insults at the other. They question one another's godhood. All are confident the more strident their speech, the more likely they are to prove the other guy’s god is a weakling.
You behead one of ours? FINE. We'll CARPET BOMB YOU motherf*****!
Why? Because the TRUE god is on OUR side!
Each justify their actions because, ironically, they all look to the same sacred texts that form their religious history - what Christians refer to as the "Old Testament." There, we find God kicking booty all the time. To Biblical literalists, this is all the justification they need for their zealous defense of the one true God.
As a former pastor, I went down this road myself. In the end, I discovered that only when one's faith is weak does one feel the need to denigrate another's religion. This is the consequence of a theology intolerant of doubt or asking tough questions. Their adherents only option is to project their own doubts and fears onto another person's religion, as they continue to ignore their own. The end of this theological road is a lonely addiction to a shallow faith that is fueled by irrational emotionalism.
Meanwhile, true servants of Christ are busy feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and being an advocate for social outcasts who have no voice. Jesus did not suffer bullies. He called them out then went about his business.
The lesson I learned from the Troy Schutzles of the world, as well as from my own deplorable behavior, is that I will no longer suffer in silence. If I see someone acting like a bully, I will call you out. If I am being a bully, please have the courage to stand up to me. But beware: If you're a Christian claiming false victimhood because you can't discriminate against my gay brothers and sisters, spare me your persecution complex. This past Easter the Taliban murdered 69 Christians, mostly women and children, as they celebrated Easter Sunday in a local park in Lahore, Pakistan. That is what real religious persecution looks like.
Only when you have an agenda that requires others to believe the way you do will you feel the constraints of a government established to protect others from your need to convert them. If your theology demands marginalizing people based on their beliefs, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, you need a new theology.
The world doesn't need a god who can kick ass. The world needs a God who shields the ass being kicked.