May 15, 2010

an eternity in hell

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:57 pm by fuckyourfavoritedreams

I am back from my freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis and back in my hometown of Paducah, Kentucky. I’m going to try to start updating this blog on a regular basis again, as well as trying to advertise, so that I don’t feel like I’m talking to myself the whole time.

Paducah is a small town in Kentucky with just over 26,000 inhabitants. That said, it is also one of the largest cities between Saint Louis and Nashville, and has its own mall and art district. The population is split between rednecks and level-headed midwesterners, since western KY is paradoxically considered both southern and midwestern.

The dominant religion is Baptist.

A friend and I decided to go to the mall yesterday. It was the first time that I had been since I left for college. We planned to meet up with a friend there and walk around, maybe eat, maybe look at shirts or something, and hope to run into people that I haven’t seen in the several months I was away at college in St. Louis.

Not all of my clothes have been washed since I got back, so I threw on whatever I could find that was clean. I wore my navy skinny jeans, Macbeth shoes with green and orange laces, and my “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST” t-shirt.

You can probably imagine where things started to go wrong.

We spent over an hour walking into different stores in the mall and seeing people we knew. My friend bought two shirts, and then we decided to leave to go get food at a nearby restaurant. On the way out of the mall, an old man walked up to me, and shouted “hey!” to get my attention. I should have known better than to stop to talk to a stranger, but I did, and what insued was the most ridiculous of all possible circumstances.

To paraphrase, he said, “One day, when you’re burning in hell, you’re going to wish you had never worn that shirt.”

I said, “okay,” and walked away. There’s really no way to deal with these kind of situations. Again, he shouted to get my attention and I stopped and turned around again.I mentally facepalmed at myself for being so stupid as to stop and listen to him again.

He continued where he left off. “It’s a shame that you do these kind of things in order to get attention. I’m 70 years old and I’ve never seen someone so disrespectful. If I was any younger I would do something to make sure that you never wore that shirt again,” he said, making sure not to directly threaten me, as his shouting had attracted a mall cop that was now standing about six feet to my right. He went on to say something along the lines of, “If I had my sons with me, they would make sure that you never wore that shirt again.”

I was worried that he was going to throw a punch at me, not because I thought that he could seriously injure me, but because I have no idea how to respond to a 70 year old man attacking me. I couldn’t punch him, because I am most likely much stronger than him. If I turned and walked away, he would have a chance to cheap shot me and could potentially actually hurt me. Luckily, it didn’t come to this, because I turned and walked away from him without saying another word. The mall cop saw his opportunity and pounced on the old man. I didn’t pay attention to their conversation because I was more interested in getting out of the mall at this point. My friend who witnessed the whole thing applauded me for not doing anything to provoke him. After the mall cop got done with the old man, he followed me out of the mall. I guess he was going to harass me about my shirt if I didn’t leave.

I’ve been an atheist since I was 12 years old, and I have never felt that I have been persecuted for it. This is the first time that have ever been treated so severely by any adult, as far as I can remember. I can’t even fathom how a person can be so rude to a stranger walking through the mall. Is my shirt offensive? Yes, if you find either blasphemy or swearing offensive. Do I have the right to wear such a shirt? Of course I do, and people have every right to be offended. They don’t, on the other hand, have the right to threaten me, as this man obviously did.

Religion was obviously the man’s motive in threatening me. Notice how, at first, he seemed concerned for my well-being in the afterlife, and then quickly turned to threats when he found out that I wasn’t interested (though him beating me up seems like a drop in the bucket compared to an eternity in hell). If he had not been religious, he never would have threatened me for wearing this shirt. It’s possible that in other aspects of his life,  the man that shouted at me could be perfectly genial. But his religious fervor was enough to overcome any decency he had.

It’s enough to make me feel very bitter about the current state of things. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the atheist community and forget that people like this are out there, but when one actually pops up, it’s difficult to think that there’s actually been any improvement. It’s going to take a couple of days before I can think about this without getting a sinking feeling in my chest, I think.

Here’s a picture of the two of us, with me wearing the shirt and making a goofy face.