At ten I became target of invidiousness from classmates and school teachers after being sucked into a recess-time discussion about something called God. It was midwinter and students were given the choice of going outside to play in sub-freezing temperature or staying warm inside to read, draw, talk or engage in other non-destructive activities at our desks. I was sitting at my desk reading Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth while all the other kids inside had decided to sit together and talk. My desk was near the back of the room (per mandatory alphabetical seating arrangement by surname) and the kids talking together were gathered around a table next to the teacher’s desk at the front of the room.
My attention thoroughly into the story, I wasn’t paying any attention to what they were discussing but a girl in the group decided I was probably very lonesome back at my desk at the rear of the room and tried to draw me into their conversation by asking if I believed in God. I answered immediately and honestly without looking up from my novel.
She gasped in horror, prompting me to look up at her, and then at everyone else around the table. They we’re all staring at me like I was some dastardly beast, every mouth agape.
“What! How can you not believe in God?” The girl asked.
Shrugging I said “Because I can’t believe in stuff I can’t verify is real.”
The talking kids practically stampeded to my desk at the back of the room and surrounded me, all yakking at me at once.
”You have to believe in God!”
”No I don’t”
”Everyone believes in God!”
”What about Jesus? You believe in the saving love and grace of our lord Jesus, don’t you?”
”You know you’re going to burn in Hell, right?”
Well that, of course, shut them up and they all turned to look at our teacher for support against the evil loner boy sitting at the rear of her precious classroom. She was scowling at me with open, unfettered disdain.
From that moment on, until the end of the school year, those kids and all of my teachers taught me what invidiousness was all about, all doing their damndest to ostracize and belittle me at every opportunity. My music teacher even enlisted services of a schoolyard bully to try to beat me into believing in God.
Fortunately, my family moved away from that little town to a large gulf coast city where one’s personal convictions were not so bothersome to others. A place where no one really cared if I believed in anything or not. It felt good to be in such a place of indifference. Then one day, a kid out my past, a kid I knew at the little town’s invidious little school—a preacher’s son named Marty—came walking toward me at lunchtime in the cafeteria there in the big city school. I saw him coming and smiled, surprised and a little happy to see the former classmate there in the big city I had just moved to. He smiled back, plopped down at the table I was sitting at with kids I had become friends with in orchestra class and asked “So, you still don’t believe in God?”.
None of my new friends looked up from their lunches with shock or awe when I happily replied “Nope.”
One of them, a violinist named Doug did chuckle a bit, then looked at me, shaking his head before looking across the table at Marty and speaking.
”Neither do I.”
I rejoiced in sweet freedom from small town invidiousness.