When I was 16 years old I defied my Father.
One day, after coming home from school I found myself 'grounded' by his girlfriend. It was for something that hadn't happened.1 These kind of weird events occurred all the time in my household. She casually informed me of her punishment, while she was meditating on a pillow in front of a TV, watching a new age video of Shirley MacLaine.
Her language was formal and her sentences were full of the psycho-babble found in her favorite book, tough-love. So I knew that she was recording the conversation. She only talked this way when she was recording me.3
Had I accepted her punishment, I would not have been able to leave the house for six months. So, I took my stand. I said something, inspired by the melodrama of being recorded:2
You only have the power that I give you. I reject this punishment, do what you will, but I will NOT accept it!
Not bad, right?
My father, being a black-and-white kind of guy, did what he thought was the right thing to do. He let his principles do his thinking for him, and closed ranks with his girlfriend; without bothering to understand anything about what had actually happened. He said, "If you do not accept her authority, you will be defying mine. If you defy me, I will have to ask you to leave this house." Simple.
So I played the brinksman.
My defiance was comprised of hanging out with a bunch of my Evangelical Christian friends. We would all go to youth group. So rebellious.
On Friday nights we would converge on a swimming pool with a number of Olympic diving boards and platforms. Before we were permitted to go swimming the adults would make us meet in a large room near the pool, and listen to a number of sermons given by youth pastors.
I was not an Evangelical Christian, so, for me it was very strange to listen to adults say such ridiculous things, in public, no less. Then, to have a room respond with such positive energy, what gives? It added to my growing distrust of adults, groups and anyone in a position of authority.
But, sometimes, we would just sing. Such fun! I would watch other kids put their hands in the air and twitch about, hilarious. So I would do the same, and I discovered that it was totally cathartic!
One night, I had a number of fellow conspirators that also knew that this whole thing was just crazy time. We would look at each other, and laughingly over gesture in our raising of hands, or our "god-infused" twitching. Each of us, trying to one-up the other, in our Evangelic gestures.
Our fun was halted by a David Koresh looking man in his mid-twenties. He stopped the music, walked to the front of the room. Then in a grave and serious voice said:
Their is a WAR coming, and it will be against our God and Savior...
I don't remember what he said after that, because it was more of that moony-eyed, boring-adult blather. Instead, I thought about all of the cute girls in the room -- and how they might look in their bathing suits. I felt my thoughts drift from this to that, then I felt a rising annoyance about how this was all starting to feel a lot like school. It's Friday night! How long will this guy rattle on for? When will he shut up? We all just want to go swimming.
Then, suddenly, the energy in the room changed:
... WHO OF YOU will be a soldier for CHRIST!!!? If you will be a soldier for Christ I want you to come and join me at the front of the room. Show that you have the COURAGE to stand with your Savior! I want you to form prayer circles around those who haven't come to me.... we will pray for their souls!
Wait, what is going on here? The crusades? I looked at my secret allies and I could see them standing and moving to the pastor. I pointed accusingly, sending the telepathic "Don't you dare leave me in this!" and they looked back at me and shrugged, then smiled and mockingly-marched with all of those who had been seated to surround the man at the center of the stage.
I didn't come here for this, I came to protest, I came here to swim. I crossed my arms and did not budge from my seat. Instead I glared at the pastor, and my friends. Most of the people who had gone to the front of the room looked really embarrassed. Everyone knew this was just theatre. Everyone knew, but it is easier to follow authority than to fall to it.
I was furious, the only person sitting down, face burning with embarrassment. This pastor guy was breaking our implicit contract. We all knew that we just had to acquiesce to this god-jesus-mumbo-jumbo for a while so that we could go swimming and have fun. Nothing about getting up and serving a master at the front of a room.
The pastor had his glory, and he seemed sated. So, the youth meekly shuffled back to their seats. Thankfully, nobody dared to form a "prayer" circle around me. Then unceremoniously we were permitted to go swimming.
The night ended, and I went home. I quietly passed my father while he sat on the couch watching television on my way to my room. Then I passed him again, rushing to the bathroom; my nerves finally getting the better of me. Every Friday night, I would defiantly join this weird little youth group, then go home and throw up in the toilet. Neither me or my Dad said anything, about any of this, but we both understood that I wasn't going to have a home for long. The only person who seemed happy was his girlfriend.
The stand-off came to a head at the end of grade 11. My Dad drove me to the bus station and I used the last of my paper-route-money to buy a ticket to Nanaimo, British Columbia. I knew that the whole thing was killing him, but the law is the LAW after all.
Evangelicalism, New Age Silliness and Teutonically blinded principles are all fun and games until they are encoded into the law.
This is the secret of how to build your very own Nazi party: Write a mythology: link the people together. Supplant the law with your mythology and so they will follow you. We are all socially compelled to abide by the many.
My Dad was stuck in his beliefs and his own mythology. Things ended worse for him than they did for me. For me, it was the first day of the next chapter of my life. For him, he was kicking his son out of his house, and it broke his heart.
Here we see August refusing to do the Nazi salute. Instead, he crosses his arms. August defied the Nazis by loving a woman who was Jewish. Her name was Irma Eckler. He tried to marry Irma, but their application was deemed unlawful by a Nazi legal perversion, the Nuremberg Laws.
Later, he was charged with "dishonoring the race" for fathering a child with Irma.
Things did not end so well for either Irma or August. Irma was sent to the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre where she was murdered by the Nazi state for her ethnicity. August was deployed as part of a penal (suicide) battalion where he was killed in action.4 Their children were sent into foster care.
Such madness, how could this happen? Yet it could happen now. It will happen again, my Friday night youth pastor showed me how easy it is to create such a social environment. Many American sociologists, working since WWII, have discovered that most of us are good little Nazis.56
So, you and I are probably the people who raised our arms to the Führer in the photograph. We are not the Landmesser.
It was easy for me to cherry pick an event from my life where I was righteously defiant. It is not so hard to dredge up such stories from the script of the 16 year old boy. He was pushed and pushed, and given no quarter, so he took a stand.
When I think back upon that time, I see it was one of a few moments where I actually grew as a human being. I don't remember swimming, I don't even remember how the girls looked in their bathing suits. I remember standing my ground.
So, when you are offered an opportunity to take a stand against group-compelled-stupidity remember, that you will remember. This is a moment where your life could have meaning.
I found out later that my Dad's girlfriend was training herself in the "high arts of black magic". How one does this exactly, in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, is left as an exercise for the reader. ↩
I'm sure a lot of you speak this way now that you know that your governments are recording ALL of your conversations. ↩
My Dad confirmed this many years later when he found a store of tapes. My childhood was a kind of precursory version of reality television, mixed with the Jerry Springer Show. Not always fun, but an interesting training nonetheless. ↩