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Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

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My Family Fanatics

Posted: 03/27/2012 1:18 pm

"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." -- Winston Churchill

"Does it really matter what these affectionate people do -- so long as they don't do it in the streets and frighten the horses!" -- Beatrice Campbell

My Facebook profile describes my "belief system" (and I use that descriptor oh-so-loosely) as: "Yogini-Presbyterian-Sufi."

Sounds like an NYC hospital, doesn't it?

The description would be much longer if Facebook allowed for such expansiveness. I know for a fact, however, that the brief and tantalizing description of my spiritual take on the universe gives many of my blood relatives fits.

Several of them write me regularly to express fear for the state, and future, of my immortal soul. I'm on their prayer lists. They have their eyes on me. What's written between their lines of received wisdom is: "You're going to hell because you do not believe what we do."

It's actually worse than they imagine.

In fact, some days, I'm a committed atheist. Some days, I'm an admitted agnostic. Some days, I'm an ardent mystic (Sufi, Christian, Yogini -- same/same, in my book). But all days, I am not a conventional, pigeon-hole-able member of any named religious group.

I was born into a family of Pasadena Presbyterians who'd run screaming from both the Deep South and the Southern Baptist Church, and I continued their headlong escape from organized anything.

We ran out of frontier, my parents and I, in terms of religion and real estate. If we'd gone farther, we'd have ended up in Hawaii.

Of all my relatives but one, a paleontologist, I am the most highly educated and, though I have little to do face-to-face with any of my kith and kin (my parents are long dead and I have no siblings), when I do hear from them it is only to proselytize.

My relatives might as well be pairs of Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons -- strangers at the door -- for all they have to do with me. They ring my bell, as it were, several times a year, only to press my arm into a spiritual blood pressure cuff of their own devising: Am I saved or, as they suspect, not?

I wish they'd stop, but only death will silence them. I come from a gene pool notable for its sheer perseverance, if not great inborn intelligence. In fact, these fanatical Christian relatives of mine are only too quick to tell me all my "book learnin'" has worked against me. "Book learnin'" is suspect, by their lights: by their lights there is only one book.

Am I wrong in thinking this is the great problem with America? This is why we have Republicans trying to shunt women back to the Stone Age in terms of reproductive rights, why we have climate-change deniers; why, oh, I don't know, about 50 percent of our population is incapable of reason or abstract thought?

Personally, I find The Bible (as it is, so abysmally truncated and translated) a perfectly horrifying and inconsistent jumble.

The historical Jesus would have run from it screaming, I firmly opine, going as far as Hawaii to distance himself from it.

So, I'm now hoping to outlive the fanatics to whom I'm related. Even at 60, it's a dream I may not realize. But, if I do, there'll be a moment or two of silence and reverie, uninterrupted by people who purportedly share my DNA trying to sell me their religion.

There'll be a moment of silence and reverie, before I meet my Maker, or not... and have an opportunity to ask Her why in hell she dropped me into this particular family?!