Column: With religion, it’s easy to remember worst behavior

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 16, 2002

The last two or three years before I retired from The Tribune I was set upon and harassed by a number of individuals referring to themselves as &uot;born-again Christians.&uot; There was even one working in the Tribune, who never failed to surround me when I was eating my bag lunch to ask, &uot;Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?&uot;

The question was always couched in a voice-of-doom tone that made it apparent that the young man had doubts of my achieving any such state of grace either in the present or the distant future. I knew he meant well, so I refrained from sharing with him my conviction that whether I was or was not washed in the blood of the lamb, I was more than willing to absolve him of all responsibility in the matter.

An assorted group came in one day; the pride of the group was a writer. He had a much-folded, little note in which he warned of the Armageddon and laid out in purple prose ways of escaping the wrath to come.

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The note, the group told me, was being brought to me to insert in my next column.

&uot;You don’t even have to put my name on it,&uot; its author informed me. &uot;People will think you wrote it.&uot;

&uot;No one who knows me will think that,&uot; I said. &uot;Moreover it’s not ethical to pass another person’s work off as your own.&uot;

Then I offered to type it out for him and, if he were willing to sign his name and address to it, it could be printed in the letters to the editor column.

The offer was not accepted. They told me that they knew my religious views were at variance with theirs, &uot;because you are a worldly woman,&uot; but that my views were going to change because they were praying for me.

It was not the last time they dropped in. Usually, though, they came at a time when I was out doing a story. So they contented themselves with visiting other staff members. Other staff members who reproached me bitterly for &uot;turning your friends loose on the rest of us.&uot;

About that time a number of tragic stories about erring fundamentalist ministers hit the streets. One was in the habit of taking out from the children’s section of the public library books of which he disapproved. He destroyed the books.

He had to answer in court for the destruction of the books and a day or so later he was again in court for molesting two young children, a brother and sister.

Another minister ran into trouble because he used a paddle and electric shocks on Sunday School pupils whom he thought stood in need of discipline. Most of the parents accepted his methods but one set of parents sued him and won the case.

Then there was a day when my column happened to be published on the eve of Walpurgis-nacht. Because it was a holiday (if &uot;holiday&uot; is the correct word) that has always fascinated me, I used it as a subject for my column. Tongue in cheek, I hinted that I’d be out, or not, on my broomstick.

Result? A long and blistering letter from another of our religious zealots, accusing me of being both an atheist and a Communist and also of other vices. The letter went to my editor, Jim Oliver. Since my column had made no reference to either politics or religion, we were both a little puzzled.

The editor wondered how I felt about publishing it at all, or would I prefer to have it published and write an answer? Well I’m dedicated to freedom of the press. I’m also dedicated to fair play. If I’m to engage in a battle of wits, I’d scorn to engage in one with an unarmed opponent.

One thing I did request. Though everyone — even remote university professors — have always wound up calling me by my first name, a practice I fully approve, I suggested that the letter to the editor be published only after every &uot;Love&uot; in it be changed to a &uot;Miss Cruikshank.&uot; As I told Jim, the writer was one with whom I preferred not to be on a first-name basis.

By this time I was so fed up by attempts to convert me that I had started a clipping collection. Then I threw it all away. Because I realized that if we are going to judge any religion by the worst of its members we’d have to reject Christianity entirely in view of what a no-goodnick Judas was.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.