Few scraps of useful genealogical information have been salvaged by my family members, but here’s one: a branch of the ancestors were Huguenots, who fled Europe to come to the colonies because of the Inquisition.
I had to do my own research to find the connection to the Spanish Inquisition, which turns out to have had a bloody beginning in the south of France. It was, if anything, even more ferocious there, as the link between politics and religion manifested itself in first the acceptance and then the kingly condemnation of those upstart protestants.
Once the monarchy ran out of money, they also ran out of tolerance as the popes, wealthy beyond kings with income from parishioner tithes and selling indulgences, bargained for political support in return for their money and well-fed armed forces. French rulers gave them a free hand and the torture began.
So the screams from the dungeons persuaded my forbears, and others of the skilled, learned, critically-thinking class that composed the Christian Protestants, to skedaddle off to other parts, finally including England and then the western hemisphere. You can read about it in history – the exodus of the skilled class jump-started Britain’s industrial revolution.
Skip forward a few generations to my mother, a lovely girl with a nervous disposition. That’s what they called it before her volatile moods were diagnosed as bipolar syndrome, with a touch of Borderline Personality Disorder, that catchall for a condition that would have gotten her burned at the stake in Salem, with the hearty approval of everyone, even the non-superstitious-witch-hunting faction.
And when she was cycling through a really crazy spell, she’d occasionally cite some disjointed religious reference as the reason her mania was justified. She’d carry an old bible around, with little notes stuck inside and passages underlined. She got messages nobody else heard, and some were in that book, though for all the relevance to reality it could have been Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy or the Book of Mormon, or any other work of imaginative fiction.
A few weeks before a major breakdown and resulting adventures that make good storytelling now but occasioned plenty of heartbreak and worry then, she came up to me and with the intensity of the manic phase, told me how she got a message from God in a tuna fish sandwich.
“I was eating it and suddenly I had to spit out the next bite – it was so salty, it was horrible! It was awful, like there was a cup of salt in that sandwich, and then I realized it was the tears of Jesus, shed for us!” She had no further insight into penance or salvation, and never spent a moment in prayer or reflection. Religion was just one more symptom of her intense lifelong mental illness, which would have been enough to make me a critical thinker even if it offered the faintest shred of aid or comfort, which it has never provided.
I guess the lesson for my family is: if someone shows up with a Good Book, run for your life!