(c)2002 by Donna Cunningham
I’ve heard that they’re already setting up the mechanisms for the 2010 Census. The next time the census taker comes around, I want to be able to answer The Question with some degree of confidence. I mean the question that has stumped me the last four times there was a census. I refer to the complex, the perplexing, the embarrassing and even the dangerous question, “What religion are you?”
Mostly I try to cover my confusion with a vague wave of dismissal. “Oh, just check Other.” More often than not, that doesn’t satisfy them, and they want something to fit onto the blank that follows Other. That’s where I run into trouble. Well, next time I’ll have an answer for them. Oh, it still won’t be a simple check mark in a box–nor will it fit neatly onto a blank, but I WILL have one. Maybe I’ll even write it out on a card, words all spelled correctly, so the census taker can just copy it down.
The first time the census taker came around, in 1950, I was a definite check mark in a box, the kind you make in red ink and it takes up a third of the page. Of course, at that age it wasn’t my responsibility to answer the question, but I would bet good money it set off another heated battle between my folks about whether Saturday or Sunday was the Lord’s Day. She was a Seventh Day Adventist. He, like myself, was a Christian—not just a check mark Christian, but a member of THE First Christian Church of Onawa, Iowa, and a devoted follower of the Rev. Everett E. Epperson. I had already been baptized and knew beyond a doubt that when it came time for me to attend Bible College in Missouri, Rev. Epperson would make sure I got to go, so I could become a minister just like him.
The second time the census taker came around, in 1960, I would have answered with a defiant tilt of the chin, “Just check the box that says None. Sir.” I had become an atheist. It was clear to me, with all the awful things that had happened in my family, that there was no God—or if there was one, that he surely didn’t give a crap about any of us. I was utterly lost in those godless days, darkly depressed. My life had no meaning.
By the third time the census taker came around, in 1970, it was already difficult to classify myself. I was no longer an atheist, but was in no way, shape, or form a check mark, nor could I think of a label that would comfortably fit onto the blank. Oddly enough, it was astrology that made me a believer—the very same astrology my temporarily Born-Again sister assured me was the work of the devil. Seeing the movements of the planets correlate so eerily with the events of my life, I could only conclude that some Supreme Being had set the plan into motion eons ago.
The fourth time the census taker came around, in 1980, I had been very busy seeking something to call myself. I’d been to the Quakers a lot and loved that I could sit in silence at Meeting and no one asked me to accept any dogma or recite any creed. I also had several years of intense Twelfth Step work behind me—that profound path of reclamation and reconciliation with humanity that had saved many a wretch like me.
By the fifth time the census taker came around, in 1990, there wasn’t a hope that I would ever fit onto a blank—in fact, the interviewer would have had to attach an extra page to get it all down. The secret about our Comanche blood had come out, and I’d spent several years doing pipe ceremonies, only to discover that my heritage had shaped my spirituality without my conscious awareness. I had also suffered a head injury and found myself talking to dead people a lot. To be precise, they talked to me, because I never sought them out. I often resisted their demands to carry messages to their loved ones because, frankly, I didn’t care to be seen as a freak. I would have questioned my own sanity if I hadn’t already been to the Spiritualist Church and hadn’t believed so firmly in life after death.
The Year 2000 census was a mail-in form, but if the census taker had come in person, he would have found me in bed. My hips had deteriorated terribly, and I was housebound waiting for them to be replaced. I was reaching a state of grace through Tibetan Buddhist writings. I was also finally studying A Course in Miracles with some semblance of regularity and found the two viewpoints compatible. By 2005, I thought I would know exactly how to answer the question of what my religion is when they came again in 2010. I’d say I was a Quak-a-Bu—that’s part Quaker and part Buddhist. And to fill in the entire blank and then some, I would smile proudly and say, “I am a Quak-a-Bu, with Course in Miracles overtones, lapsed Twelfth Stepper, Spiritualist.”
But now I’m not sure. Again. I might have to junk that answer and just say I’m an Ascension seeker. And hope he doesn’t ask me to explain why I’d take that literal leap of faith(s). I still have a year to make up my mind.
What about when the census taker comes around for the eighth time, in 2020? What will I say if I’m still here? You understand, it is entirely possible that by that time there will be no census. We may all be fitted with microchips containing more information about us than we ever wanted the government to know—a mandatory chip that is injected into new babies at birth and programmed to shut down when the heart stops beating. A Global Positioning Satellite would collect data during its daily orbit around the earth, and we would know on any given day exactly how many people lived in the United States.