Religious fanatics on the lunatic fringe

Dear Margo: Our daughter started college a year ago, and we’ve noticed during her visits home that she’s not the sweet, innocent girl we sent away for higher learning.

Dear Margo: Our daughter started college a year ago, and we’ve noticed during her visits home that she’s not the sweet, innocent girl we sent away for higher learning.

We raised her with strong Christian beliefs, but lately she’s saying that she’s joined an atheist club on campus and is questioning everything we taught her. Now my husband refuses to let her in the house and is threatening to turn her in to the FBI. I’ve tried to cure our daughter and reconcile with her, but nothing seems to work. I’ve prayed over her at night while she sleeps, enlisted friends in a phone prayer tree and even spoken to my priest about the possibility of an exorcism. I’m at my wits’ end. How can I recover my daughter and keep her from hell? — God-fearing

Dear God: Whoa, dear. While I am sympathetic to anyone’s devotion to their religion, you need to realize that your daughter is a sentient being with the right to reject your religious views if she so chooses. Your husband is pathetically misguided if he thinks he can call the FBI to report the “crime” of your daughter joining an atheists club. Ditto for the exorcism. This young woman is not possessed, demonic or doing weird things; she is merely thinking and questioning the religion she grew up with. I would encourage you to understand that all people, your daughter included, have the right to think for themselves, particularly about something as meaningful as religion. As for hell, well, she appears willing to take her chances. — Margo, contemplatively

Dear Margo: I am devastated. My in-laws, without saying so, think I’m a lousy cook. Each time I invite them to dinner, my husband’s aunt and mother decide they have to come over and “help” me. At first I found this a lovely gesture, until I realized their “help” meant them taking over. I put two and two together and came to the conclusion that I must be a lousy cook. I asked my family to be honest, and they insisted that my cooking was very good. I decided to make dinner ahead of time. My in-laws barely touched their food. Some said they weren’t too hungry, others had “eaten before,” all said it was “just wonderful.” I decided to conduct an experiment. My sister-in-law reluctantly agreed to help me. I cooked a meal at my house, went to her house with the food an hour before the guests were to arrive, and it looked like she had cooked the dinner. The guests had seconds and thirds and raved about how delicious everything was. Now what should I do? — “Burnt” in Philly

Dear Burn: I think this is hysterical, and you should, too. For whatever reason, the in-laws want to think you can’t cook. Maybe they are nuts. As close as I can come to helping you understand what is going on is to remember an episode from my junior year in high school. I had been taking Latin for three years, and our class had to write one composition per semester (in Latin). All my submissions earned a C. I became curious about whether our teacher had simply decided I was a C student (no blonde jokes, please), so I asked Roy Sonderling, the reigning genius in the class, if he would write two papers and let one of them be mine. He said fine … and, in fact, he said he’d give me the better one. Well, I handed it in and it came back with a C. (His, of course, got an A.) So I would take it in stride, my dear. For whatever reason, they’ve put you in the “can’t cook” slot. I recommend that, in the future, whenever the in-laws come to your house, let them “help” and just think of them as caterers. Then relax and take it easy. — Margo, attitudinally

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.

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