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Two Films and a Song

By Carl S ~

Scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Tomorrow, my wife wants me to go with her to a lunch and rewards benefit for visitors to her church. She asks if I have any objections to being with them, and I can’t upset her by saying that the last time I was in that setting, my stomach was in turmoil for days afterward. Since her pointing out the fact that we wouldn’t be sitting among them, I feel better about this, since it gives her so much pleasure to have me with her to share with her. She’s told members that I’m an atheist, but I don’t think this has sunk in with them. The visitors aren’t aware of this though, and, for all appearances to me, are rather more strident in their convictions than the members. ( Two nights ago, I had a dream where I opened her church doors from inside, to find at least a thousand tee-shirted men outside, with crosses on the shirts!) Because I doubt that my feelings are unusual, let me be more specific.

Anyone who has seen the original (1953) version of the film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” knows what I’m talking about. Whenever I am amongst true believers, there is an air of fantasy land. I am uneasy and want to escape their presence.

A made-for-TV movie, based on a true story, starred Tyne Daley as a social worker assigned to a teenage boy. The young man had been ruled mentally ill, and it was her job to prepare him to live in society. In her investigation of his history, she found out that he was not mentally handicapped, but was mimicking those he had grown up with around him, for he had been raised in mental institutions, acting out what was “normal” there. (Wouldn’t this be the same for cult children?) No way was he prepared to confront the real world after that.

In tightly-knit religious communities, there is no basis for comparison, no reality checks among its members, and none wanted. Therefore, the unreality is self-enforcing. To any “outsider,” this is evident. Indeed, the WAY OUT for those who are raised in or who unsuspectingly entered into such communities, has come through investigating other belief systems and the nature of beliefs themselves.

For me, returning to a religious venue is to realize that what was familiar at one time is now foreign; that I am now a stranger in a very strange land. I am reminded of how I felt when I returned to the monastery after a one year absence and asked myself, “What did I EVER see here that compelled me to invest so much of my emotional life in this place?” To re-enter it would have been a violation of my own conscience and survival instincts. Those taken over by the Body Snatchers, as I once was, have no comprehension of what I mean. They are comfortable in their captivity, without knowing it, and won’t escape unless they begin to look around and develop some curiosity.

Comparing religious upbringing to being raised in a mental institution may not be all that far-fetched. There are degrees of mental illness, just as there are degrees of religiosity, which floats somewhere in an otherworld; a world which is impervious to rational discussion and where all seeing is done in a mirror, merely reflecting the cult back onto itself.

I was raised in a Catholic and alcoholic environment, with the emphasis on alcoholic. (My oldest brother died from alcohol poisoning.) Every holiday involved a drinking binge, frequently with arguments going long into the night. This was “normal.” (As the “drunk on Jesus” must have been for others.) My friends were children of alcoholics. It wasn’t until my 22nd year that I met a non-dysfunctional family: considerate, caring, non-judgmental, non-sarcastic, un-argumentative and grudge-holding. So THAT’S what family is supposed to be!

It’s been said that most families are dysfunctional, and if so, we might consider it normal, as we become adults, individuals, independent thinkers, to abandon or leave behind those influences contrary to our natures - or it should be normal. People often reject the drugs of choice of the previous generation. Yet, there are many who don’t even think about this, and don’t grow up. But it is NEVER too late to do so.

The first steps to freedom can be awkward and scary, like toddling, and while liberating, even joyful, many don’t want to take those first steps, or leave the cage. There’s a song from the musical, “Sweet Charity,” called “Where am I Going?” that’s just great about this subject, with the words, “looking inside me, what do I see? Anger and hope and doubt, what am I all about? You tell me.” Yes, anger, hope, and doubt are the ways of freedom.

They say that the road of true faith is a narrow one, and few make it to the intended destination. In contrast, the road to freethinking has rough spots, but it’s reality, adaptable to our needs, and wide open.

I really wish they would stop lying to the children about serious matters. “Tradition” is a poor excuse to continue ignorance.