Saturday, September 29, 2012

How To Risk Amish Wrath

There's one sure thing about religion and that is that whatever you believe someone else believes to the contrary. Even if you say reason is reasonable use to reason about deity in an interfaith dialog, someone else may respond by setting fires and killing people.

This presents the writer with a problem of avoiding the giving of offense when s/he writes about religion. I'm happy to state that no Amish Fatwa has been issued pursuant to blogging about the Strategic Amish Reserve. My head rests easily on my pillow knowing that no Amish fanatic with a name like Yoder or Miller will try to behead me.

One strategy for avoiding offense is to refer to deity in the only vaguest, non-sectarian terms. This is what US media did in the early 1960s and this offended my mother whose religion was neither vague nor non-sectarian.

Another strategy is to avoid any religious motif whatsoever. This is the easiest approach and it's  worked well to a large extent. However, it has limitations.

I must confess that crime stories are a guilty pleasure. Or stories that revolve around prior bad acts and their consequences. The detective story is in one sense a puzzle story where the reader is to ascertain whodunnit or how to prove whodunnit, but in another sense the detective story is a depiction of a cosmic imbalance of justice that requires the detective's sleuthing to restore to balance.

Humans do bad things to each other and life goes on (except for murder victims). The badness of a bad act depends upon the malice of the perpetrator, the act itself, and the pain of the victim. And bad acts range from mere annoyance to soul-destroying injuries. There is a lot of this going on in the world and there are a lot of interesting stories that can be built around bad acts. Not all of these stories need to be about mass murderers.

I recently saw a movie that hinged upon an inciting incident of rude words spoken to and then coffee being thrown on a girl. A boy (one of the regulars at the coffee shop where she works) comes to her aid and he treats her kindly. As the story progresses a mystery begins to emerge as to why he's doing all the kind things.

The girl had been bullied as a schoolchild. He had joined in and now he is doing these things to atone for his prior bad acts. The climax of the story occurs when the boy discloses this. The girl is furious and despite his sincere apology and the penance he has paid her. The story then turns on her reluctance to forgive him. Her resistance to forgive is justified. Few injuries hurt as much as those inflicted in childhood by classmates.

None of the this rises above the level of misdemeanor, but the girl's pain is real and her grievances are real in the story. The story works better because the hurts are small enough to be personalized. The reader can more easily identify.

Forgiving the boy is the key to the girl's future happiness. At this point, a Christian propaganda movie would start hitting the audience over the head with the Savior's parable of the two debtors. Happily, that is not necessary, because the way the story works out is just one person offering his apologies and one person accepting them.

That's what any society needs and that's what each person needs to know.

In another movie--a black comedy--the girl marries an abusive, violent man and she causes a hunting accident. And then she marries another man who turns out to be a heroin addict and she overdoses him. And then she marries another who is a wife-beater and she buries him alive. And this goes on and on through six different husbands... the last of which is a poisoner who's trying to kill her. In each case, the viewer can appreciate her motivation and may even think her actions justified.

Anyone who's survived the honeymoon can understand the temptation to do in one's spouse. This made the movie work. I kept watching mainly to find out the next spouse's flaw and the next spouse's cause of death. It was interesting to watch the girl change as the weight of her crimes grew heavier and heavier. After she's faked her own suicide on the eve of her seventh marriage she appears to be literally bloodthirsty.

And then in the last scene they pulled the rug out from under me.

Murder is not one of those things where you can apologize and people say OK. The person who might accept your apology is DEAD. Society takes a dim view on murder. The weight of guilt--not subjective guilt, but objective guilt--associated with murder is more than a human can bear. How can you end a movie about a serial murderess that the viewer sympathizes with and give it a satisfactory ending?

I was shocked when I learned that her 7th husband is the second person of the Christian Trinity. If you're not familiar with Catholic nuns, you won't know they "marry" Christ. And when Priyanka Chopra says she'll drink his blood, she refers to the Catholic notion of transubstantiation wherein wine becomes Christ's blood, and bread becomes Christ's flesh. (It only seemed that I used "literally" incorrectly.) As a nun she'll do more good for society than rotting in prison. And nobody gets off "scott-free" because her sins are paid for by Christ on the cross.

Nobody in their right mind would ever confuse this movie with a Christian tract. Yet it shows in a very sly, perhaps unintentional, manner the essence of the Christian doctrine of forgiveness.

That's the best way to put religion into a story.

Don't preach. Just show how parts of the religion work.


  1. That awkward moment when you are writing a story that has a critically important religious thread running through it, and you realize if you actually publish this someone in your ecclesiastical circle will want to burn you at the stake for "heresy"...

  2. I think that's why you show the religious principle actually working instead of preaching it.

    Since truth is complicated, you sometimes have to show facts that undermine your own position in order to be true to reality. If your ecclesiastical circle has an allergy to truth, reality will slap it up the side of the head.

    Most people in my ecclesiastical circles don't have a problem with saying or hearing hard things, provided I don't go past the facts.


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