Sunday, November 27, 2011

Company When Watching Stuff; the Cleansed Zealot

I have two items from yesterday’s reading of Stephen King’s Needful Things:

1. Eleven-year-old Brian Rusk committed suicide because he felt guilty about setting into motion a chain of events that took two people’s lives, all to get a baseball card from Leland Gaunt. Sheriff Alan Pangborn is questioning Brian’s little brother, Sean, at the hospital. Sean tells Alan that he and Brian saw the movie Young Guns on the VCR, and they both enjoyed it. Sean says they were both looking forward to seeing Young Guns II once it came out on video, but now Brian won’t be able to see it because he’s dead. Sean says that he’ll now have to watch the movie by himself, and that won’t be any fun because he won’t be able to hear Brian’s “stupid jokes” (page 586).

Do I like to watch TV or movies by myself, or with other people? It depends. I have had rewarding experiences watching things with other people. I like making stupid jokes with my brother while watching stuff. It’s also a rewarding experience when I share something that I enjoy with my Mom and her husband, and they also end up enjoying it—-such as The West Wing, Dexter, and The Dead Zone.

But there are other times when I prefer to watch things alone because then I feel free to have my own reactions, rather than trying to fit in and becoming resentful when people don’t find funny or moving what I find funny or moving. But when I’m in a place where I feel accepted, I don’t care as much if others have the same reactions that I do. For example, I can laugh at certain scenes of Family Guy while others don’t, or others can laugh at things that I don’t. It’s good when I’m in a group where I can be myself and have my own reactions, rather than worrying about whether or not I’m fitting in.

2. In Needful Things, there is a feud between the local Baptist preacher, William Rose, and the Catholic priest, John Brigham. One of their points of contention is a Casino Night that the Catholic church is holding, which Rose thinks is gambling. I’ll share two passages about that.

Lester Pratt goes to Rose’s church, but he’s having a hard time thinking about Rose’s campaign against Casino Night because he has his own problems: he thinks that his girlfriend is cheating on him. On page 473, we read that Lester initially was “more than ready to ring a few sets of Catholic chimes, but now the entire affair seemed distant and rather childish”, for “Who really cared if the Catholics gambled for play money and gave away a few new tires and kitchen appliances?”

On page 601, however, we read aspects of William Rose’s life-story that explain why he is so passionate in opposing Casino Night: “[Father Brigham] had known his Baptist counterpart would not like the idea of Casino Nite, but he did not understand how deeply the concept of church-supported gaming enraged and offended the Baptist preacher. He did not know that Steamboat Willie’s father had been a compulsive gambler who had abandoned the family on many occasions when the gambling fever took him, or that the man had finally shot himself in the back room of a dance-hall after a losing night at craps. And the unlovely truth about Father Brigham was this: it probably would not have made any difference to him even if he had known.”

The passage about Rose reminded me of several things. I thought about the punctilious Inspector Javert in Les Meserables, who became a firm absolutist on law-and-order because of his own hard upbringing when he was a child. I think of the passage in C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms, in which Lewis says that becoming a Christian can be a double-edged sword, for it can lead a person to become loving, compassionate, and understanding, but it can also lead one to become a person who takes good and evil seriously and thus becomes an inquisitor! I thought of a true story I heard about a woman who is in a hyper-fundamentalist cult-group, and she even frowns on little white lies (i.e., she doesn’t want people to tell others she’s not at home when she is). But her life was morally loose before she entered the group, and now she has gone the other extreme of being morally punctilious in every detail, and of judging those who are not as conscientious as she.

Jesus says in Matthew 23:15 (in the King James Version): “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” Religion can make people rather judgmental and unbearable. I used to pray for non-Christians I know, that they might become saved. Nowadays, while I do hope that they come to know that God loves them, I’m not sure if I’d be comfortable around them if they were evangelical Christians—-with a narrow, judgmental, cut-and-dry attitude on the world and how God works.

I can understand coming from a life where one feels dirty, and desiring to be clean. But I have problems when that desire becomes judgmental towards others, or hyper-zealous, or in-your-face fanatical—-at least when I have to be around it. I think it’s refreshing when people can become Christians and remain regular folks—-like Lester was when he saw how childish the crusade against Casino Night was. There’s something to be said for recognizing and abhorring sin and its damaging effects, but there’s also something to be said for a live-and-let-live attitude.

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