As an arrogant college film critic, “Stephen King”s The Stand” was a bloated, overwrought attempt to cash in on America”s search for watered-down spirituality. As a Catholic, it represents a defining moment in my religious faith. In one fell swoop, the man behind “Sleepwalkers” and “Maximum Overdrive” brought me closer to God while my unflinching faith in religion melted faster than that Nazi”s face in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
The youth group my neighbor attended seemed boring at best, but I had promised I”d go and I smiled and nodded as they talked about the negative correlation between kissing with your tongue and attaining eternal paradise. I was 14, and when it came to sexual exploration, kissing with my tongue was the preferred alternative to talking to that one friend of mine that claimed he got to third base with a senior. Still, this was nothing I hadn”t heard before: The kindly priest telling me that the rock music was leading “you kids” down a slippery slope, that kissing was an “upper persuasion for a lower invasion” and hundreds of other inferred commandments that God had intended to make explicit.
It turns out that the youth group was spending some time each week watching King”s magnum opus mini-series and discussing complex moral implications (good vs. evil) after viewing. The group leader, who was named something like “Craig” or “Brian” (who can remember pretty sure it wasn”t “Ari”) asked the group to ruminate on how someone as immoral as King could produce a work with such good Christian values.
I raised my hand and admitted that I was ignorant to what religion they, themselves, were. Baptist, or something, I kindly suggested. “Well, Kyle,” not Ari confided in me with a comforting-yet-disappointed look, “we simply consider ourselves Christians.”
“Oh, all right. I”m a Catholic, and we”re taught not to judge people until we”ve met them. Do you know Stephen King?” In the uncomfortable silence that followed, I informed him that my name was in fact Lyle. It was a smart-ass thing to do, especially because I was a guest, but I was angry and I was a kid. Had the group leader answered me quickly, he would have shut me down completely, but he was quiet and mumbled something about other books and quickly moved on to another kid, one that agreed with him. I was not invited back, and I was suddenly polarized, a Catholic but no longer a Christian.
That night I asked God for help, and he spoke to me distinctly. He said “Please leave me out of this, it has very little to do with me.”
So I turned to Willem Dafoe for spiritual guidance. Watching “The Last Temptation of Christ” was the closest I”d come to an epiphany. Jesus was struggling with his own divinity, curious as to whether he was peaceful or simply a coward, that overwhelming sense of guilt! It felt as if Jesus and I had gone to the same church. Sadly, like every other great spiritual gift art has offered the world, religious leaders took a giant dump on it. Most of them hadn”t even seen it. The good Rev. Donald Wildmon famously suggested that Catholic director Martin Scorsese was under the control of the Jewish studio heads.
The same sight-unseen persecution greeted Antonia Bird”s “Priest,” about a gay priest struggling with his sexuality and love for Jesus. Even Kevin Smith”s pro-Jesus comedy “Dogma” got trashed for mocking the sacred organization that gave humanity the Crusades and “The 700 Club.” If these movies pissed them off so much, I began to wonder how they would feel about some of the religious questions and scenarios that traveled through my own brain over the years. Being condemned by the Religious Right is right up there with “exercise” on my current to-do list.
As I spewed all of this to a friend one evening, she claimed I was narrow-minded and using a few bad apples to spoil the whole proselytizing bunch. She invited me to her own campus religious group (which shall remain nameless, but suffice it to say that “Scott” is a member). As I sat through the meeting, the music and ministry was pedestrian but what I expected. One of their leaders was leaving the flock traveling overseas to help bring more Christianity to Turkey. Someone asked me if I were raised in a Christian household. I said “yeah, I was brought up Catholic.” He looked at me with a slight smirk highlighting his “Village of the Damned” stare. “Catholic,” he asked, “or Christian?”
The meeting, which had been themed around being an “international Christian” ended with announcements. The two clean-cut white kids that read the announcements used fake Indian accents, which slowly slipped into the sort of stereotypical Asian accent of the “Flied Lice” variety. The group of Christian youths were in hysterics. I thought I was going to have to bring my friend an oxygen tank she was laughing so hard.
I looked again to God that night. He told me to turn off the light and go to bed, that he had a headache and was already talking to Stephen King about how he was a good writer and should quit being such an immoral person.
Lyle can be found standing outside of St. Mary”s, trying to decide whether or not to go in, or by e-mail at