Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Six

Fundamentalists believe and rabidly teach that movie cinemas are dens of wickedness. I remember hearing stories about how the "movie house" encourages fornication and licentiousness, plus elevates adultery and idolatry.  Naturally, I grew up believing that people had sex at the cinema.  Cinema=sin.

When I was six years old, I got to go along with my maternal grandmother to work.  She was a teacher at a local daycare centre in Miami, and I was thrilled and excited to spend the day with other kids who were NOT related to me.

I was a cute, precocious six year old
During the course of the day, I played, enjoyed lunch, and had a nap with all the other kids.  Then we were led to a room with chairs all lined in rows, and instructed to pick a seat.  The other kids got excited and told me, "It's movie time!"

And, as the lights were dimmed and the teacher pushed the VHS tape into the VCR, flicking on the big tv on a rolling stand, the little boy next to me said, "It's just like going to the movies!"

I was horrified.  Cinemas were bad places!  I tried to convince the boy that it was NOT like a cinema (because I couldn't see any wickedness going on), but he was insistent that it WAS.  It scared the crap out of me.  He and I engaged in verbal warfare, and he eventually won when he asked, "Well, have you ever been to the movies? Then how do you know this isn't just like it?"

That moment stuck with me--it was one of the first moments my faith in Fundamentalism was shaken.  Turns out, it's really easy to question and disprove a lot of what is taught in Fundamentalist churches, because so much of it is hogwash.  Obviously, people aren't having sex in the aisles of cinemas.  Even further, they aren't the dens of wickedness like I'd been told.

When I was 13, accompanying a group of church kids to a Marlins baseball game in Miami, I overheard a girl tell her friend how fantastic and mind blowing the movie Phenomenon was.  She'd just seen it in the cinema.  I turned to my dad, who had gone with us to the game.  "Dad, why would she say that about a movie, if movie houses are bad places?"

He wouldn't tell me. In fact, he wouldn't even talk to me about it.  I was frustrated, because I really wanted to understand.  I wanted to believe.  I just needed an explanation.  That girl wasn't a wicked, evil pagan.  She was in the church youth group!  She wasn't even ashamed; she was talking loudly about her trip to the movies, right there out in the open at a church youth group event!  But how could she go to the movies and still be a Christian?

No answer from my dad.  He just told me to stop asking about it, and, no, I couldn't have permission to go see for myself if Phenomenon was really a fantastic movie.

I still haven't seen this movie
Barely a month before my 18th birthday, I went to the movies for the first time.  I was breaking a major rule, and I was terrified I'd see naked people or be offered drugs (I didn't really know what drugs were, except that they were bad for you).  But I also was curious and wanted to see if Fundy teaching could stand up to reality.

I saw 102 Dalmations in the middle of the afternoon at the Cathay Cinema on Orchard Road in Singapore.  The whole time the move was playing, I barely looked at the screen.  I was too busy watching the entrances, convinced that my father would come storming in at any moment to drag me out. I was also craning my neck around, trying to see what the dozen other moviegoers were doing.  Anybody having sex??

On the one hand, I was relieved I didn't see any wickedness going on during the movie.  Even the previews had been innocent and clean.  But I was also flabbergasted.  I hadn't even seen anybody kiss, much less make out or do anything approaching having sex.  I was so confused!  Why had my parents and all those pastors who I had heard preach against the evils of the cinema lied to me?

It bore further investigation.  After all, that had been a rated G movie.  Maybe I needed to go to one that was rated higher.  So I went again that same week, this time to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It's rated PG.  Guess what?  Still no sex in the aisles.  Nothing wicked on the big screen. No wickedness or licentiousness anywhere to be found.

I kept my ticket stubs, and I wrote about my experience and resulting confusion in my diary.  A few days later, my mom, while searching through my things, found those stubs.  She read my diary.  And I was in major trouble.

My questions and accusatory testimony about the movies not being dens of evil were ignored.  I got grounded for several months.  My 18th birthday kinda sucked, because I was still grounded.  I grew sullen and the anger was quickly turning to bitterness.  The feeling of voicelessness and powerlessness even in the face of obviously incorrect teaching frustrated me beyond measure.  I started to question whether being a Christian was all that great, if one couldn't ever ask questions about the things that didn't make sense.  But more on that in tomorrow's post...