Lately, I’ve noticed we’ve been sharing a lot of media that’s personally meaningful to us regarding challenging indoctrination. Today, then, I want to offer a list of works that challenged my faith when I was Christian. And then I’ll open the floor to you to share whatever you watched, read, or listened to that challenged your faith. Lord Snow Presides over media that spoke to us at critical times.
I’m leaving out a lot of excellent media, like God is Not Great and other works by the incomparable Christopher Hitchens, or pretty much anything philosophical by Bertrand Russell. I didn’t exclude them out of disrespect. Rather, they miss the cut only because I didn’t encounter any of these works until long after I’d already deconverted.
Movies form a great deal of our media experience, obviously. Here are the movies that deeply affected me as a Christian and newly-minted ex-Christian.
- Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983). I saw The Life of Brian (1979) and knew it was meant to be a satire, so it didn’t affect me quite like The Meaning of Life did. This movie presented life completely separately from the Christian conceptualization of it. I thought about it often, as a Christian.
- Footloose (1984). A serious exploration of the collision of conservative religion and youth masqueraded as a typical-but-iconic 1980s teen movie. It is incredible, in no small part thanks to John Lithgow’s incredible performance as the movie’s “villain.” All that, plus 80s pop music!
- The Name of the Rose (1986). This movie stands as the total polar opposite of Footloose, just in another, equally great direction. An adaptation of Umberto Eco’s novel, it casts Sean Connery as a medieval priest sent to solve a murder mystery at a Benedictine abbey. The movie poster makes it look like a wacky adventure. It profoundly isn’t.
- The Matrix (1999). A standby in ex-Christians’ hearts, and for good reason. The Matrix explored the idea of our world being a construct in which people roamed in a shared virtual reality. Meanwhile, their real bodies lived and died in pods of chemical soup. Drawing upon complex philosophical sources, this movie created a vocabulary for folks like us. It even gave us a language for explaining why some people stay in Christianity. I was five years out of the religion by the time I saw this movie in theaters, but the paradigms offered in it helped me unpack a lot of my indoctrination.
When I was young, I often got called a bookworm.
However, the preferred term remains bibliophile, thenkyouveddymuch.
- The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery (YES). This 1926 book’s inclusion won’t surprise any long-time readers. I’ve now read my way through three copies of it and just bought the hardcover annotated edition I linked here. In it, Valancy rejects her indoctrination and oppressive, authoritarian family to blossom in her own way.
- Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. I’ve promised you a post about Christian book-burning. This 1953 multi-award-winning novel explores a dystopian future in which books of any kind must be burned. You can bet I thought uncomfortably often about this book when I encountered my peers’ penchant for destroying challenging media.
- To Reign in Hell, by Steven Brust. This 1984 novel offers up a very novel retelling of the War of the Angels. It casts Satan as a sympathetic hero seeking freedom from Yahweh. In turn, the author portrays Yahweh as a power-seeking firstborn angel like Satan. I still remember buying this book from Waldenbooks at our town’s one mall. And I loved it. The views presented here likely tempered my zealotry a great deal, later on.
- The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Though it was initially written in 1985, I read it at the tail end of my deconversion in the mid-1990s. It horrified me. Indeed, I’d just left a culty Christian group that would have considered the book’s dystopian view of the future as an ideal they should work toward. Now, of course, someone’s made it into an award-winning pay-TV series. The scene that affected me most in the book was, weirdly, the one in which the “handmaid’s” new master offers her some old, pre-fundagelical-takeover fashion magazines to read. That scene hurt to read. I can barely even think about it now.
- The Three-Pound Universe, by Judith Hooper and Dick Teresi. I read this 1987 book about the human brain (which weighs about three pounds, apparently) very shortly after deconversion. I came away thinking that nothing remains mysterious forever. Moreover, real, natural-world explanations exist for any question we care to ask.
When I believed Christianity’s claims still, I loved the very worst end of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM). But when I found myself questioning Christianity, that music started looking like empty calories, emotionally-speaking. My choices post-deconversion gave me a vocabulary to express the violation of my will that religion had represented. Maybe it was just more empty calories. Either way, at least it put some words to what I’d experienced.
(Incidentally, my then-husband Biff hated ALL OF THESE SO, SO MUCH.)
- Throwing Copper, by Live. This 1994 album was one of the first I purchased after deconversion. Say what you want about its artistic merits: it earned my money many times over. “Selling the Drama” encapsulated my entire walk with Jesus. My “love” of Jesus was more about fearing blame–and flames–more than anything else.
- The Downward Spiral, by Nine Inch Nails. It was another 1994 album, also purchased right after deconversion. However, this one screamed its challenges through a raw and bleeding throat. One of the songs in this album, “Hurt,” became the stupendous 2003 cover by Johnny Cash.
- Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette. She cut through the soapy, baby-powder scented world of female pop with a knife. Instead of bubble-gum, she delivered an incredibly intimate, emotional howl of rage and pain–and love. The first time I heard it, I stopped everything I was doing right then, and just marveled.
I might have mentioned that I collected comic books as a kid and teen. (My earliest writing gigs involved columns for my local fanzine.)
- Elfquest. Sometimes it’s hard even fathoming how I ended up in such a repressive, authoritarian system as Christianity after loving Elfquest. But the lessons remained in the back of my mind, ready to spring forth when that indoctrination’s power finally waned a bit. You can read quite a lot of it on the series’ official site. (A friend in the same local comic club aforementioned gifted me with several of the oversized comics when I was 13. Makes me tear up to think about how her gift has affected my life.)
- Dungeons and Dragons. I began playing when I was just a whippersnapper of 13-14. I adopted it at quite a weird stage of cultural history, too: the Satanic Panic. Oh man, did my mom not like me playing this game. But she let me do it. Though the experience didn’t completely inoculate me against the false ideas in religion, the themes and ideas involved went into the kitty. Those aids helped me make my eventual roll to disbelieve.
So there you have it!
What do you count among the influences helping you challenge–and maybe even escape for once and all–your old indoctrination?
Because today, Lord Snow Presides over what helped us get free.
NEXT UP: How predators keep the prey in the fold in broken systems. Then, why members can’t fix the broken system from within–but why the masters of it keep pushing that idea. And soon, we charge back into some very hard truths for the country’s biggest Protestant denomination–and eventually, we cha-cha back into the Unequally Yoked Club. Also, I haven’t forgotten the book review. Yep, it promises to be another busy week. See you soon!
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.