Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me

At last night's SKS meeting, Kenny showed an episode of Millenium, a supernatural/crime TV show from the mid-1990's. The episode is entitled, "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me," and it's been a staple of SKS meetings for the last ten years because it is one of the most extrordinarily philosophic pieces ever to appear on television. If you've never seen it, I would strongly encourage you to do so -- you can rent the Season Two DVDs from most video stores or NetFlix.
It's sort of a Screwtape Letters story -- four demons, disguised as old men, gather at local coffee shop to discuss their techniques for damning souls, and gradually realize that their is at least one person who can see their true essence. Follow the links to read a synopsis, if you can't stand to wait, as other fans have made much better descriptions of the episode than I could.

(Warning: Spoilers follow.)

I could write at length about each one of the demon's stories and it's implications, but I'll stick to what struck me about the stories last night:
  • Kierkegaard, among others, have been critical of modern Christian churches for their relative apathy in regards to sin and salvation. The bar for salvation is set remarkably low these days: a simple profession of belief is all that is required to win eternal life, and while virtue is seen as a result of a lifetime's development, salvation is considered a gimme. Such casualness about salvation is in direct contradiction to Jesus' teaching, which stressed that it was a rare thing: "Many are called, but few chosen," (Mathew 20:16) not to mention "Straight is the gate and narrow the way that leadeth to salvation." These stories were the first suggestion I've seen in a long time in the popular culture that saving your soul might require extraordinary means. All the humans discussed by the devils led live dominated by inertia, continuing unvaried in their path until they met their untimely end. It was only those who made a conversion (literally, "to turn around"), who escaped the damnation awaiting those who live ordinary lives.
  • This story almost trumps C.S. Lewis' vision of devilry for sophistication, because it has the audacity to actually sympathize with the demons as well as their victims. When Frank Black sees the demon Toby for what he really is, the most cutting, most true thing he can say is, simply: "You must be so lonely." No burning lakes, no hellfire and brimstone is required to punish these beings; their punishment is eternal isolation. The devils try to brush off the comment: "See? He just took you for the grieving boyfriend." After all, humans are the lonely ones. But when Toby repeats it again, "You must be so lonely," all the devils are silent. They all slink off, one by one, into the darkness, trying to forget.
  • Most people who come to the SKS would not initially consider themselves to be "spiritual seekers." They usually have to sit through a semester or two before they start to see their life through a spiritual lens. What is it, then, that brings them to the meetings? "They want to know that they are OK, and that they belong," Lauren said. In some ways, you could define the spiritual impulse as an ever-deepening attempt to connect, to be accepted by God and man. This show takes the same position, seeing damnation as isolation, and salvation as communion.
  • One of the demons' techniques is that of minor annoyances: he throws newspapers in puddles, gives undeserved parking tickets, verbally abuses coffee shop clerks. I thought it was ingenious to take such things seriously; it doesn't really take that much frustration to make us prone to evil acts ourselves. Most of my own unkindnesses are the direct result of "losing my cool," being overwhelmed by minor adversities just long enough to forget what's really important. I have often devalued disciplines like yoga or transcendental meditation that deified relaxation as a spiritual state, but there is a lot spiritual value in being able to remain calm.

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