Barry Smith: Religious guilt eappears on VHS
As you go about your day, do you hear a third-person narrative describing your thoughts and actions and appearances while thinking and acting?
Well, Barry Smith does. Even now, as he sits at his desk, carefully choosing each word for this column, he hears a resounding, James Earl Jones-like voice saying, “even now, as he sits at his desk, carefully choosing each word for this column”…
Recent events have led him to suspect that this condition is unique to him. His piercing brown eyes gaze momentarily into the distance, as he ponders the revealing events of the past few days. He takes a sip of coffee and returns his attention to the computer keyboard, preparing to tell a story which he is certain will be riveting.
Just over a year ago Barry Smith was poking about in a small-town thrift shop. He happened upon a jacketless videotape on which was printed, in gothic script, “To Hell and Back.” Noting that the video was produced by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the Christian ministry organization that boasts the preaching efforts of Oral Roberts ” a man whose name is too blatant even for a porn star ” Barry immediately paid the requested quarter for the video.
At home, he put it on the shelf with the other things he hoped to get to some day. That “some day” was last week, when he and a friend decided that the dreary fall weather was the perfect excuse for sitting around watching weird religious videos.
“To Hell and Back” tells the story of several people who, upon dying, didn’t go through the typical long-tunnel-with-the-soothing-white-light-at-the-end experience, but instead went to hell. And then, as the title would imply, they came back. As far as Barry could tell these were not actors, but people who actually died, didn’t dig it at all, and were in one way or another resuscitated so that they could come back and tell the potentially hell-bound viewer how bad it sucked.
Barry, who grew up a Southern Baptist but has tried hard to move on, found himself laughing throughout most of the video. Not that he is one who finds humor in other people’s trips to hell. Well, maybe he is. A little. But not in a cruel way.
As one man was describing his death experience, he told of viewing his entire life of sin on a movie screen, and at that point the video slowly pulled back on a picture of a softly lit movie theater.
“Pause the tape,” Barry yelled, more dramatically than was necessary.
“That’s it!” he screamed. “That’s the very movie theater I always pictured.”
His viewing companion looked puzzled, so Barry continued, though he would have continued no matter how his viewing companion looked.
“When I was a kid,” Barry explained, “I was taught that when you die you review your entire life on a big screen.”
“So?” his viewing chum commented. “Lots of people believe that your life flashes before your eyes when you die.”
“No, this is different.” Barry pointed to the flickering image paused on the TV. “I was taught that you sit down with God, in a theater that looks just like that one, and together you watch your entire life. You basically are at the premier of the movie that God has been secretly making about you. It’s the ultimate in reality TV. That must be why I always feel like I’m living my life in the third person.”
Barry’s viewing companion exhaled and coughed slightly. “Huh?” he grunted. “You lost me at that last part.”
“Never mind. My point is that it’s all just residual from my early guilt-ridden religious indoctrination. I guess part of me still feels like God has a film crew following me around. And that theater in the video looks just like the one where I always imagined the final viewing would take place.”
“With cup holders and everything?” his companion said, tapping his lighter against the TV screen to indicate that, sure enough, there were beverage holders built into the armrests in this Divine theater.
“Maybe that’s your way out,” he said. “Maybe God will be leaning forward to take a big sip of Sprite and completely miss your puberty years.”
Barry Smith took the tape off of pause, completely ignoring his friend.
(To be continued …)
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