The 1998 motion picture Dark City (Amazon Instant Video) tells the tale of a city that seems trapped in eternal night. Its dreary inhabitants are troubled by an apparent loss of identity and disconnection from reality.
Their memories are incomplete, fundamental aspects of their lives don’t add up, and sinister influences are passing unacknowledged. A form of mass schizophrenia takes hold, as the residents are made to assume different identities at the collective will of someone else.
Film critic Roger Ebert ranks Dark City among his all-time favorite movies (as do I).
Dark City captures the psychology of a closed society whose residents are cut off not only from external influences, but also from their own individual souls. The inhabitants of Dark City are steered by the collective mind of an exploitive higher society. That collective dictates individuals’ identities, their selective memories, their altered histories, and their choice of friends and neighbors.
Many Dark Citians accept the communal illusion; some die trying to escape it; and one ordinary man (pictured) summons almost-magical powers in the hope of shattering the facade and facing whatever true reality might bring.
I am reminded of the Dark City universe when I step back from day-to-day news stories and examine the broad face of today’s Religious Right.
From its spell-casting, demon-invoking magicians C. Peter Wagner and the disgraced Jimmy Swaggart; to its law-givers Bryan Fischer, Mat Staver, and Pat Robertson; to its enforcers in the Family Research Council and the Republican Party, the Religious Right surrounds millions of people with a false reality — and polices the inhabitants of that reality for compliance. It dictates the identities that followers shall assume, steers their families and neighbors, and redefines inhabitants’ perceptions of reality. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s villain — who was always a villain and never anything more than that.
Within that alternate universe, people believe falsehoods and self-contradictions about the history of the Earth, human history, their own biology, and the nature of the God that they claim (sometimes with a bit too much piety) to worship.
The self-contradictions of Religious Right belief are inescapable, and they have troubled followers throughout history with fundamental questions:
- How can an omnipotent and just God morally stand by while his most devout “Biblical” representatives exploit followers, corrupt the church, commit genocide, and destroy creation? What just or loving God would make innocent people in the 21st century suffer horribly and die for the sin of one man thousands of years ago?
- The Bible obviously cannot be inerrantly and morally true when it so relentlessly contradicts itself and known history — nor when it defends slavery and incest, or commands people to slaughter religious minorities.
The inhabitants of this religious community are reminded every day of this false reality, as their inspired political actions fail to achieve meaningful progress: their families become poorer and their communities sicker — not holier. They are reminded every time that they are caught cherishing contradictory community values. And they are reminded every time a denomination’s collective prayer for victory or the blood of enemies — along with literally billions of dollars in religious and political donations — results in absolute silence from God.
Religious rightist laypersons tend to limit exposure to those outside the closed community; profess “individualism” while criticizing actual independent thinking and instead practicing communal conformity; and practice a very superficial form of Christianity which they mistakenly believe is deeper and more devout than that of their neighbors.
In times of crisis, those who are most errant, or most desperate, may — like the protagonist in Dark City and many lesser movies — resort to the equivalent of magic-spells, which for Christian audiences are rebranded as “prophecy” or “prayer power.” (Disclosure: I participated in Catholic charismatic communities as a child in the early 1970s and again in the early 1980s.) Whereas the Bible commands the faithful to pray in private, faith-healers like Lou Engle, Cindy Jacobs, and Caleb Lee Brundidge (from the Uganda kill-the-gays launch conference) blasphemously boast to stadium crowds of their divine powers to smite hated sinful neighbors, ward off phantom terrorist attacks, exorcise demons from the unpossessed, and raise the undead.
But this is reality, folks — not an underrated arthouse film. The closed society of the U.S. Religious Right is sick, but there’s no hero coming to their rescue — indeed, critics observe, today’s Religious Right would crucify Jesus if he returned.
No volume of shouted prayers or spells will make the real world conform to the Religious Right’s collective fantasy — or shatter the secular fantasy to reveal a real world of material demons, liberty-loving “moochers,” homosexuals who eat children, abortion-loving trade unions, Jews who drink Christian blood, or black “Muslim” presidents.
The outcome of the 2012 U.S. election presents real-worlders of all faiths — and atheists — with a renewed opportunity to confront the inhabitants of the Religious Right with a mirror to show them their irrational state: their unholy media, their un-Christian lifestyles, their defamatory gossip, the unresolved personal “demons” that they project onto others, and the road that they are following toward violence.
But that confrontation may be less likely to happen if righteous secularists and pragmatists “unfriend” anyone who cowers in a Religious Right fantasy world.
What are you doing to draw people out of the Religious Right fantasy? Do you know people who have recently begun to emerge from that unreality?
Please share your thoughts with us.