When talking about leaving fundamentalism there are two movies that people reference more than any others. One is The Village which I still have not watched since I’ve already had it spoiled for me by people eager to tell me that at the end of the movie you find that after discovering the half-buried Statue of Liberty, Luke’s father can see dead people. So rather than spoil it for you too, I’m going to talk about the other one.
The other movie is, of course, The Matrix. After spending years living in a computer simulated world, our hero awakens to find out that in the real world humanity is enslaved to machines. Then he learns kung fu and bullet dodging. There’s some other stuff that happens but those are the really important bits.
There is an incidental plot line in the movie, however, involving a relatively minor character who, although he has been awakened to reality, cannot stand the ugliness that he sees in the real world. Eventually, he betrays his comrades for the promise that the machines will put him back to sleep and he will be able to enjoy the fake world blissfully unaware that it’s all a sham.
In scene of his betrayal he sits at a table eating a steak and proclaims that “ignorance is bliss.” The movie paints him as weak and despicable but if I’m being honest, I have to say that I know how he feels. Sometimes I wish I could forget too. Even though I love my freedom and know the truth of the emotional and spiritual slavery that exist back where I used to live, there are sometimes when I wish I didn’t know.
Those moments of nostalgia and longing can hit you when you least expect it, even years after you depart from fundyland. I had lunch with an old friend this week, someone I had known from missions camp and hadn’t seen in a dozen years. She talked with my wife and I about raising kids and the various trials and blessings of the last decade. She and her husband are still fundamental Baptists although a decidedly saner strain than most. They’re in full time ministry now but she’s still gracious enough to be my friend even though I’m the SFL guy. We all talked smiled and invoked the half-forgotten names of people and places that I haven’t thought of since another lifetime. It was hard not to wish in some part of my soul that I could go back to those days again.
Back there I know the culture and the people. I know how to fake it with the best of them and be as publicly pious as anybody. I know how to read the Scriptures that affirm my superiority and ignore the ones that don’t. If I went back I could have friends again, and maybe two or one of them would actually be what they seem. I could have a church again, at least as long as I walked the line. Most of all I could have the certainty of knowing exactly where my place was in the world and the assurance that all was well as long as I did as I was told.
But I can’t do that. I can’t go back there again if I want to keep my soul. There’s no way to un-see or un-hear the things that I’ve shared here over the past years. I know the truth and no matter how much I pine for the leeks and garlic of Egypt that truth will force me to be free. But I’ll beg your pardon if for a moment I grieve for days gone by for friendships made and lost and death of the life that I once knew. I’ll ask for your understanding if I should shed a tear or two for distant dreams that life has killed.
But though I grieve I cannot ever go back. The steak is a lie.