Many years ago when I lived in Cyprus and believed myself to be a “born again” Christian, I got an invitation from a friend to accompany him to the pictures to see a film (what else?).
At the time, I was based with the RAF at a small Unit at Ayios Nikolaos in Cyprus. The year was 1976. About three years earlier I had been converted to Christianity, and that meant that I was superior to everyone else because I knew what life was all about, from whence it came and where it was going, on top of which I also had a hot line to God himself – so I had to be superior - didn't I? Of course I know now that I wasn't superior at all – just deluded (thanks Richard).
When I arrived in Cyprus, I knew there was a small group of fundamentalist Christians on the unit, but I did not want to overtly announce my presence lest they should mistakenly think I was as keen (or barking) as they were. However, one of their number, a guy called Bob, spotted the Bible on my bedside locker. After that, I was ensnared by the group, and then it was all downhill!
What you need to bare in mind about people such as these is that they see everything around them as “worldly” and sinful. That is, anything which brings any pleasure or joy to life, like a pint in the bar, watching Coronation Street, or holding hands with your girlfriend. Not quite sure where full-on sex with your girlfriend rates, but lets just say its very low down the pile, somewhere beneath the fires of Hell.
I have to say that although I broadly subscribed to the views of the group, I was nonetheless a bit of a rebel. So, when the rest of them were attending lots of devotional meetings (and I mean lots) over the Easter weekend, I shot off up into the mountains where the air was much purer than the self righteous fug I would otherwise have been exposed to.
At the time, the film “The Exorcist” was doing the rounds. Now this film was so shocking by the standards of the time, that it was roundly condemned by most Christians. There were reports of people being so emotionally disturbed by this film, that there were instances of people committing suicide after seeing it. Now that's a pretty high price to pay for a night out at the cinema. Add to this, reports that there were mysterious deaths during the making of the film, and if that was not enough I also read that when some of the original footage was developed, the resulting images showed something hideous – and not what was remembered as being in front of the movie camera's lens at the time of shooting. While this is all completely apocryphal, there are also reports that William Friedkin, the film's director, felt the set appeared to be cursed due to a series of unfortunate events including the set being destroyed by fire, Linda Blair being injured when her harness broke as well as Ellen Burstyn - who played Chris MacNeil, hurting herself for good measure. Of course, all this fed well into the Christian propaganda mill as the book on which the film was based was supposedly inspired by a true demon possession & exorcism event which Blatty stumbled upon while attending college. However, this supposedly “true” story (the possession and exorcism of a young boy) has since had much doubt cast upon its authenticity, to the point that the true story itself is another myth. Even so, the film and all the indignant hullabaloo surrounding it, served to give credence to Christian beliefs in the Devil, Demons and............er.....oh yes, ….........God.
The Exorcist was a film I was already very familiar with, as I had not only read the book, but also seen it a couple of times in London. Much of the book is shocking, and William Peter Blatty, the book's author pulled no punches with the storyline. The film was very true to the book as well, so where Regan, the demon possessed girl informs Father Damien Karras that his dead mother “sucks cocks in Hell”, this line is faithfully reproduced in the film, along with her ability to turn her head through 360 degrees, vomiting projectile green sick on demand and masturbating with a crucifix. Lovely.
So there I was, in the games room where I was having a game of table tennis with one of my religious friends. I can't remember his name, so I'll call him “Mike”. Anyway, Mike ate, slept and drank the Bible. He was also a Charismatic. By this, I mean that he believed in the “gifts of the Spirit”, and the main one which everybody of this persuasion seemed to major in was “speaking in tongues”, or in reality, gobbledegook. Suddenly the atmosphere in the room seemed to change. Mike's composure suddenly became really serious. He said there was something he wanted to ask me. I knew this was heavy, and so I gave it my full serious attention. He then started on about the Exorcist which was showing at the “Astra” cinema, otherwise known as the “Camp Stack”. He then asked me to accompany him to the cinema to see this very evil and demon possessed, film. Shocked, I dropped my table tennis bat to the floor as I felt the blood rushing from my head and sensed the impending righteous judgement of God if I so much as hinted that I might be prepared to go with him. I could smell the very fumes of sulphur issuing from the bowels of Hell burning into my nostrils and the Hounds of Hades snapping at my heels as I considered my response.
I made my decision.
“Yeah, great – I'd love to come with you” said I without so much as a moment's hesitation.
Knowing how seriously I viewed the matter (not), Mike then proceeded to justify his request, which was, very roughly, posited upon the following:
· While we all knew that the film was Satanic and everyone associated with it was cursed even unto the tenth generation thereof, it was all very well criticising the film and condemning it, but if you hadn't actually seen it, then your utterings carried little credibility.
· Given that people were leaving the cinema emotionally disturbed and liable to top themselves, it would be good us being there so we could minister to the needs of these poor Satanically bothered sinners. Of course, we were highly experienced in this (not).
· Seeing the film would be something of an education into the activities of Satan and how he was garnering through such devious means more publicity for himself. Our new insights would enable us to be more effective in countering his demonic activities, as well as being able to speak with additional authority on the subject to our erstwhile compatriots.
Good, so that gave my friend the justification he needed, and no doubt he thought me too – though I wasn't in the least bit bothered by any of these considerations, as I thought the film was brilliant with all the gore, violence, obscenity and foul language. I just loved it and any excuse to go and see it again was all right by me. We agreed that our cunning plan was to be kept secret from the rest of the fellowship, lest our intentions becoming known might make waves amongst the brethren and cause others to fall into sin. A couple of nights later, under cover of darkness with suitable alibis as to why we weren't at the evening's Bible Study, we set out for our encounter with the Lord of the Underworld.
It was dark, very dark. It was a bit windy and wet, threatening further rain. We made our way to the cinema along with many others. I would say that there were forked tongues of lightning flashing around the roof of the cinema while giant vampire bats circled high overhead - but that would be silly! We took our place in the queue for tickets and presently sank into our seats in the packed auditorium where there was an atmosphere of edgy expectancy. Following lots of adverts and a few trailers the film started.
Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters in the fellowship were at a Bible Study and prayer meeting. Included in the prayers would have been supplications for the souls of the cinema goers. The prayers would not have been on our behalf however, as they knew not to where we goetheth.
The film ended. Amazingly, we did not witness anyone showing any signs of demonic possession. No one was slitting their wrists or running out screaming and throwing themselves under cars or jumping off the edge of cliffs. We hung around in the foyer for a while lest any poor affected soul should require our ministrations. It turned out as I expected to be money for old rope as everyone seemed perfectly OK. Of course, this was just a trick of the Devil - obviously concealing himself.
We parted going our separate ways. I decided to go to bed. How much excitement could I take in one night? Bob was still out at the Bible Study – they could go on rather late and during the prayer time some lovers of their own voices would get very carried away, spouting forth prayer after prayer, demonstrating beyond doubt their added holiness and sanctification to the others in the group.
I lay in bed in the pitch dark drifting off to sleep. Suddenly I heard footsteps and the door opened. I pretended to be asleep and lay still and silent. Bob lumbered past to his pit space and fell into bed having de-robed himself.
It was still. It was quiet. It was dark. The silence was broken – as expected.
“Are you awake?”
“I didn't see you at the Bible Study this evening.”
“I said I didn't see you at the Bible Study this evening.”
“No................I wasn't at the Bible study.”
“Why weren't you at the Bible Study?”
“I went somewhere else for a change.”
“I went to the pictures.”
At this point it should be borne in mind that going to the pictures was considered a sin even if it was “May Poppins” you were watching. Of course, skipping Bible Study in favor of such a worldly sinful activity was definitely frowned upon, to say the least.
“What was the film?” (As if he didn't know).
Slight hint of a gasp followed by long silence.
“You shouldn't have done that.”
I didn't answer, but chose to ignore him and go to sleep.
Several months later, it was decided by the fellowship that an exception could be made on one particular occasion when it would be permissible to go to the pictures to see one particular film.
The film was “The Hiding Place”, a docu-drama about a couple of Christian sisters who were captured by the Nazis in World War II and sent to a concentration camp. One of the sisters was Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote several books about her life and experiences after the war. Most of the fellowship, including myself, went to see this film. It was inspirational, but I didn't enjoy it as much as “The Exorcist”.
So that was it. Going to the pictures was not a sin after all.
It just depended upon what was showing.
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