M. Night Shyamalan made a movie a while ago entitled “The Village.” I love that movie and I love it for a very personal reason. It reaffirms why I left “The Church” in the first place (I’ll take the real world over a made up one any day of the week) and it also conveys the truth of the idea that evil exists within each of us, not as some outward demon.
The story line to the movie goes like this a bereavement support group, whose relatives are victims of violent crimes, decide to escape modern society into a walled sanctuary. They live a Luddite lifestyle cut off from the world. Modern conveniences such as electricity and motors are shunned, they make their own furniture, live off the land, and are completely oblivious to anything outside the four walls they so carefully built. Theirs is a peaceful lifestyle, where men and women know their place, children are loved and coddled, and everyone knows everyone else (the narrative is nicely wound around a love story, and a very sweet one, I think).
Since the proprietors of The Village were challenged to invent a way to keep their offspring from wandering too far and perhaps discovering that they were cut off from an entire civilization, they invented a story consisting of monsters who lurked in the forest beyond (The Village was an isolated settlement set upon a huge, and privately funded, land reserve) . The monsters were known simply as ‘the others’ and children were indoctrinated at an early age concerning the dangers of crossing the designated borders. Apparently an agreement exists between The Village and ‘the others’: if the Villagers don’t cross into their territory, ‘the others’ won’t cross into The Village. A popular game for adolescent boys is to stand on a rock just at the border and tempt ‘the others’ to come get them, of course no one showed up, but the occasional howl of a coyote or wind was enough to give life to the story, reinforcing the narrative and instilling fear.
The elders were quite detailed in the shenanigans they were willing to engage in to keep their children in fear of the forest and ‘the others’. They didn’t stop at merely demarcating a physical boundary between good and evil. The color red for instance, was labeled ‘the bad color’ for that was the color of ‘the others’. In one scene a pair of tween girls came across a flower in their yard with ‘the bad color’ and with haste they both dig a hole and cover it up. Offerings are made to the forest to appease ‘the others’. Occasionally we are given the glimpse of a wooden box, tucked away in a corner, looming with mystery. The box contains memorabilia of the outside world: newspaper clippings of murders and robberies of family members, pictures of their lost loved ones. It serves to remind the elders of their decision to leave the evil world behind.
And yet, evil springs up from within ‘The Village’ despite the elders’ attention to detail. In the opening scene of the movie we watch as a grief stricken father weeps at his son’s graveside. The implication is that the son might have lived were there simple medicines available to give to him, but in their complete dedication to remain isolated, they sacrifice life. At the feast following the service, it is noted that, despite even heartbreaking moments, they must remain committed to their cause.
A moment of compromise finally occurs however when a young man is stabbed by a jealous autistic Village member. This strapping male is recently betrothed to the blind daughter of the very man whose idea it was to found The Village. She begs her father permission to transgress their rules and travel to the lands beyond in order to get medicine to save her beloved’s life. Her father bends to her pleas and allows her the freedom to go. Before she leaves however, he tells her of the ‘invented’ monsters, shows her the elaborate costumes complete with a row of sharp fang thingys and coarse fur. It was apparently worn as a sort of ‘coat’ by village elders at times when a visible reinforcement of ‘the others’ was needed (I am reminded of Dawkin’s observation in ‘The God Delusion’, recently read, that “…the horribleness of hell…is inflated to compensate for its implausibility.”) These home- made monsters were a bit intimidating, and made all the more so since we are put in Ivy’s place of having to discover them through touch only since she is blind.
Armed with the knowledge that nothing really exists to harm her, Ivy is allowed to breach the sacred boundaries and embark on a quest to find medicine to heal her only reason for living. There’s a slight caveat given in order to keep ‘the others’ well alive in the mind of the rest of The Village. Ivy is sent with two companions, all three robed in a special color as a signal to ‘the others’ that they mean no harm and pass in peace. The trio is even given a bag of ‘magic rocks’ for protection as well…which Ivy promptly dumps out once her companions abandon her for home out of sheer terror.
Our blind heroine finds the road, is met by a compassionate stranger (she notices “a kindness” in his voice that she “did not expect”) and obtains the lifesaving medicine for her soul mate, returns safely, and they live happily ever after.
Except, that is, for the parents of the jealous autistic perpetrator who must live with their son’s deviant actions and subsequent death. The autistic youth who stabbed Ivy’s beloved in a fit of envy was found to have escaped his isolation room. They found him later, dead, in a pit he’d fallen into whilst following Ivy into the forest, wearing one of the costumes of ‘the others’. Alas, the final lesson of the story is that evil exists within, no matter the lengths we might go to keep it out.
As I watched my sons grow up alongside a myriad of children at church, and watched those children who were home schooled compared to those who were not, I noticed a bit of a difference. It was my opinion that my boys will be going out into the world to make their way and it was my responsibility to make sure they were prepared to survive and contribute positively to society. If I kept them home, shielded from the realities of the world in which they were born, then not only would be unable to thrive, they would live in it timidly – afraid of others and their motivations…I could already see the beginnings of some of these traits with the children who were more isolated from society.
They are grown now, for the most part – and I took them out of The Church when I left because I myself had enough fear mongering and conspiracy theories. The eldest has been on his own these past three years now and just landed a great career job, if he decides to make it that. The other two show great potential as well, comfortable in any sort of crowd, able to converse with just about anyone, and each possess a quick witted humor that makes me proud. I have every confidence that my children will do well on their own, out in the scary big world because, well, we’ve taught them how to survive in it and they aren’t afraid to listen to new ideas or question old ones. I feel I’ve done my job as a parent.
As parents we are burdened with the responsibility to raise our children to be independent of us, to live separately from us and thrive in the real world. We do them a great disservice when we isolate them from the realities of life and coax them into a fearful world full of made up demons and monsters.
We do ourselves a disservice as well. No matter how big those four walls of any church are, evil exists within it as well as without. One doesn’t need to peruse internet headlines for very long to see that greed, adultery, gossiping, homosexuality, and child abuse is as alive in the church as it is out of the church. This truth must be recognized if we are to move forward and progress.
We humans have a history of inventing gods and their demon counterparts as a way to explain our lives and purpose on earth. It also allows us to blame some demon for a downfall rather than take responsibility for our mistakes ourselves. Evil exists within, and no matter how elaborate the story we make up, no matter how high the walls we build, no matter how far away we can leave the outside world behind, we will always be confronted with it. As for me and my house, we will choose the reality of life over man made stories, there is much more peace and freedom to be found living thus.
Peace comes with understanding….it does not pass it.