A few years ago, while working on my own beliefs, I became fascinated with conversion stories and de-conversion stories. The religion didn’t matter because the stories were generally pretty similar. I’m not talking about people brought up one way and therefore never have to convert, but people who do a 180 in their lives after years of being a believer or non-believer.
The conversion stories were generally fraught with great emotion, the person generally went through some serious trauma or saw something unexplainable. Many said they could hear God’s voice, telling them to do something they didn’t want to do, but something they felt the should do. The nature of the act could be either unethical or ethical, in the Bible or forbidden in the Bible, didn’t matter. The key moment was some kind of other worldly epiphany. Very quick and very emotional. Fireworks and a flash of light.
The de-conversion stories could not be more dissimilar. The de-conversion stories took a long, long time. They were based in tiny steps of reason and not giant leaps of emotion. There were usually slip-ups and false paths and bargaining inherent with coming to accept the new beliefs. See Julia Sweeney’s Letting Go of God for a good example of a de-conversion story.
As always, these are some generalities based on the stories I’ve read and everyone’s different. I know my de-conversion was a slow process, while I remember my conversion as happening quickly, even though I’d been exposed to Christianity for most of my life.
Why people change their minds and beliefs is a fascinating concept to me, as most are far too fragile to even consider the other side or make such a giant change. Saying a large part of your life was wrong is a big ego crush.
Looking back over my previous entries on this blog, most of the reviews are of darker material, of thrillers and gore. That’s funny because I mostly watch comedies. I watch two or three MST3K’s a week (I’m watching them in order and up to the mid part of season 3), Shells and I have a whole bunch of shows on Comedy Central, Adult Swim and the comedy nights on each of the three networks and pay cable that we plow through weekly. All but a few of the podcasts I listen to are comedy related. The only blind spot is movies, it seems like the last truly funny movie I saw was Raising Arizona (Disclaimer: probably a lie).
FX’s Louie isn’t the laugh out loud funniest comedy on TV, but it may be my favorite. It’s my favorite because Louie CK isn’t squandering his latest opportunity at a show. He’s treating his comedy as art; it may not be high art, but his intentions are examination through comedy. One measure of true art is if the art is exploring the world or trying to make a kind of sense of the world. Through his comedy, Louie certainly seems like he’s just trying to figure shit out.
Louie also got what can only be described as an artist’s dream deal, FX gives him 250-thousand dollars an episode (for the whole production, it’s not much for a show, so if it fails FX doesn’t hurt much) and complete artistic control. This never happens. He also seems at an age to not crumble under such pressure, but flourish and use his comedy ideas to make a different kind of show. He usually has a bit of stand-up that launches into a short movie. Most episodes have two full bits.
A lot of the early reviews compared the show to Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm. And while he does traffic in the uncomfortable, anxiety based humor of a CYE, his targets aren’t the outside targets of CYE, like our social constructs and behavior, but more about Louie himself. He wants to care, but it’s kind of hard. He has trouble fitting in with a newly divorced life and the trappings of freedom. He’s obsessed with sex, gay and straight, and how it’s all sort of passed him by. He has strange, outrageous ideas, but to me they feel like the sorts of stuff you think about, but tend not to say out loud (in that way, it’s like CYE).
But he’ll take a small joke and spin it into a larger commentary. That’s why the show is valuable and has me writing about it.
The God episode is my favorite of the now finished season. (New episodes aired last night. I’m really a day late in writing this review. Get the DVD’s. I suck at promotion.)
God starts with the most offensive and most apt analogy on the nature of faith I’ve seen on TV. Louie is in a dumpy gas station rest room. A well-dressed, older man comes in and notices a glory hole in the wall with the word ‘Heaven’ written above it. The man starts unzipping his pants to put his penis in the hole.
Louie, “Hey, why are you doing that? Have you done this before? Something bad could happen.”
“No, I’ve never been here before. It says Heaven. Heaven…”
“But you could get you dick ripped off.”
“Then I guess you have to have faith.”
Maybe that sequence is an old joke, I don’t know, but it was played perfectly. Louie CK’s become a great actor, vulnerable and low-key. He wasn’t this good on his last show, Lucky Louie (and I was one of the few that liked that show because real people kind of talk that way). He also surrounds himself with other good lesser known comedians and actors who get the style and tone of the show.
The stand-out in God is Tom Noonan who usually plays quiet creepy authoritative types. He’s great in everything he’s in; go rent House of the Devil, an excellent 80’s satanic panic movie throwback from last year.
The longer second part of the show doesn’t even have Louie in it, but his 12 year old self, a bit gutsy and to me another indication that Louie CK is more interested in the idea than himself. Young Louie’s mom sends him to Catholic school because ‘every kid should be exposed to religion.’ After the nun catches his friend and him goofing off during a lecture, the nun brings in a doctor (Noonan) to do an autopsy on Jesus to show the kids how Jesus suffered for their sins. Noonan has Louie’s trouble making friend be Jesus and has Louie be Pontus Pilate. The doctor describes in inappropriate, Passion of the Christ detail, the horrific death of Jesus. Very graphic detail. He then has Louie ‘kill’ his friend to show how every time Louie commits even the smallest sin, he is driving the nails into Jesus’ wrist. Louie is always killing Jesus, every day. A completely innocent man who died because of and for his sins. (An extra bonus, the church gets to decide what sin is, helloooo masturbation and nails into Jesus.)
The whole autopsy sequence is hard to watch and seems like it should never happen to children. But if you’ve ever spent any time in Sunday School or ever listened close to the hymns sung, you know it does. Every atheist I know became one AFTER reading the bible. It happened to me.
So, later, wracked with guilt, Louie breaks into the church and pries the nails from the massive, blood soaked center piece Jesus statue. He wants to help and free Jesus. Of course, he gets into huge trouble, the nun can’t see why Louie would do such a horrible thing, defacing Jesus.
Fortunately for Louie, his mom takes him out of this parochial school after seeing how screwed up Louie and the school had become. This episode strikes me because it’s the only time I’ve ever seen a de-conversion story on TV. Most of the time, people on TV just replace one faith for another, if faith is ever even mentioned.
Oh, the last shot—A disinterested handyman, cigarette dangling from mouth, haphazardly hammers new nails into Jesus’ wrists.
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