“The Nature of Existence” premiered at the Quad Cinema, a small theater in the heart of Greenwich Village.(New York) The theater specializes in showing foreign, independent and underground films. The people attending the showings were respectable and educated types, not the strange people which are often associated with the Village. There was a sneak preview on Thursday night June 17 and the premier showing on June 18. The theater probably seats less than 100 people with the theater close to being filled in the evening showings which I attended. At the end of three of the shows, producer, Roger Nygard and co-producer/co-editor Paul Tarantino did Q and A with the audience. The questioners were positive about the movie.
These filmmakers after spending countless hours in interviewing people of various religious perspectives as well as the non-religious and innumerably more hours in reviewing and editing the material admitted that they were as confused as ever on the answers to the basic issue of life. The best answer Roger and Paul could come up with on being questioned about what they learned from producing the film is that we all hold many common beliefs and concerns and that we need to appreciate and understand one another!
Their conclusion from all their work was disappointing. Once again we see the scriptures fulfilled for St. Paul wrote of men who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).”
My last word to the audience after my Q and A was, “Understanding different perspectives is fine and good. But we need to know and understand God, who has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ.”
Stevie Fromstein is the atheistic gentleman with whom I did the Q & A. The best time I had in New York was in a club after the movie where we had a more in depth discussion. As I justified to him the ways of God, two ladies listened and occasionally entered the dialogue. I enjoy debating Stevie because I am impressed that he is a man really looking for answers and is not simply interested in scoring points against his opponent. I could tell that he was actually listening to my answers because on a few occasions he explained my positions to Hannah and a woman named Christian who was arguing with me.
Stevie wants to arrange a formal debate in Southern California early next year. His girl friend, Hannah, informs that he is reviewing all of our debates and is eagerly awaiting a rematch.
Roger Nygard is an amiable man. He has hosted me in his home while I preached at UCLA. I have had a lot of fun being a part of this film. It should serve as an entertaining introduction to the basic issues of life from many different perspectives. It ought to promote good discussions among those who view the film because Roger does ask the right questions and that is a start.
In interacting with Roger, his friends and the movie audience, I took my strategy from St. Paul’s playbook, “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 3:24-26).”
Interestedly, when I said that the devil was the author of all religions other than Christianity and the religion of Moses, the audience seemed to be the most stunned. Later in our discussion at the club when I again brought up the devil those listening scoffed that I would be so archaic as to believe in an actual and personal being called the devil.
On Saturday afternoon, June 19, my daughter, Evangeline, Sister Pat and I attended a theatrical production of C. S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters” in which a senior devil named Screwtape in a series of letters instructs his young nephew, Wormword, on how to tempt a the patient (a young convert to Christ) away from the Enemy (God).
One of Satan’s greatest deceptions is to convince people that he does not actually exist. Screwtape explains the strategy to the inexperienced tempter:
“I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism, and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics.
At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalize and mythologize their science to such an extent that what is, in effect a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the enemy. The “Life Force,” the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work—the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits”—then the end of the war will be in sight. But in the meantime we must obey our orders. I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you (Letter VII).”
While this film is not hostile to religion, we must remember that another great deception of the devil is that God had revealed himself in all religions. I tried to get across in New York that Jesus Christ is the door of the sheepfold. He said, “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:8-10).”