Greetings, readers! I’m back after a long posting hiatus, 2,800 miles of driving, and the Thanksgiving holiday, making for a highly productive inaugural shooting trip for my documentary (previous article).
I conducted several lengthy and in-depth interviews in several locations around the western U.S. with current and former members of Church Universal and Triumphant.
In Montana, I met with the current Church presidents, as well as a local reporter, and several church critics. I visited my ailing mother, which felt very strange and sad for me. I revisited the vicinity of the main bomb shelters in the Taylor Meadows section of the Mol Heron creek drainage near Gardiner, (though I was denied access to the actual shelter site). I also toured and filmed two other shelters in Emigrant.
The trip went well, though not without incident. I hit a deer, or rather a deer hit me in Wyoming (the deer actually charged into the side of my car), an unfortunate but very common occurrence in that part of the country.
Also, though the leaders of the Church received my girlfriend and I very cordially at the church headquarters, it was right after we were carefully followed by a security guard and told not to leave the county road which travels through the property.
And one of my interview subjects received a phone call and two emails from other church members advising him not to talk to me. Fortunately, he was not dissuaded and the interview proceeded on schedule.
I’m very optimistic about the project, though I’m now understanding the presence of active opposition to it, and also how much work it will be. But I’m confident as time goes on, it will be seen as an effort toward healing and putting the shelter-building period in perspective. On the one hand, it was a testament to an incredibly devoted community effort and on the other, a very extreme example of the lengths people will go to support their beliefs in divine revelation.
One thing I was very happy about was that though I spent many hours with people on both sides of the fence, for the first time, I could relate to them as human beings. The church critics were as intimately involved in the controversy as I was (which for them was a fight to preserve the character of the Paradise Valley). Twenty years ago if I saw them, I only ever glared at them (and they glared back) from the opposite side of a courtroom. It was great to finally sit at the table drinking tea and see their (articulate and reasonable) views in a different light.
It was also good to sit with the Church presidents and be able to express my concerns. I heard their views, and look forward to eventually getting their side of the story on tape. Much as I’ve been opposed to the effects of CUT theology and its impact on my life and my family, the best outcome I can expect for the organization will be a reduction in the literalism and dogma in which it often engages. It seemed from my brief meetings that there might be some movement on that front. I found that change in perspective both positive and encouraging.
I also got the chance to see my old friend and mentor Walter Maunz, who was responsible for my science education when I was a young child. I can truly say without his guidance and knowledge, I’d probably never have had the intellectual wherewithal to question my parents’ religion to such a strong degree, and arrive at a rationalistic and naturalistic world view. All I can say is, thank you Walter, from the bottom of my heart.
Now that I’m back in L.A., there’s a tsunami of commercial work to catch up on. I’ll probably be posting less than usual for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, the other BSJ contributors can take up some of the slack. I’m no less passionate about trying to promote humanism and make the world safe for rationality. But I think I can do it better and reach more people by putting most of my spare time into this film project. But you never know. I’ll always find something to write about, I suppose. But there are so many other insightful atheist and humanist writers on Planet Atheism and the Atheist Blogroll that in the interest of time I simply must resist the temptation to refute every silly editorial or theistic argument that shows up on my Google page.
This documentary project provides a vastly superior forum, which has a much greater potential reach. So far, every one of the interviews has yielded a wealth of information, not only about the shelters and underlying motivations for building them, but also deep philosophical perspectives on why and how people became involved in CUT. To all the participants, a heartfelt thanks, and thanks in advance to those who will eventually choose to take this opportunity to tell their stories.
Happy belated Thanksgiving to all.