It’s a Good Life

twilight-zone-billy-mumy-goAnthony Fremont: No kids came over to play with me today, not a single one, and I wanted someone to play with!
Mr. Fremont: Well, Anthony, you remember the last time some kids came over to play. The little Fredricks boy and his sister.
Anthony Fremont: I had a real good time.
Mr. Fremont: Oh, sure you did, you had a real good time, and it’s good that you had a good time, it’s real good. It’s, uh, just that…
Anthony Fremont: Just that what?
Mr. Fremont: Well, Anthony, you, uh, you wished them away into the cornfield. Their mommy and daddy were real upset.
My daughter and I caught a little bit of the Twilight Zone marathon on New Year’s Day. I’ve let her watch a few select episodes over the years, Eye of the Beholder being the most recent.
As we settled in, we watched Deaths-Head Revisited, a chilling story about a Nazi concentration-camp guard who returns to the camp he once oversaw with a twisted sense of nostalgia and ends up facing the specters of those he tortured and killed with such zeal.
That was rough to watch but we talked about how we had a duty to remember how horrible and cruel men can be to each other.
Next came a real classic starring a young Billy Mummy as Anthony Fremont, a six-year-old boy with unexplained Godlike powers.
In It’s a Good Life, Anthony can read minds and insists everyone be happy and have good thoughts. Anyone who displeases him or finds fault in his actions ends up wished into the cornfield, presumably deep underneath the stalks.
“It’s a good thing you did that Anthony. It was a good thing you did,” is the mantra uttered by the powerless adults to all of Anthony’s antics, both harmless or horrific.
Some contend It’s a Good Life is a warning about Communism in general, or the witch-hunts of the McCarthy Era. Others think it may be about the deep fears of parenthood or the dangers of permissive child rearing.
My daughter, who toughed it through the story about Dachau, only made it two-thirds of the way through It’s a Good Life. She found the whole concept of the all-powerful child and the fawning, fearful adults just too unnerving. She has younger cousins and it might have just struck a little too close to home with her.
“Can we turn this off?” she asked.
I agreed.
I gotta say I was happy she asked to turn off the episode. It was striking too close to home for me too but for a different reason.
I’m sure It’s a Good Life was never intended to be a tale about sin and mankind’s sin nature. But the fawning voices that kept telling young Anthony everything he did was good, that his actions were good things, hit me like a sucker punch. They were all too familiar.
I had heard those voices and listened to them for far too long in my life.
The voices in my case were not fearful. They were prideful and selfish.
They were stronger before I became a Christian. They’re still around but I recognize them for what they are now.
But back in the day they were so strong in fact that they were a large part of who I was.
They told me the actions I took and didn’t take and all the damage they did were good things. That I was a good person when compared to my fellow-man. That I did things that anybody else would do in any given circumstance.  That somehow, God, if he existed at all, graded on the curve.
If I was honest, even if that were true, I was still in deep trouble.
Sin is one of those aspects of a Christian life that tends to be side-stepped.
You can have a conversation with friends who are both Christian and non-Christian and discuss things like the authenticity or authority of the Bible, evolution vesus intelligent-design, even the direction the Christianity needs to take in today’s world. What the church should do. How it manages to step all over itself at times.
Talk about sin  though and the conversation grinds to a halt.
No one likes to admit those voices have control of them or even that they exist at all.
No, we’d rather insist everything we do is good. It’s a good thing we did what we did. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got caught.
The television screen was blank. The room was quiet.
They were all gone. Anthony, and the Greek chorus who told him everything he did – the monsters he created, the suffering he  wrought — were good.
So I said a quick prayer. Asking forgiveness for all those I had sent into the cornfield over the years.
And then, I said another.

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