I watched Paradise Recovered yesterday. Paradise Recovered is a 2010 film that was written by Andie Redwine (see here for her blog). I met Andie through friends who were recovering from Armstrongism. Her movie is about spiritual abuse, and, as you can see from the film’s web-site, it has won awards at independent film festivals.
The movie is about a devout woman named Esther who is thrown out of her home by her step-father (I think that’s what he was) because she almost had sex with her step-father’s son (her fiancee), a rising star in Warren F. Vanderbilt’s religious organization. Esther moves in with her co-workers at a health food store—-Gabriel, a philosophy student who became an agnostic after questioning his minister father’s religious beliefs, and Mark, a funny guy who enjoys watching televangelists but is not particularly religious.
You can tell that Warren F. Vanderbilt is based on Herbert W. Armstrong. Both come across as authoritative and offer free literature on TV. Both are anti-pork and do not believe in the traditional heaven/hell doctrine (rather than going to heaven or hell, you either go to Paradise or the Lake of Fire). Both focus on the end-times. Both believe that those within the church are saved, whereas others are deceived. Both have church services in which people watch a minister on TV. And both were under investigation by the state of California for misappropriating tithe-funds to buy luxurious items. But there were also differences between the two. Warren Vanderbilt’s church met on Sundays, whereas Herbert Armstrong’s church met on Saturdays (the Sabbath). And, if Esther’s step-father was indeed married to Esther’s mother after Esther’s father left, then that violates Armstrong’s doctrine on divorce and remarriage (but, then again, that doctrine was changed at some point).
(UPDATE: The author of this post understands Esther’s living arrangements differently. I thought that Esther was living with her Mom and step-father, a pastor at Vanderbilt’s church. But the author of the post I linked to says that the pastor’s wife was not Esther’s mother. I’d have to watch the movie again. I may have confused the two because Esther’s Mom was an alcoholic, and the pastor’s wife drank a lot of wine.)
In part, the movie was what I expected: Esther stays with her skeptical friends and is shown a whole new world, and, during this process, she changes by becoming less legalistic and dogmatic, as her friends likewise learn from her and become a little more open-minded towards religion. But the second half of the movie was more complex than that. After some heavy drinking, Esther fears that she has departed from God. She tells her fiancee that she misses God, and she returns home for a period of time. Meanwhile, Gabriel consults his minister father, asking for advice on how to help Esther. When Gabriel’s father was sharing with Gabriel the Gospel, I was apprehensive that the movie was becoming a Christian movie. But that was not really the case, for Gabriel’s father says that he is proud of Gabriel for trying to find his own way and for helping people. And, while Gabriel’s father baptizes Esther, Gabriel remains a skeptic.
I thought that TF Fixer’s excellent review on Amazon expressed what I liked about the film: “Two young men, Gabriel and Philip, are presented to Esther as choices for love. Philip, the malingering convert, appears to understand the problems with his church, but is willing to play the game for his gain – sexual and financial. Gabe stands as an agnostic, who really seems to believe in God, who proclaims his disdain for the trappings of organized religion, but who stands upon his beliefs, ambiguous as they are even to him. But then there are two fathers. Both just as firm in their belief in organized religion, both are pastors. Philip’s father uses his position to control others. He does not care for the souls, only for his own power. Gabe’s father gets it. He believes in God and organized religion. He stands firm in his own faith and will not apologize for that faith. But – and this is important – his confidence is so strong that he has no need to coerce, force, abuse others into the fold. Gabe’s father understands the freedom that Christ affords. His is no legalistic faith and he can be proud of his son for being an agnostic, but living the love of Christ in a real sense.”