Want fries with that?

Posted on July 30, 2011

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This is one of those posts whose veracity I feel a need to stress. I haven’t played with any facts to make them funnier or stranger. This is just what happened. I’ve restricted quoted conversation to only two instances, both of which are short, and as accurate as memory can make them.

I’ve changed the name of my first wife for the sake of her privacy, and I’ve not named the hospital because I wouldn’t want to besmirch their reputation because of an incident that occurred over 35 years ago.

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When my first wife (whom I’ll call Val) and I moved to Welland in the mid ’70s, she was already pregnant with the twins. Our doctor was in Toronto and everything was set for her to deliver in a Toronto hospital. The timing of the move was unfortunate, but unavoidable.

She started to show symptoms that her time was coming close, despite the fact that it was a month early. Since I was writing for the Welland paper, I didn’t have to actually be in town all the time, so we went to Toronto and stayed with a friend for a few days until Val went into labour. An x-ray had previously revealed she was having twins (I think doctors have gotten wussy about stuff like this and don’t do x-rays on pregnant women any more), so there was no reason to believe there would be any surprises in the delivery.

We checked in and filled out the paper work which, at that time, still included a question about religion. Naturally, I wrote down “The Process: Church of the Final Judgement.”

1967. Mary Tyler Moore meets Father Malachi in England. (Click for larger image.)

We’d both been members of this particular cult since the late ’60s, and while there was no denying that it was a cult, it certainly wasn’t a cult in any oppressive sense. People joined and left as they saw fit, often with the encouragement of the priests and priestesses themselves who believed you should go where you felt most comfortable when it came to religion. My mother even joined — and climbed further up the hierarchy than I did.

It had, however, garnered some bad publicity through the common belief (fostered by the media, especially the Toronto Sun) that we worshipped Satan.

Not true — but not entirely untrue.

The church’s doctrine (put very briefly) was that God was all-inclusive, and that the Human Game consisted of a re-uniting of Christ and Satan. When the Final Judgement came, God’s love would be great enough that all would be saved, including Satan. (See end of the article for more information on The Process.)

On top of an odd, but basically unexceptional theology, The Process also had a great regard for humour. Laughter and jokes were an integral part of our way of life, although I’m not denying that in the upper levels there was a lot of tension — tension that would eventually lead to the great Schism in 1974. But in general, the Processean life was pretty easy-going.

I still remember one Christmas party in which Father Malachi sat in a chair with a large book in front of him,reading the story of “What Virginia Got for Christmas,” in which the central character built a silken chute from the fireplace to her bed. As he read, Malachi would frequently look at the laughing audience and admonish us: “I did not come here to be tittered at.”

What I’m saying, I guess, is that The Process was about as threatening as a Baptist tea party.

The delivery itself went all right. Knowing that they were going to be premature, we’d arranged things so that when Val was released, we would have them transported to the Welland hospital where we could be close to them as they were cared for.

Except, when the time came, we were told that they were no longer our children, but had been put into the custody of Children’s Aid. With no idea why (all we were told was that it was a matter of the children’s health), Val and I took the matter to court, and a hearing was arranged a few weeks later.

Needless to say, the next few weeks were emotionally draining, topped off by the fact that we had no idea how to prepare ourselves since all anyone would tell us was that they were concerned we would damage the babies’ health. But as far as we knew, we’d done everything by the book.

Finally, the day of the hearing came. We sat on one side of the courtroom in the Jarvis Street Family Court building with a Legal Aid lawyer who had no more knowledge of the case than we did.

On the other side was a team of imposing lawyers in suits.

The judge asked the imposing lawyers in suits to explain their case, which they did. After some opening remarks about the importance of protecting vulnerable children, they got to the root of the matter.

“Your honour,” they said, “the parents belong to a Satan-worshipping cult, and we have concerns that they may wish to eat the babies.”

Eat the babies!

Eat the babies?

After all our conjecture on what they were actually charging us with, it turned out that they were afraid we would eat the babies?

The judge then turned to us and said, “Is there anything you have to say?”

Gotta admit, though. Does look appetising.

And here, word for word, is what I replied: “This is the first we’ve heard the charges against us, your honour. I’d just like to say that we already have a baby at home, and we have so far managed to avoid eating her. Besides, I don’t believe we even have any recipes.”

That was the extent of my defence.

As it turned out, it was also pretty well the extent of the hearing.

It seems like it was just a few minutes later we were standing in bewilderment outside the courtroom, still trying to come to grips with the fact that the charges had been dropped, and that we could have our babies back.

The Children’s Aid, previously on the side of the enemy, suddenly became our staunch ally. A worker accompanied us to the hospital when we picked up the twins, then charged ahead of us all the way out the building, like one of those blocker guys on a football field. Personally, I didn’t believe anyone was going to jump us in the halls, but she wasn’t taking any chances. (I suspect Children’s Aid had been as much in the dark about the details of the case as we’d been, and were somewhat furious when they finally found out.)

That’s really all there is to this story. We got the twins back to Welland where they stayed in the Welland hospital until they were strong enough to be sent home.

And true to our word, we never did eat them. They presently live in China where they’ve been earning a living playing bagpipes for the past five years or so.

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Process Information.

Wikipedia has a short and essentially factual description of The Process Church of the Final Judgement. There are a couple of things I’d question. Certainly the idea that we believed in a hierarchy of angels, demons and such was something I never heard about. It’s true, however, that after the Schism in 1974 the organisation went through a number of incarnations, ending up as the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. (The Process always had a strong interest in animal welfare and was a strong voice against vivisection in England.)

The Religious Tolerance site has a nice piece on The Process, mostly taken from the work of Bill Bainbridge, a sociologist who stayed with The Process fo a while and wrote about them in a book called Satan’s Power (recognised among Processeans as being quite fair and knowledgeable).

For a true insider’s point of view, however, I highly recommend the posts about The Process found on Skepth’s blog, Skeptical Theurgist. Here are the links to his Process posts. They are well-written, thoughtful, critical, and intensely honest.

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