Most horror/sci-fi fans are familiar with the works of Larry Cohen, stuff like, well… The Stuff, not to mention It’s Alive, Q-The Winged Serpent, and Maniac Cop. But God Told Me To is often overlooked. Maybe it’s the gritty non-fantastical cop drama that takes up about half of the film. Maybe it’s the challenging religious conflict which defines the main character, a detective who adores his live-in girlfriend, yet who still feels compelled to attend daily mass and refuses to divorce his estranged, possibly deranged, wife. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s scenes like the one where a glowing space hermaphrodite shows up with his… um, lady parts hanging off his rib cage. I hear that kind of thing can throw some people off.
Whatever the reason, it’s too bad, because there’s a lot of big concepts mixed in amongst the questionable prosthetics and cheap looking flying saucers. “The idea was that if an alien came down to earth what would be the easiest way to take us over?” Cohen explained in an interview with Twitch. “And of course the answer is that linking itself to the Christian faith would sway the largest number of people the quickest. It's not a dig at religion, it's a dig at the way people abuse power and blindly follow their leaders or believe whatever they’re told by other people.” Basically, the alien takes advantage of a lack of discernment on the part of the people who fall for his (hers/its/whatever) faux-messiahship and commands them to go out and kill.
This week’s readings all deal with people hearing, or asking to hear, God speak to them, something we’re still expected to do to this day. But when the response comes, how do we know it’s the voice of God and not something else? Not necessarily sexually ambiguous aliens, you know, but maybe our own wants and desires. According to the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia “discernment of spirits may be obtained through study and reflection… It is procured, always, of course, with the assistance of grace, by the reading of the Holy Bible, of works on theology and asceticism, of autobiographies, and the correspondence of the most distinguished ascetics.” But if we haven’t gotten to all that yet, William A. Barry, SJ suggests a simpler approach. “In Ignatius’s rules for the discernment of spirits, his first piece of advice is to ascertain the orientation of your life: Am I straying from the right path, or am I trying to live a decent Christian life?… If we are trying to live as friends of God, we can trust that our experience is of God’s Spirit when we find ourselves more alive, more peaceful, more energized, and also more concerned about others than about ourselves as a result of the experience.” While not an absolute guarantee that we’ve discerned correctly, this approach gives some assurance that we’ve heard God correctly and are doing what He told us to.