The journey to A LESSON OF LOVE began a decade ago when I started a relationship with a woman devoted to her faith. I was raised fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptist, but by the time I met her I was a practicing atheist. In the beginning all was fine, but eventually she asked “The Question” – Will you come to church with me? The answer is part of the central conflict between the film’s protagonist, Professor Thomas Moore, and the story’s love interest, Abigail Meeks. To make matters worse, Abigail’s ecstatic belief in God manifests in an unexpected sexual revelation that shocks Thomas and further complicates their relationship. My relationship ended after she decided she couldn’t love a man with no hope of following her into eternity.
A LESSON OF LOVE also explores the theme of suicide and what happens afterward; both to the dead and the living. My father took his life when I was 14. At the time I still believed in God, and my faith had strict prohibitions against self-murder with dire consequences for those committing the act. For years I struggled with the image of my father burning in the fiery lakes of Hell. This is Thomas’ core struggle: is his wife – who commits suicide to stop the excruciating pain of malignant brain cancer – burning in Hell at this moment and for all eternity, and could he have saved her from damnation by pulling the trigger.
The final theme of the film evolved after I accepted a professorship and moved to a small town in western Maryland. Frostburg is an old town surrounded by a beautiful Appalachian mountain landscape. Families have lived here since the founding of the United States. Before my father commited suicide he moved us around the country, so the idea of “setting down roots” is foreign to me, as it is to Thomas. Consequently, Thomas is attracted to Abigail’s love of family and strong bond to the two-century old house and land where she grew up.
Ultimately, A LESSON OF LOVE is a labor of love. It’s a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long time, and a story that resonates with many people who’ve loved someone on the opposite side of the faith vs. reason question. I’ve heard it said that if you take away God you destroy all the love in the world, but in the end we all must find our own answer to the question: Can love exist without God?