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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Atheist Movie Advances Minority

I haven’t seen a movie that focused explicitly on religion that didn’t have an atheist character that was generally portrayed in a negative fashion. Take C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia adaptations. Skepticism and doubt about the magical nature of Narnia and its existence was seen as a bad thing from the first movie released (not chronologically the first, but we won’t get into that). Edmund’s skepticism in "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" about the magic in Narnia is slowly withered away. I can respect the idea of experiencing something and maybe slowly coming to accept it, but just because one is skeptical and regards things believed in without apt evidence as questionable should not be a reason to judge someone as less trustworthy themselves ethically or such things. It’s that sort of attitude towards atheists that director Matthew Chapman is trying to dissuade, similar in some ways to how Ang Lee was trying to give a new perspective on gays in 'Brokeback Mountain," I loved that movie and would probably like it even more now with my continued appreciation of gay people and their struggles on a day to day basis, only somewhat relatable myself, since I chose my beliefs, but my gay friends did not choose their attractions, they only chose to accept them. The film "The Ledge," which debuted at the Sundance Movie Festival this year, promises to be a dramatic experience, pitting an atheist anti-hero against a Christian anti villain of sorts (that’s a bit more debatable even by Christian standards if I understand what this character does in the film even slightly). There’s romance, betrayal, suspense and everything else and thrown into all of it is a series of conversations between a strong evangelical Christian with marital issues and the atheist who seduces the Christian’s wife and could be said to liberate her from what appears to be an abusive relationship, at least from what the trailer presents to the viewer.

The overall intent of the film being to advance atheists as a minority is admirable, but many might say that the character in the film, from what I’ve seen of clips, is still a stereotypical “angry atheist”, raging and railing against all the atrocities and illogic that exists in Christian history and doctrine respectively or similarly. Of course, the Christian character, they might admit, is a bad person, since even the trailer implies that he is threatening to kill his wife and himself if the atheist who seduced the wife doesn’t stand up on a ledge for a couple of hours and then jump off, killing himself. The psychological attack upon the atheist’s disbelief in an afterlife and the satisfaction the character might be getting only makes him seem that much more hated a character. Of course that stereotype is not necessarily always manifest in such a direct way. But in the few scenes I’ve seen between the Christian and atheist, there are presumptions and lines of attack on the atheist, saying that he isn’t seeing things the right way, is misguided and otherwise cannot truly be fulfilled if he doesn’t accept God and Jesus into his life.  

The woman is in the middle of all this, is not explicitly said to be a Christian or not for purposes of drawing the viewer to watching the whole film (and paying money). Similarly, there is a police/detective character who is talking to the atheist character, telling him that he shouldn’t kill himself and then slowly learning the actual events behind the man’s life that led him to this decision based on his love for the woman. It could be said that the atheist is more heroic in that he appreciates life much more since he is willing to even consider sacrificing himself to stop the Christian villain from killing the woman and himself in a twisted murder suicide rooted in infidelity and insecurity about the stability of one’s relationship. The religious beliefs or lack thereof of the other two important characters are important, but the main focus from the trailer is emphasizing that Christians 
are not always in a morally superior position, nor are atheists less morally aware of things.

People will argue back and forth about the stereotypes, atheist and Christian alike. Of course the movie isn’t meant to present a catch all representation of either atheists or Christians, but simply tell a story where a genuine Christian uses their beliefs to justify testing people and is therefore a villainous character. Christians may respond that this isn’t a real Christian, since he wouldn’t take it upon himself to judge the atheist in some twisted game where life and death are in the balance. And atheists can say that the main hero doesn’t necessarily fit a general bill of atheism, since not all atheists disbelieve in an afterlife, whereas the trailer seems to imply this atheist in particular doesn’t believe in an afterlife, adding more qualifications onto atheism than the basic one of disbelief in God.  But at the end of the day, the goal is met in communicating that sacrifice is not unique to Christians with their martyr founder in any sense. Any allegations that atheists could not be motivated to give up things for others in a big way like the movie portrays are from people that think that the movie exaggerates atheists to be more than they are. In some sense, perhaps this is true, but atheists are human beings like anyone else and love can make them do crazy things. This doesn’t undermine the validity of their beliefs or give them any more strength. It simply shows that there is more common ground than many presume about theists and atheists about ethics. I’ll keep my eye on this movie for the future. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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