Sunday, April 8, 2012

On movie atheists

After some discussions with a friend, I've got some ideas bouncing around in my head, none of them original... in fact, I can't escape the feeling that I'm at least paraphrasing someone else. So, with that disclaimer:

There are 2 basic types of atheists depicted in movies.

The first is the person who used to have faith but lost it due to some personal tragedy; the death of a child seems a popular reason here. At any rate, there's no need to worry about this person, because by the end of the movie they will have regained their faith, and come to understand that it's not God's fault their child died, but was rather their own, that of an alcoholic/violent ex-spouse, or (more recently) the fault of dark-complexioned people who follow one of the 'wrong' religions. They will not hold God responsible in any way, and in fact may go so far as to say that it's all for the best, or that while they don't understand why it happened, they know there must be a reason, which they are apparently content never to find out.

(Insert rant here about the frequency with which 'divine justice' is presented as the explanation behind  "God kills a child, in order to teach an adult a Very Important Life Lesson.")

The other type of atheist is the sneering, condescending intellectual, most often a self-important professor, who openly and rudely (since atheists don't have good manners) mocks anyone with any religious belief whatever, and insults religion in general at the slightest excuse. At a critical point of the narrative, this person will either betray the heroes (because you can't have morals or ethics without religion, therefore atheists can't be trusted), abandon someone to a horrible fate in a shocking display of complete self-centeredness (because you can't have concern for other people or compassion of any kind without religion, therefore atheists only think of themselves) or reveal himself as a sniveling coward (because you can't have courage, moral or otherwise, without religion, therefore atheists crumble at the first sign of difficulty). This type of atheist is usually eaten by a velociraptor. Even in movies that don't otherwise feature dinosaurs. Their deaths will be presented in a way designed to make the audience cheer.

There are a few variations ("They only have about a dozen characters, but they mix them around a bit"), but those are the main two types. There might be exceptions out there, but personally I'm not aware of any popular movie that makes it clear that one character is an atheist while those around them are believers, that doesn't give the atheist a good solid comeuppance by the final reel. They're certainly never shown to have any moral strength.

Personally, I've known just as many manipulative creeps, cowards, and self-centered blowhards who happily mouthed bible verses the entire time, while looking down on anyone who didn't share their particular brand of belief, as I have obnoxious agnostics or arrogant atheists. But that's just me. Maybe I should be keeping an eye out for velociraptors, just in case.