Saturday, 19 February 2011

Insight into Atheism provided by Hollywood

The movie The Invention of Lying stars British comedian Ricky Gervais, famous as the awful boss on The Office. Sometimes, the funniest aspect of Gervais' portrayal was the character's absolute lack of humor. His deadpan depressing and pessimistic view of everything caused him to behave inappropriately in many situations. This was often as funny as it was uncomfortable to watch. In ...Lying Gervais' character is meant to be interpreted more sympathetically, but he carries with him all the cynicism that made him so bizarre in The Office.

At first the movie tracks with anything else Gervais has done: it is an opportunity for him to do weird things while the audience watches in horror from the other side of the lens. Then, the movie takes a different turn and becomes a message movie. When this change happens, Gervais (who also wrote the script) creates happiness from lies. The world he originally occupied, unspoilt by lies, is a depressingly awful place, where every single line uttered by any character is either an insult, depressing, or an expression of utter stupidity, vice, or corruption. Then he starts to lie and everything changes: people have hope, they smile, they have reasons to engage in moral behavior. Ironically, this is something they didn't have until lies gave them their motivation.

The turning point is when Gervais tries to console his mother as she dies in a nursing home. Clearly, he is the only character in the movie troubled with the emotion Dr. Spock so uncomprehendingly described as "love" on Star Trek, and it is this that inspires Gervais to lie to his mother so that she can die happy. It is here that Gervais essentially becomes Moses. He later acquires a group of visual artifacts to cement the image, in case you missed it: A white robe, a beard, flowing hair, and the ten commandments.

Gervais' mother is afraid that she will shortly be faced with an eternity of oblivion. His "lie" is that she won't experience an eternity of oblivion. Instead, she will be met by all of her former friends, will live in a mansion, and that all will be well--later explained as a reward for having lived a good life. After she dies, Gervais is surrounded by mobs who want to know more about "what happens after you die". He replies with more "lies" that resemble descriptions of NDEs, Heaven, and God as we would know them. The descriptions aren't an exact match. "All" of one's friends meet us when we die, the "man in the sky" gives us heaven as a reward for all the nasty things he does to us while we are alive, and we each are given a mansion to live in when we arrive in Heaven. These childish misunderstandings aside, the movie is clearly meant to represent an atheist's understanding of religion and the kind of people who believe in God.

As Gervais has written it, "God" is created as a matter of expediency in a moment of crisis for the purpose of cheering a person about to be obliterated forever. Beyond this, every single person who believes his lies about The Man in the Sky, Heaven, etc, are utter simpletons for being so honest that they are gullible easy prey for the machinations of any person who seeks to take advantage of them. Their honesty, in this case, is their greatest weakness. In another way it could be looked at as a symptom of their gullibility. They are too guileless, too unintelligent, to imagine a creative solution to any problem even if it means creating a lie of some kind to accomplish it.

Gervais has the kind of personality that is renowned for its unattractive attributes. It is difficult for me to imagine any person, regardless of their position on the atheism/theism scale, wanting him to represent their interests. He has, however, done an excellent job of putting on film the attitude of atheism as it relates to people who are not atheists. The attitude is one of derision for those who deserve it because of their lack of art, their singular gullibility, lack of intelligence, and complete lack of "critical thinking skills."

To make such a film requires no knowledge about the subject. This is to say, it can only be done if there is no knowledge. If Gervais actually knew much at all about religious beliefs of any kind, he could not have written this movie. Watching the movie last night made me think of the God and religion thread, and made me wonder how many of our skeptic friends here share Gervais' vision of the non-atheist masses. When the thought came to mind, I also wondered how many would be willing to own to this attitude, even if they had it. The point of this is not to complain, but to reflect. If anyone does believe that religious people are religious or simply believe in God, a Creator, or some other universal stand-in out of credulity or some other stand-in for stupidity, please consider first how much you actually know about the subject.

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