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John Jones

Hear, hear! Re: the "abdication of the responsibility to understand reality" - I have a friend I became reacquainted with after about 20 years who subscribes to this "What is real?" nonsense and it drives me freakin insane.

The second I start steering a discussion of religion in the direction of "reality", the whole thing immediately gets derailed with a barrage of deepities and typically ends with the "agree to disagree" shut-up truce.

Very frustrating. Thanks for the great post.

Mark A. Siefert

What did you expect? Despite the claims of the Christian Reich, Hollywood doesn't like atheists any more than the Republican Party does. (When was the last positive portrayal of an atheist you saw on TV or in a movie?) The only difference is that the New Agey celebrities who are the movers and shakers in Tinseltown tend to prefer the "cosmic muffin" notion of God over the hick conservative's "hairy thunderer."

Of course, in the end, both notions are utter bullcrap.

Steve Caldwell

Mark Siefert wrote:
"What did you expect? Despite the claims of the Christian Reich, Hollywood doesn't like atheists any more than the Republican Party does. (When was the last positive portrayal of an atheist you saw on TV or in a movie?)

Dr. Ellie Arroway in "Contact" -- she's was a positive portrayal of skeptical scientific atheist.

Iamcuriousblue

"The epistemology is in the toilet. The closest approximation to an actual "Here's why I think God exists" reason is a Catholic priest offering the First Cause argument. And he offers it in the most simplistic, half-assed, Theology for Dummies way imaginable: essentially saying, "Well, gee, all this had to come from something, didn't it?" Any competent atheist could shoot it down in seconds. ("If things don't just come out of nothing and everything has to have been created, then who created God? And if God always just existed or somehow came into being out of nothing, then why can't that be true for the universe?" See how I did that?)"

I had one blog argument with somebody advancing a variation on this (in this comments thread, starting at Comment 4), basically, that existence ultimately needed an "uncaused cause", and that the "uncaused cause" was none other than God. To this day, I can't quite fathom what this person's reasoning was – basically some version of Zeno's Paradox that argues an infinite chain of causes is ultimately impossible.

In any event, if I'm not mistaken, modern scientific cosmology has mooted the eternal universe hypothesis, since most evidence points to the idea that Time and the Universe actually had a discrete beginning. Not a theistic beginning, mind you, but a beginning nevertheless. As with most cosmology and cutting-edge physics, I'm afraid the nature of the proofs for this idea are a bit beyond me.

Iamcuriousblue

This comments thread, I mean:

http://trevorburrus.wordpress.com/2007/05/26/the-best-arguments-for-gods-existenceand-why-they-fail-the-cosmological-argument/#comments

Llewellyn Reese
Dr. Ellie Arroway in "Contact" -- she's was a positive portrayal of skeptical scientific atheist.

But after the "alien technology" craft takes them "away", Ellie Arroway and her companions return, and describe encounters with people they thought dead. Their experiences sound remarkably similar to certain Hollywood depictions of the after life. And there's no evidence they ever went anywhere. Their recording equipment recorded nothing. Yet they continue to believe in this unevidenced experience for the rest of the story.

Spacesocks

I saw the trailer last night at the theater. I think that this kind of "there are no real differences between any of the 'true' religions" ecumenicalism is just as annoyingly dogmatic as fundamentalism (except obviously with less killing, which is good). My "favorite" part was when Hugh Jackman says, "If you put Buddha, Jesus Christ, Socrates, Shakespeare, Arjuna, and Krishna at a dinner table together, I can't see them having any argument." Facepalm. Yeah, way to value diversity. Let's just smush everything together and then pretend it all boils down to the same happy platitudes.

Randall

Actually, it's true. If you sat Buddha, Jesus, Socrates, Shakespeare, Arjuna and Krishna at the same table they couldn't possibly argue.

I'd be surprised if any two of them spoke the same language.

Snoof
(When was the last positive portrayal of an atheist you saw on TV or in a movie?
Dr. Ellie Arroway in "Contact" -- she's was a positive portrayal of skeptical scientific atheist.
So, more than ten years ago?
Freak

How about Temperance Brennan (Bones)?

the chaplain

Well, the main character of House is supposed to be an atheist (on the show, although I think he is in real life, too). As far as I know, he hasn't had any woo experiences like Dr. Arroway (either on-screen or in reality).

All that aside, I'll give this movie a pass, as I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to refrain from yelling, kicking things, throwing popcorn in the air and just generally giving atheists a bad name. Not that such behavior wouldn't be justified, mind you, but it's best to avoid temptation.

amhovgaard

Both House and Bones are portrayed as damaged, cynical, more or less incapable of normal human emotional reactions and social contact - and of course, way too intelligent to be "normal". But since the other TV/movie atheist stereotype is a sociopath, I guess that counts as "positive"...

Clare

I think that trailer may have ruined Hugh Jackman for me. :/

Freak

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HollywoodAtheist

Quick look through that and the only positively portrayed atheist appears to be Maddy from Moonlighting.

JL

"When was the last positive portrayal of an atheist you saw on TV or in a movie?"

Brian Griffin from Family Guy.

Capt. Mel Reynolds from Firefly.

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek TNG (yeah, an old example, but I only recently got into Trek).

Alex

If you could get any theist to confide privately, I always imagine that they would say "Yes, I know that religion, my religion, all religion, causes war and suffering.
But all believers want to achieve peace and harmony. And religion is the only way to get there." [end of thought process for all time] They cannot be definition and design see any other way of thought that could possibly result in a better world.
And this makes me feel hopeless and tired.

Ebonmuse

What I find most interesting is that the producers of this film clearly didn't have any idea they were doing this. No doubt, they thought that they were producing something profound and meaningful - and if you pointed out to them that their masterwork consists of a collection of vacuous platitudes and happy-clappy glossing over the real differences among competing religions, they'd be nonplussed.

This says a lot about the epistemology they brought to the project. As Greta observed, religious moderates and liberals are just like religious fundamentalists - they start out with the conclusion they intend to reach, namely that all religions are the same - and then do just enough research to circle back around to that point. Their conclusions may be different from fundamentalists, but their methods are very much the same. But the more that atheists are willing to call them out on this, the harder I think it will be for them to get away with it.

Bruce Gorton

JL | November 30, 2009 at 10:06 AM

Brian is an alchoholic. Admittedly the rest of the Family Guy crew are screwed up - but still not really a positive portrayal.

Mal is the "Dead sister" type atheist, which has its own problems.

Picard is cool though.

A name I would add to the list, even though it is British, Nick Angel of Hot Fuzz.

Jonestein

"Mal is the "Dead sister" type atheist, which has its own problems."

Never heard it put that way...right on the money though. If the Independent's command hadn't surrendered and hung him out to dry at Serenity Valley, he'd likely still be kissing that crucifix he sported around his neck.

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