Monday, February 12, 2007

Reactions to "The God Who Wasn't There"

Our viewing of the guerilla documentary The God Who Wasn't There was a resounding success, with a large and diverse turnout that included law students, faculty, and even a local pastor. After the film, I briefly opened the floor for discussion. Here are some reactions from the audience:
  • The film does an excellent job of drawing attention to the historical gap between the supposed death of Jesus circa 32 CE and the writing of the Gospels circa 70 CE, and highlights some of the inconsistencies between New Testament accounts of Jesus' life. In so doing, it raises pertinent questions that merit real intellectual debate. However, some felt that the filmmaker should have given theologians an opportunity to provide their own explanations instead of forcing the audience to accept those of the narrator.
  • The film should have devoted much more time to exploring the concept of Jesus as an allegorical figure derived from the popular pagan savior mythology of the period. This is a particularly compelling argument against the historical case for Christ, and one that is rarely offered by atheists.
  • The film's shift towards filmmaker Brian Flemming's personal experiences with fundamental Christianity detracts from its overall effectiveness and validates criticism of the film as an obvious propaganda piece made by a person with an ax to grind.
  • Similarly damaging are many of the cheap shots Flemming takes, such as quoting particularly insane biblical passages (of which there is no shortage in the Old Testament) out of context or juxtaposing ebullient Christians with the likes of Charles Manson.
  • One person felt that Flemming should have counterbalanced his attacks with "all the good things one gets from a Christian upbringing" (namely, morality); I didn't want to debate this point because it wasn't directly related to the film, but countless studies have demonstrated that morality and religion are not mutually inclusive (in fact, in the US, they seem to have an inversely correlative relationship; see Societies worse off "when they have God on their side"). There are clear evolutionary advantages to being a "moral" person. See, for example, eminent biologist Richard Dawkins' documentary Nice Guys Finish First.
  • The film's interviews with random Christians, all of whom were caught off guard when asked specific questions about first century Christianity and ancient pagan savior figures, brought mixed reactions. Some felt that ambushing believers on the street was unfair and unbalanced, and that theologians should have been interviewed; others (myself included) felt that, although theologians would have obviously been much more articulate in their views, it was appropriate to pick everyday Christians because they are representative of the vast majority of believers.
  • Some objected to the montage of violent scenes from the "Passion of the Christ" as gratuitous and/or another cheap shot. I felt that it was effective in showing the extent to which a n obsession with suffering and death pervades Christianity, albeit subconsciously.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Altruism

"Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish." – Richard Dawkins

In keeping with this theme, in addition to watching The God Who Wasn't There, we will be celebrating Darwin Day with the kickoff of our clothing drive. Donations will be sorted and sent to several secular charities in Virginia and West Virginia.

For a fascinating discussion of the role of altruism in natural selection, see Dawkin's The Selfish Gene (available for perusal at Carrel 110) and the following documentary: