My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Answering An Atheist 

My critique of "The Golden Compass" drew the ire of a "fan". Daryl has kindly joined the debate. His first contribution to the discussion was this:

Michael, i am an atheist and i think you are a dumbass.

That is all.P.S. i dont beleive in god because the it is all bullshit, and Jesus never existed either.

Hey, I didn't say he elevated the debate--I just said he joined the debate (by the way, you can check the whole thing in the comments under my Critique.)

After I answered with a bit of sarcasm (admittedly, not my most charitable moment), I charged him with this thought:

. . .your visceral, emotional response to this indicates a deeply defensive reaction to my points. I suspect I struck a chord a little closer to the truth than you are comfortable with.

Which led to a LENGTHY reply from Daryl. I have decided to put him on the main page of the blog to further the debate, and so I can answer his points directly.

I honestly just think that some people take religion too seriously. Including, it would seem, atheists. Were it the sort of thing that should not be taken too seriously, then Michael Newdow and others would not spend so much time and energy trying to litigate the Pledge of Allegiance and even the Declaration of Independence out of our schools. In no way is this movie innapropriate for children but you say that parents should not allow their kids to watch it without them? You try to make all these points about how when a person dies their daemon dies too and you say that its clear what the message is behind that but honestly what do you prefer to see happen? Someone dies and then the animal flies up to the sky or in the case of someone considered "evil" dies a stairway to hell opens and you watch the animal run down it? First off, I only made one point, not "all these points"; secondly, I would prefer to see the daemon follow the path of any of the hundreds of major mythologies and religions the world has known--they could reattach to a baby somewhere, rejoin a pool of daemons in some other region, or even simply wander off. But it makes no sense (absent atheism) for this independent entity to just wink out of existence--even ancient legends of "familiars" didn't ever have the animal die. And as for saying how the movie copied other movies such as lord of the rings, how do you expect the director to introduce the beginning story to those who have not read the book? it was necessary.Tons of movies have started like this and in the future im sure many more will. The problem is once a thing has been done in a readily identifiable way, you should have the good sense (as an artist) not to copy it. It's like trying to record a song once Sinatra or Streisand has--go ahead, but you'd better do it really really well. You also complained about when Mrs. Coulter turns out to be Lyra's mother you were mouthing a starwars quote as if they are copying something from star wars. The truth is there are hundreds of stories, movies, video games etc. where a person doesnt know who there parent(s) are and ends up finding out later that it is someone they have been against the whole time, the story of star wars is nothing like the golden compass i do not even know why you would bother to compare them. Again, not comparing the stories-simply saying that you are going to employ a story device after its been done famously, you'd better do it really well and somewhat originally. And also, you complain about the music, I personally as a classical guitarist myself found the music to be quite well done. And obviously since you dont care at all to listen to the artists work that he put into this movie, you only care to try and find as many flaws as you can with a film that has some anti religious messages to it, you fail to realise that in todays music market, repetition sells. Well, two things--first, if you read a little more carefully, I actually gave the music some credit for quality: my beef was with its use; and secondly, a classical guitarist (and I assume you're talking about Andres Segovia here, not Eric Clapton) should not be making points about the quality of a piece of music by placing it in the context of today's popular music. listen to the radio, pretty much every hit song is going to be a repetition of a few basic chords because people like being able to hum along to a song, and beleive it or not most people will be able to hum along to a song after hearing it a few times. I can still hum the melody from Lord of the Rings and I havent seen those films in over a year. But if you listen to the movies closely, you only hear the actual heroic theme in its entirity once; you only hear the theme of Minas Tirith once, etc. . . all the other employments of those themes are limited, and in the context of the changes within the movie. The music in LOTR becomes a story-telling device, almost like in opera; there was no similar effect in "Compass" As evidence shows thats what a vast majority of the world would consider to be goddamned good music. Not at all sure what this line means. Oh, well.

At this point, Daryl stops critiqueing my critique of the craft of the movie. Everything I wrote on those points are, of course, subjective, and quite open to debate. I do, however, take some comfort in the fact that most media critics' opinions have been more in line with mine. And note: Daryl never makes an effort of actually pointing out the strengths of the movie (with the possible exception of the music thing) to make his points--also, in line with the critics.

However, perhaps the dumbest thing you said in your review is the stuff about atheism. Its so dumb that I dont even know where to begin. First off, no, I dont believe in religion. Just becuase there are alot of stories that are anti religious doesnt for a second mean that atheists still believe in it. The fact is Religion is the best story ever created, it has made more money for any organization (the church mainly) than anything in existence and in the capitalist economy that we live in today some writers and directors are deciding they would like to cash in on it as well. So far, how's that working out for the anti-religious people? If memory serves, "Da Vinci Code," while a smash success book (though a far weaker one than Dan Brown's other one "Angels and Demons") was a massive flop in both its craft and at the box office; and "Compass" is on its way to MAYBE breaking even at the box office--a huge disappointment. I understand that some see a market for anything vaguely religious, but the fact is fairly clear: success comes to those who start with great stories and good craft before wandering into the religious implications ("Narnia" and "Passion of the Christ" come to mind).

"The atheist who hates being "contolled" by a 2000 year old book would be far, FAR more troubled by the control of a state that reinvents right and wrong every other week."

That right there also points out the other big reason why I dont believe in or like religion in any way. Over time people change, values change our beliefs change. Following some book that was written 2000 years ago in a society that is nothing like today is just plain dumb. Hmm. So, I suppose it is equally dumb to follow the tenets of a document that was written over 200 years ago--or, for that matter, given the pace of technological change in today's world, even 50 years ago. You begin to see the slippery slope you get on: if you can only evaluate the value of a thing within the context for which it was written, than you can constantly reinvent whatever tenets you "believe" in. Suddenly, because it no longer fits with how society was in 1787, little doctrines like Freedom of Speech and Separation of Powers can be discarded--in the interest of "progress." That, of course, is why if you don't moor your philosophy to the underpinnings of foundational doctrine, you can't ever be said to have a guiding philosophy. And, while that might work for "progressives", if you look at the last hundred years of history, you would have a tough time making the case that that kind of "progress" has been uniformly beneficial. In my opinion it is the religious people who have troubles living in a world that is changing, that is why you people would deny rights to homosexuals, are against medications that save lives and are the cause of most of the wars this earth has seen (not just christianity but all religions). And yet, thinking back over the course of the last century, by far the greatest violence was perpetrated by committed atheists (Stalin or Pol Pot) or by those who only used religion as a means to identify their victims (Hitler). Even the first Great War was strictly an issue of revenge and honor (and stupid treaty obligations)--nothing at all to do with religion. The American Civil War, the Revolution, the French Revolution, the Hundred Years' War--none of these major conflicts of mankind had anything to do with religion. On the other hand, the 1st aid organizations on the scene in Darfur, in Rwanda, and in other places around the world that are torn apart by war are the religious ones--Samaritan's Purse, Catholic Charities, etc. . .

I have no illusion that the history of religion--even Christianity--has been blameless. Like all human institutions, religion has suffered its share of human failings. But it is also the source of a great deal of the good in the world, and provides for its adherents Hope that their lives--both temporal and eternal--have meaning, purpose, and a chance to be better. It is a conscious choice I make to believe--if I am wrong, my acts on this earth will still be better than they otherwise would have been, and my outlook for the future will be full of Hope and promise, which makes me be a better person; the choice you make has, as its end product, darkness and death--even if you are right, that is a bleak, meaningless existence.

as ive said before, Michael I am an atheist and I think you are a dumbass. That is all.

Oh, and, of course, we must return to the eloquence.

P.S. even if you just had the review minus the religious crap at the end of it, your review would still suck.

I have no illusions that Daryl is convinceable on this count--either about religion or about the movie. He is, for some reason, invested in it, and that is his choice.

My hope is that there are people who have not committed to one position or the other, who are fairly regularly bombarded with the other side of the argument, who read this and get to hear this side of the argument.

And then they can make a free choice for themselves.

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