Apparently, atheists and Christians have the same problem when it comes to art.
I surmise that from the following article at Debunking Christianity wherein the author, Jonathan MS Pearce, asks, Why aren’t there more atheistic films? What’s an “atheistic film” you ask? The possible list is actually quite varied. For instance, Pearce cites what he considers “the first openly atheistic film”:
The superb The Invention of Lying by Ricky Gervais had some extraordinarily good scenes (the 10 Commandments scene is one of my favourite all-time scenes) and I would hail it as the first openly atheistic film.
Commenters submitted such films as Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Bridge to Terabithia, The Grey, Sidney Lumet’s, 12 Angry Men, Bedazzled, even Coneheads, for consideration in the “atheistic films” category.
Pearce also links to The Secular Web and a compilation of what they consider “atheist films.” Interestingly enough, there’s only 5 listed, which I suppose proves their point that open atheism is a hard sell in Hollywood. Those films are
- The Handmaid’s Tale
- Monty Python’s Life of Brian
- Wise Blood
- The Rapture
I’ve seen the majority of the films listed above and must say, I’m puzzled as to how they can be described as atheistic. But I’ll have to blog about that another time.
So what defines an “atheistic film”? Here’s where things get sticky. In fact, atheists seem to have the same problems defining “atheistic art” as Christians have with defining “Christian art.” For instance, Pearce suggests that “anything supernatural, magical or mysterious” cannot occur in an atheistic film, as supernaturalism contradicts an atheistic worldview. (Please note: I’ve suggested just the opposite in regards to Christian art.) Thus,
…in order to delve into such ideas of philosophy and religion, an atheistic film would more likely be a character driven drama than a special effects blockbuster with undertones of the supernatural or suspension of belief.
Notice the assumption that an “atheistic film” must “delve into such ideas of philosophy and religion” that, ultimately, articulate or demonstrate an atheistic outlook. This is the exact — though ideologically inverse — position of the Christian. Christian films and Christian fiction are also expected to “delve into such ideas of philosophy and religion” that comport to the biblical worldview. The problem being, in both cases, in order for a film or novel to be considered either atheist or Christian, dogma or beliefs must be articulated. In this way, atheists suffer the same intangibles as Christians in defining their art.
Pearce quotes (typos aplenty) one commenter wrestling with this tenuous intersection:
… i think the matter is related to how much an artist would want to put a clear and direct message in his film, without utlilizing ambiguity, which is not considered a good idea by most serious artists, i mean, the usual highbrow look towards films is that it is a fully rejected idea to make a film that hammers a point or a message and tries to squeeze down the audience throats… in my opinion, film watching (or reading books, or receiving any work of art in general) is a matter of exploration, the eventual work of art will be something that was jointly built by both the artist and the watcher, which requires leaving room for ambiguity, in order to give the viewer the chance to fill the gaps and personalize this work of art, that’s why, while i don’t specifically remmeber movied that directly make the case that God doesn’t exist, i certainly wouldn’t have considered such a film to be worth watching, at least for me, the artist has already mad ehis point, what is left for me to do?
I am SO fascinated by this. The commenter (I’m unsure what his/her religious or non-religious views are) shares the same position as me regarding the need for ambiguity in our art (see, for instance, An Argument for Ambiguity). So once again, it appears atheists and Christians are in the same boat when wrestling over how to incorporate beliefs and worldviews into their art.
Throughout the post and its comments, some recurring themes emerge defining what “atheistic films” might / should include: (1) a lead character who is an atheist, and (2) a dim view of religion. Once again, this is the diametric opposite of the Christian perspective. Just flip it: Christians define a “Christian film” as one which includes (1) a lead character who is [a believer], and (2) a [positive] view of religion. In other words, Christians and atheists are operating under the same premise, that art is a tool to further their ideologies.
Might I suggest that this is both groups’ problem. As long as we try to compress our worldviews into films and novels, not only are we turning our art into propaganda, we are making our worldviews “compressable,” doing terrible injustice to beliefs that are often far more nuanced and dreadfully important than any single book, novel, or character could encapsulate.
On this, Christians and atheists may be on common ground.