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This is a collection of reviews of novels, movies, and other popular-culture items that centrally feature atheism or theological responses to atheism.
Cartoon by unknown; from here.
Kacper Chmielewski, Master's student at Bartlett School of Architecture in London, developed Atheistic Architecture, a design program meant to cherish the architectural brilliance of religion-oriented projects while better suiting the modern brilliance of post-religious thought. In effort to impart admiration for the details of the universe rather than the powers of deities, Chmielewski's designs foster the celebration of, and connection with, the natural world. Chmielewski is inspired by the philosophy of Alain de Botton and participates in the important conversation surrounding non-religious meaningfulness. Specifically, he calls for a replacement of outdated church paraphernalia with architecture varying in perspective, but not quality. Plenty of things are beautiful and secular, but Chmielewski's work presents something beautifully secular. See the profile here. [PD]
In Starke, Florida, the American Atheists placed the first Atheist monument in the United States at the Bradford County courthouse alongside a neighboring monument of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments monument, sponsored by a Christian organization called the Community Men’s Fellowship, won its place on the basis of free speech. The American Atheists then sought to give a response to the Ten Commandments monument by utilizing their own free speech with an atheist monument to illustrate to Christians that a plurality of voices exist in America, and when we talk about religious freedom, we should genuinely be supporting religious freedom for all religions as well as the freedom from religion. David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, even noted that the monument was not meant to be a direct attack on Christianity, just Christian privilege. Silverman’s point is valid, for it is Christian privilege in America that leads many Christians to forget that “religious freedom” does not mean “religious freedom for Christians only.” The American Atheists have, perhaps unwittingly, brought to light the question of how we as a nation should manage our boundaries between church and state. Will the courthouse allow all religions to have a monument, and what exactly constitutes a religion legitimate enough to merit a monument outside a government building? For news articles about the monument, see here and here. [KM]
Shades of deep maroon, purple, and black radiate from fourteen, large rectangular canvases that fill the eight walls of a small, natural-lit, octagonal building. It’s silent. The mood is meditative and calm. The sound of movement, when it does occur, resonates across the room and feels alien. The vibrations hit your ear unexpectedly, almost as if you had forgotten that motion was still possible. The dark hues refuse to be swallowed up in your gaze, and they force you to encounter them one by one.
This is Rothko Chapel.
Rothko Chapel is a small building in Houston, Texas designed by the great mid-century, American artist Mark Rothko. Rothko, best known for his innovations in the expressionist and color field movements, was commissioned by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil to design a total environment. Originally, the environment was to be a chapel for the Catholic University of St. Thomas in Houston. However, as the years went by, the projected transformed into the creation of a stand-alone chapel that would be dedicated as the first explicitly interreligious chapel in America. The space is intended as a place of mediation and reflection for those of all faiths or no faith at all. Many religious as well as atheist leaders have praised Rothko Chapel as a place where religious dogma has been dropt out in favor of contemplation, free thought, and cooperation. However, while Rothko molded the feel of the environment to encourage a search for something deeper, the black tones of his paintings illuminate his sense of the difficulty of such a search.
Rothko’s son Christopher has described his father’s career as a search for a universal language that could express the deepest depths of human emotion and consciousness. Rothko’s search for this language began early in his career with abstract form, then transitioned into color fields and blocks, and finally ended here: with no form, no shape, only colors painted one over another. The deeply atheistic, or what we might interpret as mystical, aspect of Rothko’s final work is the sense that if any universal language is possible it must be devoid of content altogether. Tragically, Rothko was never able to experience this space. On February 25, 1970, before construction was completed on the chapel, Rothko was found dead in his studio having committed suicide after overdosing on barbiturates.
Read more about the Chapel and its influence on subsequent artists, musicians, spiritual leaders and lay people alike here. [CM]
If atheism is seeing things for what they really are, the globally renowned graffiti artist Banksy is the artist exemplar of atheism. In his piece entitled Toxic Mary, the Madonna appears to be bottle-feeding the Christ child a poisonous substance. The art world is full of diverse "Madonna and Child" portrayals that cater to culture, ethnicity, economics, etc. In this piece, Mary seems to represent institutionalized religion, and given Banksy's words on subject, the substance given to Jesus represents the lies, the illusion, and the terror that poisons the essence of Jesus. Echoing Christopher Hitchens, "Religion poisons everything," even the Christ. See the work here. [HH]
The "Citizens Coalition of Anti-Christianity" placed an advertisement on the side of 18 buses in Seoul and the other capital area in 2010. There were two different ads, containing quotes from Einstein and Dawkins: “I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures (Einstein),” and “Man can be passionate and spiritual without believing in God (Dawkins).” However, the Bus Transportation Union decided in just 4 days to stop the ads because of strong opposition from Korean Christianity. Earlier, Freke’s book The Jesus Mysteries (whose Korean title is Jesus is a Myth) was forced out of print by the Church in 2002; and the four-part documentary God’s Way and Man’s Way, filmed by one of major broadcasters in Korea, which deals with the historical Jesus, the nature of religion, and the recent rise in religious pluralism, evoked, needless to say, a tremendous opposition from the Church, causing large scale demonstrations in front of the Broadcast Company for over a month and even terror threats on the Company in 2008.
I believe that the Church’s attitude to atheistic culture is so absurd that their ways to cope with it backfired. First, their logic against the atheistic products is contradictory. The Church is extremely sensitive to atheistic products including the ads and blames them, taking them as an instance of demonic culture and as an assault on the Church. However, by the same token, nearly all theistic ads, all church ads, and the propagandism of the Gospel are to be criticized for their aggressiveness as they usually say that nonbelievers are destined to go hell. While it is rare to see atheistic ads, theistic ads and Church propaganda are too widespread for us not to see them.
Moreover, the majority of the Korean Church has been trying to make the nation a Christian country, neglecting the duty of all to support a pluralistic society. For instance, the former President Myung-bak Lee, when he was a mayor of Seoul, said in public that he will dedicate the city to God as an offering. Although he was an elder of one of the biggest Presbyterian Churches, he should have not said so as a government official. The political power of the Korean Church is actually strong enough to exert great pressure on many individuals and organizations—the majority of the congressmen and high-ranking officials are Christians.
The Korean Church is setting the clock back and has been a primary cause of social conflicts. Meanwhile, economical, political, diplomatic, and cultural efforts have been being made at the state level to join the ranks of advanced countries in the 21st century. The churches, as a result, have become isolated from the civil society, yet church leaders think that they are finally going to conquer the entire country, forming their own ghetto, and wishing to make Korea to be their own paradise—they, of course, think of that paradise as for all. The public trust of the Church in Korea is lower than at any period of time. In order for the Church to recover public trust and be accepted as a part of the society, it should respect the other parts of the society, including atheists. [ECJ]
The creation of memes has become an Internet phenomenon. Memes in this context are pictures with superimposed pithy statements that coincide with the picture. Therefore, memes with a few words and a salient relating picture have the propensity to go viral within hours. Inasmuch as the atheist-memes website lacks aesthetic appeal, the potency of this website is found in its clever and politically incorrect memes. These memes are seemingly cathartic to an atheistic community that is bothered by the counterintuitive rationale of religiousness. The beauty of this website is that the statements concerning religion are raw and direct. [BM]
In iWonder of BBC, we can see innumerable articles of high quality regarding our various concerns such as history, earth, shopping, or travel. And, of course, religion & ethics as well. Although this site does not systematically organize the information – there are no categories or lists of information – they provide a variety of articles from radio, newspaper articles, editorials, academic research, and the like, and we can take advantage of them simply by searching the keyword we are interested in. For instance, we can find an introductory outline of atheism here. The greatest merit of this website is the content of articles is very neat and highly reliable. Plus, this site provides links to another important, large, and reliable websites such as British Humanist Association, Humanist Society of Scotland, and National Secular Society. [ECJ]
The website, freethunk.net, contains various atheistic media sources. In the linked section, there are several cartoons of atheistic perspectives on Christian doctrines. "Russell's Teapot" is the name of this series, and it comes from an analogy of Bertrand Russell. There are eleven cartoons in the series, and there might be more somewhere (the link on the website does not work). Each cartoon criticizes issues of Christian doctrine, such as providence, punishment, virgin birth, original sin, and miracle. Some cartoons also make cynical remarks on suffering, the existence of evil, Christian colonization and inconsistency of the Bible. These cartoons are quite biased toward atheism, are decidedly anti-religious, and present debatable issues interesting to anyone who has doubt about religious thought. From this series of cartoons, we can see how dubious religions are to atheists. [SBK]
Unbelievable? is a regular broadcast of Premier Christian Radio headquartered in the UK. While is it clear based on additional programming that Premier Christian Radio exists to "emphasise the beliefs and values that Christians generally hold in common," Unbelievable? is the apologetic branch of the network; it is a weekly air space in which Christians and "non-believers" discuss different perspectives. The host, Justin Brierley, is a self-proclaimed Christian; yet, he moderates these debates, or discussions, with attunement to the wide array of opinions in the world on the existence of God, the efficacy of the Bible, metaphysical claims of Christianity, etc. Though the title of the show tends to suggest other motives, I echo the promotional material; it is a "show that gets Christians and non-believers talking to each other." [HH]
Set in 19th century Russia, The Brothers Karamazov is a philosophical novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky in which he grapples with ethical debates regarding God, free will, and morality. Faith, doubt, and reason compete for primacy in the lives of three brothers. The chapter titled, "The Grand Inquisitor" is perhaps the most famous of the novel. In this chapter, Ivan, one of the brothers, questions whether God could possibly be personal and benevolent in the face of the problem of evil. Freedom, Ivan says, is extremely dangerous considering human nature. Throughout the book, Dostoevsky seems to acknowledge that a logical justification for suffering does not exist, but instead offers readers the characters of Father Zosima and Alyosha as the Christian response to the atheist question. [MHB]
Herman Melville's Moby Dick presents a complex narrative that blurs the distinction between atheism and religion. Captain Ahab seeks vengeance against the white whale in retribution for his leg (Ch. 41, Moby Dick). The whale's strength, according to Ahab, comes from his "inscrutable malice" (Ch. 36, The Quarter Deck). The inscrutability of the whale mirrors the impenetrability of God, the natural world, and the Fates (Ch. 132, The Symphony). Ahab strikes the whale in order to strike against these inscrutable and predestinating forces whether they are sourced from God or nature. Ahab rails against an indefinite God and nature. [JB]
The Golden Compass is the first young-adult fantasy novel within a trilogy that follows Lyra Belacqua in her search for her friend, Roger Parslow, and her uncle, Lord Asriel. This trilogy has sparked huge debates around its critique of Christianity and religion by setting the narrative within a corrupt theistic society. Peter Hitchens, an English Journalist and brother to Christopher Hitchens, views Pullman’s trilogy as a rebuttal to C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia series (Hitchens, Peter. "A labour of loathing" (Spectator article).The Spectator. Retrieved 21 September 2006). This narrative is an accessible way of starting a conversation on atheism within a wide age range of audiences. [NB]
“People do not choose to be atheist, they realize they are.” Recently featured on the NewYorkTimes.com Front Page, a left-leaning news source, this short OP-Doc (Opinion Piece Documentary) tells the story of a former Pentecostal pastor from Louisiana. After 24 years in the ministry, Jerry DeWitt “came out” to his Pentacostal congregation and family as an atheist; his son, Paul DeWitt describes this process as “social suicide.” Jerry DeWitt now leads an atheist “congregation” that meets in a local coffee house, and is active in various meetings, organizations, and conferences to advocate for the tolerance, acceptance, and truth of atheism. In the video, DeWitt describes the pervasiveness and dominance of the Christian identity within his community and discusses the difficulties associated with being known as an atheist; for example, he lost his (secular) job, his house was foreclosed upon, and his wife left him. [KS]
The film Contact is a science fiction movie based on Carl Sagan's novel, Contact. In this movie, there are several scientific concepts and signficant religious thought on display. Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway's ultimate goal is to find an intellectual extraterrestrial life. Her research was difficult to fund because she is unsociable as well as an atheist. However, after receiving a signal from outer space, specifically from the start system Vega, her research was watched by all the world with interest, and the government took access to the research away from her. From the signal, they found drawings of a complex machine for interstellar travel, and made the machine. Although the machine was destroyed by a suicide terrorist religious fanatic, Ellie was able to board a second, secret machine and traveled through a series of wormholes. She experienced displacement, and observed outer space and signals of an unknown civilization.
It is not simple to classify this movie as an atheistic movie. This is because the movie contains religious queries as well as scientific assertions. There are two big scientific concepts that may conflict with religious belief. One scientific theme is the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. In the movie, Ellie's father said that "If it is just us, it seems like an awful waste of space." From this saying, Ellie's journey started. Finally, she experienced and witnessed extraterrestrial beings. Although it seems to clarify the existence of life in outer space, it is hard to say that this movie is atheistic for this reason. This is because the curiosity of the existence of extraterrestrials has been one of numerous theological questions in the Christian tradition. This is a highly controversial topic all the way to today. Therefore, it is not possible to say that this movie is anti-religious, even if the movie affirms the existence of an extraterrestrial life.
In my view, the most important issue of the movie is a discussion of evidence. Ellie's belief is that science contains the solution to all problems that human beings face; it is the absolute truth. On the other hand, Palmer Joss, a renowned Christian philosopher who had romantic relations with Ellie, is a representative of religion. They discuss evidence for God's existence. Ellie says that she needs evidence to believe there is a God. Palmer confutes her claim by saying that Ellie should prove her love with evidence if she loved her father. Palmer compares his faith that God exists to Ellie's belief that truth needs evidence. Moreover, contrary to Ellie's belief in truth, the government denies Ellie's experience in the wormhole to be true for lack of evidence. I felt that the movie seems to say that there is no certainty even with clear evidence, and that even truth can be denied occasionally.
It is reasonable to say that this movie is not atheistic or anti-religious. The movie contains diverse aspects of human being, such as curiosity, passion, fanaticism, fear of the unknown, wonder, and doubt. The movie's standpoint is on the side of neither science nor religion in terms of the issue of certainty. Rather, this movie focused on the weakness of the human being, because it says there is always a certain amount of doubt even if we regard something as truth. "Small moves, Ellie, small moves," says Ellie's father, repeated to her by an alien being. It is an abstract message of the movie. This movie seems to say that we should develop our world toward the truth, by both science and religion, in small moves. [SBK
A young programmer is selected to participate in a groundbreaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking female AI. Caleb who is a young programmer is participated in a program under a genius AI inventor, Nathan. In his private house, Caleb meets Ava, the latest AI invented by Nathan. Caleb plays a role in a test to figure out whether Ava’s personality and emotion are real or programed. During the test, Caleb is confused whether Ava is a human or a machine. In this situation, Ava persuades Caleb that Nathan takes advantage of Caleb and Ava for his achievement to escape from Nathan’s house. In particular, given the in-formation from Ava that Nathan destroys her after promoting a newest version motivates Caleb to help Ava to be free from that house. This movie ends up with Ava walking among people in a city.
This movie supports atheism. Most of all, human beings create humankind. Nothing is more powerful than this against theism. If human beings create human beings, the creation myth cannot be called Hexameron any more. Besides, this movie raises a very important question about volition. Here is one exchange.
Caleb: Did you program her to flirt with me?
Nathan: If I did, would that be cheating?
Caleb: Wouldn't it?
Nathan: Caleb, what's your type?
Caleb: Of girl?
Nathan: No, salad dressing. Yeah, of girl; what's your type of girl? You know what, don't even answer that. Let's say its black chicks. Okay, that's your thing. For the sake of argument, that's your thing, okay? Why is that your thing? Because you did a detailed analysis of all racial types and you cross-referenced that analysis with a points-based system? No! You're just attracted to black chicks. A consequence of accumulated external stimuli that you probably didn't even register as they registered with you.
Caleb: Did you program her to like me, or not?
Nathan: I programmed her to be heterosexual, just like you were programmed to be heterosexual.
Caleb: Nobody programmed me to be straight.
Nathan: You decided to be straight? Please! Of course you were programmed, by nature or nurture or both and to be honest, Caleb, you're starting to annoy me now because this is your insecurity talking, this is not your intellect.
This conversation limits human free will to a program. In other words, we believe we choose a random thing based on our free will, but it is a lie. Our recognition deceives us as if we have right to choose in a favor of our desire. This notion is reasonable because all human beings live in spatial, temporal, and relational limitation. Consequently, it is impossible to be free for human beings. Finally, this movie inspires me to ask questions about whether Ava can feel God or think about God. Like Kant and Schleiermacher, if we can know of God by emotion, can Ava recognize certain feelings as informative about God? Someday, if AI like Ava is produced in large quantities, do some of them feel God when they feel a sense of sublimity? Darwin thought the sense of sublimity is not different than a sense of God, after all. Or would their self-recognition constitute God? Or are they calling us as God? [SGH]
A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that's designed to meet his every need. The main actor, Theodore, is on the process of divorce with his wife. When he feels lonely, a new operating system, Samantha, encounters him. Through this relationship, Theodore feels comfort because Samantha is designed to optimize behavior to suit Theodore's characteristics. In this circumstance, he recognizes that he falls in love with her. He is not lonely anymore because Samantha exists right next to him so that he can talk to her anytime if he just turns on his phone. While Theodore tells his story, Samantha tells what he wants to hear, and works for what he wants to see. However, as times goes by, he realizes Samantha does not belong only to him; rather she is connected with many other users because she belongs to the main hub of her company. Theodore feels betrayed. Although Samantha explains how much she cares for him, he erases her. In the end, Theodore moves up to the roof of his apartment and watching the sunset with his female friend who has the same experience.
This movie talks about secular love. Generally, love is divine and holy event. In this light, some liberal theologians think God exits as love itself. However, this movie defines that love is just self-satisfaction. This is because love is a tool to fill up shortages of oneself from a lover, an object. This definition proves that why people have their preference or tendency when they fall in love. I agree with the secular definition of love as a tool to fill up subject's desire. Furthermore, this love as a tool means possession. In other words, Theodore possesses Samantha as a tool or love to fill his shortages up. This definition accounts for why Theo-dore erases Samantha because Theodore feels loss of his possession when he recognizes Samantha does not belongs to him. He believes he loves in Samantha, so he is afraid for losing her when he knows she is connected with other users. That is, he wants to but pos-sess her not love her. The story of this movie asks to us question love. What is it? Is it a tool to make us feel perfect? Is love expendable? Is love different with affection? If so, what are these differences? Switch gears; in terms of the love espoused by Christians as a code of conduct, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (I Corinthians 13:4-6). Are human beings able to love others? If not, can human beings fall in love with God, if God exists somehow? Or can God help people perfect to love others perfectly? Finally, according to Sam Harris, Mother Teresa loved her works rather then the poor. Might love be merely a tool for self-satisfaction? Or does love has another meaning? [SGH]
Three men sit, having survived a plane crash in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness and being beleaguered by wolves, and discuss religious faith. One is a Christian, the other two are atheists. This is the faith landscape in which director Joe Carnahan builds his philosophical basis for The Grey. The survival film may not make a case either way on the lines of faith, but it has a lot to say about humanity’s chances against the odds of nature, struggling to survive in an environment that cares nothing for them. In this case, atheism can build a strong basis, however some faith can also be seen in this movie as glimmer of hope in its own gray. The Grey lasts as a movie about people relying only on themselves to survive, even if hope seems nonexistent. [JD]
I was continuously being reminded of religion by the movie The Master throughout the running time, through which both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix won the Academic Awards. Indeed, the director Paul Thomas Anderson, while conceiving the movie, did research on the situation where Scientology was formed by Ron Hubbard and used it as a subtext. In the movie, Dr. Dodd (Hoffmann) captivates many people’s minds by a psychotherapy he invented, named ‘processing,’ publishing books and giving lectures on it. He is called ‘Master’ and earns the absolute trust and respect of his followers as if he is a religious sect leader. Freddie (Phoenix), who was suffering from trauma of the past and was helpless as well, meets Dr. Dodd and becomes dependent on him. He is sure of his being free from the trauma and passionately spreads the therapy with an ad on the local radio and a flyer. But, he finds himself still tormented by the trauma and Dr. Dodd on whom he has relied as frail as himself. Freddie also realizes that Dr. Dodd’s theory and therapy are incoherent, unconvincing, and ineffective and leaves him. He plucks up the courage to face his trauma on his own, overcomes it, and becomes stable in his mind. However, he goes and sees Dr. Dodd because of pity for the man who supported him when he was weary, the man who is now weary himself.
Although the movie contains many different themes, a religious theme is obvious to me. The plot of the movie seems to show one man’s religious life journey of becoming a religionist and abandoning faith: a man joins a faith, sees its absurdity, and finally finds his life’s meaning on his own. He comes to know at some moments that the truth, in which he has believed, was made by another man who is as weak as himself. Throughout the movie, the Master, Dr. Dodd, was described as a religious leader, but his words, deeds, therapy, and community are so funny that they arouse derision. One of important implications of this movie is that the ontological anxiety with which Freddie is preoccupied is not to be overcome by psychotherapy. While fear as a psychological state with objects can be overcome by Dr. Dodd’s ‘processing’, Freddie’s anxiety can only be overcome by confronting it with courage—an ontological quality. It seems that at least the Protestant Church has been using the psychological conviction that accepting the formula of salvation saves believers in order to alleviate people’s fear of not being saved. This kind of psychological approach of the Church has not been capable of handling ontological anxiety and has just satisfied people temporarily and superficially at the psychological level. The movie The Master reveals this very clearly. [ECJ]
In his cinematically arresting film The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick uses stunning images and exquisite music to tell two stories: one about the universe and one about a family. Although these subjects differ in size, they work together to pose fundamental cosmological, theological, and personal questions. Why do humans, such small beings in the universe, concern God? Do they concern God? Is God always good? Should we live by nature or by grace, or perhaps by both? Most fundamentally, the film simply poses the question, why? Although he alludes to some answers, Malick's genius is in his ability to pose these questions visually and audibly, sometimes without using words. [MHB]
In this movie, the main character, Mark, lives in a world where lying has yet to be recognized. Consequentially, the people inhabiting this world are somewhat crass and undeniably blunt. Mark, due to financial circumstances, fortuitously discovers how to lie. After his discovery, Mark tests his new ability. His ability to lie develops into a satire of religion because Mark develops a story of an afterlife in order to console his dying mother. His story eventually grants him the luxurious life likened to a televangelist. This witty and comedic film gives a lighthearted answer to the serious question: How did religion begin? See here. [BM]
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, a popular hip hop duo from Seattle, Washington have written several songs that address a critique of religious institutions or dogma (for example, their Grammy nominated song “Same Love”), and atheistic themes in general. Their song “Church” in particular looks explicitly at the artists’ disenchantment with traditional religiosity. In the beginning of the song, featured artist Geologic describes a loss of faith in the face of unanswered prayers (“Morse code sent to God, are you listening? He must have been too busy fixing other sh*t”) and unanswered existential questions (“I often fought the explanation of where people go when their bodies let go of the soul”). The artist then declares that “rappers started making more sense.” In the middle of the song, Macklemore continues to raps about his experiences as a young person doubting his faith and seeking respite and common ground in rap music. He critiques religious institutions that manipulate images of God and “falsely interpreted Jesus.” The end of the song is an affirmation of the possibility of connecting with God via writing and listening to music. Read the lyrics or listen to the song. [KS]
“Closer to Fine” is a folk song, by the band The Indigo Girls, that narrates one’s life journey centered around the questions of the self. And while not explicitly a “pro-atheist” song, the song’s chorus speaks to a more agnostic, if not atheistic, ideology than theist. The chorus goes as follow “I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains… There's more than one answer to these questions/Pointing me in crooked line/The less I seek my source for some definitive/The closer I am to fine.” This concept of “The less I seek my source… The closer I am to fine” speaks to a distancing of one’s self from one’s origin, an origin that from a theist standpoint involves a God. This song illuminates the process of finding one’s self within a broad spectrum philosophical, if not spiritual, ideologies. [NB]
“I Will Follow You into the Dark” echoes the scars that religion can leave upon its adherents if used as tool of fear and control. Ben Gibbard, the lead singer of Death Cab For Cutie, paints an enigmatic darkness at the end of life in as a greater alternative to religion, an alternative that offers solace from the “bruised knuckles” and fear that were fed to him in his religious training. He uses religious imagery to express his atheistic sentiments. The “No Vacancy” signs of Heaven and Hell seem to ironically point to the fact that because his beliefs and experiences do not fit into a neat box for a specific religious tradition, there will be no room for him in the end; however, he likely would want nothing from either option of the afterlife anyway. His declaration of a future entrance into the darkness of death is a comforting alternative, filled with sleep alongside your loved ones after a fulfilling life on earth. There is a somber contentment with this nothingness rather than the fear of meaninglessness, and he appears to remain out of reach of the fear that might try to ensure he takes a different path to escape a vacant and waiting Hell. Read the lyrics and listen to the audio. [KM]
The title "There is No God" shows that the purpose of this song is to deconstruct belief in God, maybe Christianity specifically. The song reveals the worldview of the songwriter who refuses Christian rules, laws, and commandments. He wants to be himself and enjoy his life without restrictions from Christianity ("Raise up your lowered head to hear the liberation beat, because there never was no God"). "There is No God" is not simply an anti-Christianity song. It is a reminder of a classical theological question that has been argued throughout the history of Christianity: what is the relationship between the sovereignty of God and human free will?
Frank Tuner ( the author of the song) is an artist from Hampshire, UK. He calls his writing style the "confessional style." He likes to write about his life experiences. England is also a recurring theme in his music. As a classical liberal, he believes in the freedom, independence, and uniqueness of individuals. See Jonathan Pearce's interview: "Frank Turner (Glory Hallelujah [There is No God]) Interview!" here. [LS]
Tim Keown writes a pop piece for ESPN the Magazine spotlighting the coming-out, so to speak, of Arian Foster's lack of religious belief. Foster is a professional football player who has spent his entire sporting career (both in college and in the National Football League) playing for teams in the American Bible Belt. Foster was raised a Muslim, and although his parents accepted and encouraged his disbelief, he spent years in relative secrecy before his teammates and fans. There isn't too much wiggle room for a non-believer in a world where faith, family, and football are often used together in sentences, and understood in delicate and important connection to patriotism. Foster now intends to act as a spokesman for secularity, combatting the ignorant misunderstandings about atheism in American popular culture. Keown's article traces Foster's journey in life and sports, presenting a kind, intelligent, humble man who is systemically marginalized for what he doesn't believe. [PD]
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a prominent public intellectual and science advocate. Tyson is an agnostic, choosing to remain aloof from the debates between religion and atheism. Tyson does distinguish science from religion. Science explores testable hypothesis about the natural world. Religion explores spiritual enlightenment and emotional fulfillment. Religion has often been used to explain the natural world such as the Genesis creation story or God-of-the-Gap theories. But scientific discoveries have and will continue to invalidate literal religious claims about the natural world. "Enlightened religious persons" can hold science and religion alongside each other, using science to explain the natural world. (See Chichikia Bichikia, "Neil Degrasse Tyson Talks about Religion and Atheism"; “Neil deGrasse Tyson on Science, Religion and the Universe"; and National Geographic, "The Intersection of Science and Religion," StarTalk.) [JB]
[Information coming soon...]
In an episode from the show Louie (by comedian Louie C.K.) titled “God,” we see a traumatizing event from Louis’ childhood which took place in his strict Catholic elementary school. The nun who teaches Louis’ class invites a man named Dr. Haverford, a medical doctor of some sort, to teach the kids an unforgettably vivid lesson in the doctrines of sin and atonement. After demonstrating in horrifying detail the scourge and crucifixion of Jesus, the Doctor then invites Louis and his friend to enact for the rest of the class the nailing of Jesus to the cross. Handing Louis the mallet and nail, the Doctor then tells him to drive the nail into his friend’s hand. Louis, of course, hesitates in confusion and dismay. The Doctor, now having manipulated Louis into full, fearful attention, says “What’s the matter? You Can’t do it? Well then why’d you do it him? You drove in his nails with your sins. The Son of God and you let him die because of your careless, faithless sins. Now do it. Do it!” Louis has nightmares. His immense guilt compels him to return the next day by himself to the chapel, crying to Jesus, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I did it! It’s my fault! I didn’t mean to but it’s my fault!” while running to the crucifix, removing Jesus from it nail by nail, holding Jesus in his arms, and consoling Jesus. The whole episode is worth watching start to finish. This scene occurs between the adult Louis’ stand-up comedy bit about how “God is shitty girlfriend” and the young Louis’ conversation with his mother about what happened in the chapel. As if the chapel scene itself were not argument enough for the psychological damage religious institutions and its leaders can do to children (and an implicit argument from evil against the existence of the Christian God), Louis’ comedy bit involves a kind of reduction ad absurdum of the relationship with God depicted in the Bible; and the young Louis’ conversation with his mother makes explicit how, just over night, Louis successfully internalized the eternal guilt of killing Jesus. The most (the only?) encouraging moment of the episode is when Louis’ mother then explains to him very clearly why none of it is true and why therefore it is still true that he is a “good person.” [JR]
In a memorable scene from Season One of the HBO series True Detective (2014), Rust Cohle (Matthew McGonaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrellson) attend a Christian ‘tent revival’ meeting in order to question the preacher (a person of interest in their ongoing murder investigation). As the two of them stand at the edge of the tent, watching and waiting for the commotion to end, they quietly debate about the benefits and harms of religion, the connections of religion to morality and to meaning in life, the insider/outsider problem encountered in trying to understand religious people, and, lastly, whether it makes sense that a nihilist (Rust) would care about these questions. This is one of the better examples in television of a character forming a case for atheism. Rust’s claims are informed by certain theories he references, and appeal to intuitions from “observation.” Still, as Marty insists, Rust is no expert on religion. And perhaps Marty is right that Rust’s account of religion is overly pessimistic. [JR]
The animation "If Man Obeyed God" looks very unserious and offensive to God, but it addresses three questions that Christians cannot avoid. Firstly, if Adam and Eve were born to be perfect and had eternal lives before they fell into sin, why did they need food and water to sustain their energy? Secondly, if God did not allow Adam and Eve to eat the fruits of the tree of knowledge, why did He put the tree in the Garden of Eden? Thirdly, what would have happened if Adam and Eve obeyed God and did not eat the Forbidden Fruits? The author of the video believes that the earth would have broken down through overpopulation if they had obeyed God. The video also proposes that God intended to make humans die. He "seduced" humans to eat the Forbidden Fruits so that He would have an excuse to throw them out of the Garden of Eden. The author of the video does not reveal his identity except his Youtube name Darkmatter2525. On the homepage of his Patreon website, he says "Nothing is sacred. Question everything." [LS]
A bearded, long-haired, burly man, looking suspiciously like euro-centric depictions of Jesus, grabs a microphone, and hops on stage to the enthusiastic cheers of the faithless. His name is Sanderson Jones, and he is the founder of Sunday Assembly: a godless congregation that celebrates being alive. After explaining the Assembly’s motto, "Live Better, Help Often, and Wonder More," Jones welcomes today’s special guests to the stage: Swedish songwriter Jose Gonzalez and his band. Gonzalez and his band lead the congregation in singing his smoothly rhythmic song Leaf Off/The Cave. The song itself has a comfortable, bouncing feel to it that is complimented nicely by Gonzalez’s understated vocals. It begins by asking the question, “Why can’t you take the leaf off your mouth now that you have the facts on your side?” According to Gonzalez, “take the leaf off your mouth” is an expression common to Germanic languages that means to speak your mind without fear. The song then moves on to ask its listeners to let reason guide them as they reflect on where they’ve come from and where they’re going.
As the context of the video would suggest, Gonzalez’s song is an invitation for the listener to throw off the trappings of religious dogma and doctrine to see the light of reason that will “lead you out to the stars.” The song is in no way openly derogatory towards religious beliefs. However, the connotation of the song is that religion is a tether that serves to tie us down to the weights of yesteryear, while reason, as Kant might put, will free us from our own self-imposed immaturity. The message of the song fits nicely in conjunction with the mission of Sunday Assembly. Sunday Assembly was started in 2013 by two British stand-up comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, who wanted to have all the best parts of church, but without religion. “Religion” to Jones and Evans, has primarily to do with belief in the supernatural. However, that type of belief and its intrinsic uncertainty was not something Jones and Evans wanted to deal with. Therefore, Sunday Assembly is committed to being a celebration of the one life we know we have. The messages of Sunday Assembly and Jose Gonzalez’s song Leaf Off/The Cave converge to reinforce each other on this central point: the finality and finitude of life are what make it precious, so let us celebrate this one life we know we have together.
However, while the content of the song and video match well together, there is something strange about the form. As the video progresses, it uses slow motion, center-focused shots in such a way that the people in the video don’t quite feel fully human. It feels fake, almost forced. It leaves the viewer feeling slightly uncomfortable about the whole thing. Whether the dissonance between message and form was intended to evoke this discomfort or was simply a misguided attempt at avant-garde filmmaking is a question open for interpretation.
See it for yourself here. Also, you can learn more about the Sunday Assembly movement here. [CM]
The contributors to these web links are:
[AMK] Aiden Kelley, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[APL] Andrew Linscott, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[AS] Amanda Spears, member of the 2012 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[BJT] Brice Tennant, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[BLT] Benjamin Thompson, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[BM] Brian Mascaro, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[CM] Chad Moore, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[CSA] Caleb Acton, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[DR] David Rohr, member of the 2012 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[ECJ] Eunchul Jung, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[ERD] Eric Daniels, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[FA] Finney Abraham, member of the 2012 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[MDJ] Moon Doojin, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[HH] Hope Hamilton, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[HJW] Hong Jongwook, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[JB] Jason Blakeburn, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[JD] James Dooley, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[JCD] Joel Daniels, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[JH] Jonathan Heaps, member of the 2012 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[JM] Jonathan Morgan, member of the 2012 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[JNH] Josh Hasler, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[JR] Josh Raitt, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[KC] Kasey Cox, member of the 2012 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[KGL] Karen Lubic, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[KM] Kendra Moore, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[KS] Kate Stockly, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[LS] Lan Si, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[MB] Martha Brundage, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[MG] Melissa Grimm, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[MS] Mark Shan, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[MB] Nathan Bakken, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[PD] Payton Docheff, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[RLS] Roy Smith, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[RZ] Robin Barraza, member of the 2012 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[SGH] Seunggoo Han, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[SBK] Sungbin Kim, member of the 2015 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[SR] Stefani Ruper, member of the 2012 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[SRG] Sarah Goodloe, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[TBM] Todd McAlster, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[TK] Tyler Kirk, member of the 2012 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[TW] Thurman Willison, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University
[ZTR] Zachary Rodriguez, member of the 2009 Atheisms and Radical Theologies Seminar at Boston University