the token atheist in movies

atheists in movies are always the kind who have no arguments for their worldview, but just arrived at disbelief b/c of the cruelness of the world.  these thoughts that follow by PZ Myers echo my own.  i recently watched The Reaping, where the atheist-skeptic (based on Joe Nickell) in the movie also fits this description perfectly:

I recently saw the new Will Smith movie, I Am Legend, last night. In short, it was far worse than I expected, with a drawn out and rather boring beginning (Smith is lonely, everyone is dead except for his dog. Got it), and the ending felt like a stapled-on feel-good absurdity that didn’t follow from the premise—and is only a happy ending if your dream of paradise is an armed camp of Christians. The only virtue I’d heard about the story is that the hero is openly atheist … but that was a disappointment, too, because I discovered he was the wrong kind of atheist.

Atheists in the movies aren’t that common. Most seem to be cast as amoral opportunists — the villains. They are rarely cast as the hero, and when they are there is only one atheist stereotype allowed in that role, and Will Smith filled it perfectly.

The acceptable atheist is the one who has faced so much tragedy, whose life has been damaged by cruel fate to such a degree that his declaration that there is no god is understandable. He is a failed Job; he’s portrayed not as an actual contented atheist, but as someone who has broken under the burden a god has placed on him, and is therefore a sympathetic figure, and also is implicitly endorsing the audience’s beliefs about god. Job without god, after all, is just a deluded loser.

That’s the standard trope: the atheist is a broken man, a nihilist, a cynic, someone who has come to his disbelief as a consequence of a devastating emotional experience. This is the kind of atheist theists are comfortable with — but it’s not the kind of atheists the New Atheists [who are not “new”] are, and especially not the scientific branch. We don’t fit into their unthinking convention, which is probably why they stuck us with the label “new”.

There are atheists who look on a tragedy and cry, “There is no god,” in despair. But we are atheists who look on beauty and complexity and awesome immensity and shout out, “There is no god!” and we are glad.

That’s the distinction we’ve got to get across. We are fulfilled, happy atheists who rejoice in the superfluity of the old myths. We generally don’t have a tragic backstory — quite the contrary, we’ve come to our conclusions because we have found natural explanations satisfying and promising.

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6 thoughts on “the token atheist in movies

  1. I am a “new” atheist. All the theists I talk to about my atheism prefers and treats me like an “acceptable” atheist. They don’t understand and they don’t want to understand.

  2. Heh-ha — yeah. WTF.

    I recently saw Denzel Washington in “Deja Vu” in which the head scientist secretly confided that he really does believe in god but hadn’t told anyone. That’s another acceptable type: the one that only hides his belief to be accepted by his profession peers … but everyone knows that deep down they all actually believe.

    The BoM is infamous for making atheists out as liars and deceivers. We know that there really is only two choices: belief or deciet.

    Gotta love the willful delusion. Hollywood is just catering to the market.

  3. I watched I am Legend last night and I squirmed when the lady mentioned that God told her about the secluded paradise for the non-vampires. Eek!

    There was another movie John Cusack stars in. He was a ghost debunker where he went around and slept at supposed haunted houses and motels. He changed his stance after they appeared to him. they could’ve added “based on a true story” for effect hehe.

  4. It would be interesting to start a database of some sort where the contribiutors list basically all atheists and agnostics in movies, with a brief description of the way the lack belief. Possibly a wiki… I have seen them, so i know they exist 🙂
    I was diasppointed too when i realized the kind of atheist he was, but it didn’t ruin the entire movie for me. The ending was supposed to be different and i actually anticipated the “real” ending when i watched the movie and later read about it.

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