Friday, December 31, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Let's summarize the plot: George Bailey gets whacked upside the head, loses his hearing, and can't join the army. Fortunately, the whack didn't destroy his ambition; love did that. So instead of going to the big city to be a little fish, he stays "home" and works at the family's savings & loan, then has a few kids and fixes up This Old House.
Being a little soft-hearted (or -headed) he lets his "special" employee take cash to the big bank and the retard loses it to the mean old crippled guy. Yes, Tiny Tim has grown up to be a selfish, mean-spirited MoneyBags who wants nothing less than to destroy all competition and be King of Bedford Falls. Bwahahahahaaaa!!!!!! And we all know that when you put two people with disabilities in the same room together hilarity ensues!
This is Mr. Potter's moment! He calls in feckless George's loan, and now George, Mr. Ambition, contemplates suicide. Because of course we all know that when you have a wife & kids the best thing you can do for them is jump off a bridge. Naturally they'd rather have money than a husband and father.
Oh wait! Here comes an Angel straight from HEAVEN to convince George he shouldn't jump. Why? Because George is popular and lots of people are praying for him. Now we know that all those people who jumped from the Twin Towers on 9/11 were unpopular anyway, since nobody could have been praying for them or else they'd have been rescued.
So this angel, instead of saying "it's only money and there are worse things than being in debt," grants George the wish to know what Bedford Falls would have been like without him. Oh my it's terrible. Mr. Potter is rolling all over everyone, his wife is *gasp* an old maid and *BIG GASP* a LIBRARIAN! *faint* He regrets his wish, his life is restored, and he finds out that he's POPULAR! How does he know he's popular? People shower him with cash to bail him out of a tough spot.
The moral of the story: what goes around comes around? If you're popular God will intervene? Money is the most important sign of love?
Here's what this atheist would like to see:
George Bailey doesn't even know the money's missing yet. God is pissed by what Mr. Potter did, and of course he saw the whole thing. He doesn't have to wait to hear about it on the prayer party line. He smites Mr. Potter, perhaps with a good smack upside the head, and the wad of cash falls to the ground in full view of everybody. The retard who misplaced it is suddenly cured of his affliction, grabs the money and tells everyone exactly how much money it was to prove it belonged to the Baileys. Mr. Potter goes to jail, the retard is now qualified to take over the business, and George moves to TheBigCity with his family after scoring a hostile takeover of Mr. Potter's bank.
That's how a powerful, omniscient, loving, just god would handle the situation. Clarence would get his wings upon arrival in Heaven just for being a nice guy, because that's what God really wants to see -- nice people getting their reward.
Instead, we have a God who needs to be implored for mercy, and is so powerless he has to employ trickery to save a life. He runs heaven like the army, with ranks and seemingly impossible tasks to complete to get promoted.
Theologians probably don't like this movie much, either, but it resonates with people even decades after its release because it fulfills the fantasy role that religion has in so many lives: prayer works, God works in mysterious ways, the "reality" one person experiences is really true no matter how bizarre, and even though money doesn't matter, in the end it really does.
Of course this could never happen today. Banks have security cameras now so they don't need God looking in on them.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
"Debbie," in the discussion here, insists that her feelings are justification for the "knowledge" that God is "real." One of her posts seemed so insane to me I was sure it was sarcasm, until I read more posts by her. It's worth copying here:
I care and seek to know the truth. Jesus claimed to be the Truth. To know Jesus is to know the Truth. He is the answer to the Big Questions of life. So it seems to me.
This is posited like some kind of logical argument but in the end she waffles with "So it seems to me." That's the key. The rest is baloney. She trusts her intuition, so the rest is irrelevant.
Later she posts: "Truth by it's very nature is narrow. A fact is a fact period. Broad is the road that leads to destruction. Narrow is the gate that leads to life. Isn't it interesting that Jesus claimed to be the Truth?"
Yes, very interesting. We all care to seek and to know the truth. It's human nature. SO ... of course if you want people to follow your religion you need to convince them that it's TRUE. And apparently SAYING it's true is enough for some people.
So "Jesus is God" is true because I feel good about Jesus, and Jesus supposedly said it's true, and there can only be one truth. Therefore, any other truth claims must be false.
This kind of thinking drives me crazy. But the "thinking" is irrelevant because she really wants to 1) respect a predictable authority figure, 2) belong to a social group that validates her feelings, and 3) believe that her feelings are facts. "A fact is a fact period." Debbie believes that her feelings are facts. She has positive feelings about authority figures, her church spokespeople & writers, the Jesus of her imagination, and of positive feelings themselves.
If Debbie were the only one, I'd just reply to her rather than blogging about this. Sadly, she's just one of thousands, possibly millions, of people who think that her feelings justify her faith. It's more likely the other way around. Theologists with Ph.D.s call their beliefs "properly basic," which amounts to the same thing.
Believers who pepper me with questions after finding out that I'm an atheist often start by questioning my answer to uncomfortable feelings, such as fear of death, fear of a chaotic society, fear of nothingness... All bogeymen invented by the church to keep the fearful in the flock. It's simple: create good feelings for insiders, create bad feelings about outsiders.
But it really just comes down to feelings. They "feel the spirit," or so they believe. If I felt the "spirit" of Heidi Klum enter me and started doing runway walks in my underpants, I'd be considered "insane." If I said I felt the spirit of Jesus enter me and started speaking in tongues, I'd be welcomed into a few cults.
Feelings aren't facts, and they are no proof of the supernatural in any way. This is why atheists can't reach most believers: we don't manipulate people via an opposition of positive and negative emotion. And being the moral people we are, we find it difficult to ramp up the rhetoric the way that religions have done. Many of us self-identify as "free-thinkers" and resent others' attempts to impose their beliefs, so of course we wouldn't commit that offense either.
The irony for me is that after decades of non-belief I find that there are some emotional benefits. Life means more because it's limited to time on Earth, and death is less scary because I've accepted the inevitability of it.
Many of the "comforting" parts of Christian theology have actually become anathema to me:
- ritualistic cannibalism (yech!)
- penal substitution (how unfair!)
- "original" sin carrying through to every human (yet we're "innocent" at birth?)
- eternal existence without a body (how boring!)
- "bad" people going to hell (somebody loved them!)
- God listening to our thoughts (if he didn't like them why give them to us?)
The rest of them were distasteful to me even while I was trying to be a believer! Fortunately for the ticket-takers at the Pearly Gate, most Christians don't think too hard about these things. They've been offered a self-centered fairy tale future, and it feels pretty good to them.