Sunday, 29 March 2009

"The Atheists"

For those who don't know, Australia's public broadcaster ABC has a weekly religion show called Compass. Most weeks the documentary shown is pretty ordinary, but on the rare occasion it's worth watching. In the past they have aired documentaries like The Story Of God and The Root Of All Evil?, and this week there was a look at the world's fastest growing (non)religion - atheism.

The host being a good Catholic has shown hostility in the past to atheism and the expression thereof (describing Dawkins' program as "highly personal") so I was sceptical going into it. But I've got to say after watching the program, it gave a good appraisal of what it means to be an atheist. Having the likes of Dr Shermer and Philip Adams on the program gave it a reputable basis, this was atheism from an atheist point of view, and hopefully it's going to help the understanding of what it means to be an atheist in the religious who watched the program.

Having the atheists talk about the concerns of religious fundamentalism while paralleling it with imagery of religious fanatics was a good touch, it really rammed the point home that atheists perceive this religious fundamentalism a genuine threat to the future of this planet. And that was just one example of many in the program where it sought in as much fairness as possible to portray the atheist message. All 4 atheists who talked on the issue were concise and to the point.

Any documentary about atheism was going to have to mention "the new atheists" and while short it seemed to cover the topic quite admirably. It is divisive and intolerant as Adams pointed out, but it's a necessity thanks to the pre-conceived notions of atheism as Shermer argued. The only criticism I could have of the show was the last few minutes where it talked about the continuing role of religion in society. It seemed to take the Voltaire path, that people are not able to cope without religion thus fuelling it's necessity. While this may be evidentially so, it's not quite at the stage yet to write off people as needing a religion.

Overall it sought to dismiss a lot of myths about what atheism is and isn't, and in that it did as admirable a job as a 30 minute documentary should. If nothing else, it tried to show in the most intellectually honest way possible what it means to be an atheist and that should be commended. It will be interesting to see what Dawkins felt of the program, that is meant to be up on the Compass website but at time of writing it has yet to appear. Hopefully it will be put up along with a podcast for the show, so that anyone wanting a basic insight into atheism will have a source of information.


Danny said...

I did not know that atheist saw me as a threat to the future of the planet.

Kel said...

It goes something like this:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth - and gave man sole dominion over it. And we have acted as such for thousands of years, and it's only recently that we've understood that it's a problem. By understanding the ecosystem and the effect we have on it, we have a chance of rectifying our behaviour and work towards a sustainable future... But

But there's the problem that Sam Harris refers to as "Christian Nihilism" in that many believe that the 2nd coming of Jesus will happen any day now and as such worrying about the long-term impact on the environment is not a concern. After all, when Jesus is going to come back and destroy it anyway, why bother changing it?

Then there's the notion that God is in control and will protect the planet - a childish notion at best. Why bother to protect the planet when only God can save the day?

It's a concern that fundamentalists are trying to limit the spread of knowledge (such as not teaching about contraceptives), push misinformation (such as creationism), and turn western countries into biblical theocracies - just look at the treatment of homosexuals and atheists by evangelical communities. It's a concern that they are limiting women's rights. It's also a concern that there are several militant groups who under the name of God are killing others and inciting terror.

Have you ever watched the documentary "Jesus Camp" Danny?

Danny said...

I have thought about seeing the movie. I believe He did give us authority and we have screwed it up and we do need to do something better with it. I don't like stopping knowlege either. In the medievel ages, a time that many people see as being bad for christians, I see different. I see a huge organization called the catholic church forbidding people to translate and read the bible, because they knew that if people read it, then the pope would be found out as a liar. And that's exactly what happened as soon as the bible was translated to common languages.
Whether you believe that God gave us the authority or not... we do have it. I think we are starting to at least try and do better.