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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

new DVD releases in Region 2, July 13

green light (definitely check it out):

Religulous: Bill Maher might be kind of an asshole, but he’s right: religion is poison. [Amazon U.K.] [now available at Amazon U.S.]

Torchwood: Children of Earth: What this Doctor Who spinoff was always meant to be: dark, harsh, and intense. [Amazon U.K.] [preorder at Amazon U.S.]

Mad Men: Series 2: Who knew the ad industry could be so dramatic? [Amazon U.K.] [now available at Amazon U.S.]

Mad Men: Series 1-2: Get the whole show to date in one package. [Amazon U.K.]

MacGyver: Series 5: This includes what might be my favorite episode of the whole series, “Black Rhino.” There’s also the dream episode “Serenity,” which would sorta anticipate Richard Dean Anderson’s next series, Legend. [Amazon U.K.] [now available at Amazon U.S.]
yellow light (worth a look on DVD)

Hotel for Dogs: Puppies! No, really: it’s catnip for dog lovers. So to speak. [Amazon U.K.] [now available at Amazon U.S.]

Little Ashes: Robert Pattinson, almost naked. But his costar Javier Beltran is the one to watch. [Amazon U.K.]

Get the complete list of this week’s new releases at Amazon U.K.



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  • Victor Plenty

    MaryAnn, “religion is poison” rhetoric is poisonous in itself, toxic to productive dialogue and mutual understanding between the religious and the non-religious. It’s sad to see atheists and agnostics give up on civility, after so many years of advocating full freedom of conscience and respectful debate.

    In the strongholds of the left wing, it might feel safe to declare victory and decide the religious among your fellow citizens no longer deserve any respect. I sincerely hope that tactical mistake does not come back to bite you.

    Out here in the countryside, believers are still the overpowering majority, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. The last thing we need is more ideological conflict between competing forms of intolerance.

  • MaryAnn

    In the strongholds of the left wing, it might feel safe to declare victory and decide the religious among your fellow citizens no longer deserve any respect. I sincerely hope that tactical mistake does not come back to bite you.

    People can believe whatever they want to believe. But their beliefs are not automatically deserving of respect.

    The idea of “faith” in the religious sense — that some things should be believed in even if they defy all reason, or even specifically *because* they defy all reason — is dangerous. And we should not be teaching it to our children.

  • Victor Plenty

    People deserve respect, regardless of their beliefs. Whenever any ideology tells us people do not matter, it becomes destructive and dangerous, whether its basis is religious or non-religious. Ideologies and beliefs exist to serve and promote human well-being. Beliefs that succeed in this deserve respect, and ideas that fail do not.

    The idea of “faith” in the religious sense — that some things should be believed in even if they defy all reason, or even specifically *because* they defy all reason — is dangerous. And we should not be teaching it to our children.

    True, it is never a good idea to teach anyone to disregard their own capacity for rational thought. Critical thinking skills and the habit of testing and challenging important ideas are crucial needs in the modern world (and probably would have made the pre-modern world a far better place, too).

    My point is, not every religious person and community uses this blind and mindless approach to “faith,” nor are all the non-religious entirely free of it.

    Rather than draw artificial lines between believers and non-believers, we would do better to seek out common ground, and establish a set of useful ideas and core principles on which all people of good will can agree, regardless of their theological stances or lack thereof. This project has long been a central goal of Western civil society, and many of the freedoms atheists and agnostics now enjoy arose from it.

    It would be a pity to abandon this project now. It has achieved many worthwhile goals, but its victories are still far from secure.

  • Mike

    True, it is never a good idea to teach anyone to disregard their own capacity for rational thought. Critical thinking skills and the habit of testing and challenging important ideas are crucial needs in the modern world (and probably would have made the pre-modern world a far better place, too).

    My point is, not every religious person and community uses this blind and mindless approach to “faith,” nor are all the non-religious entirely free of it.

    And yet, religions DO teach people to disregard their capacity for rational thought. More importantly, by elevating the notion of faith to be the equal of scientific method in determining what is true in the physical world, they degrade the notion of truth itself.

    You don’t have to be a mindless fundamentalist to do this. Any time you disregard the evedence, and accept that your religious leaders have it right, you weaken the notion of truth.

    That said, religions do have an upside. They CAN promote civility, kindness, generosity and justice and give solace to the faithful.

    And of course, scientific leaders are not above reproach. Something must be done to remove the effect of agenda-based funding from research.

  • Mike

    Oh, and I saw Religulous in the theater. Although I basically agree with Mahr, he takes quite a few cheap shots. I’d be very surprised if he convinced a single agnostic to atheism, much less a member of the faithful. But if you’re not to close to the subject matter, it’s very funny in spots.

  • Victor Plenty

    Mike, some religious communities teach people to develop and use their own capacity for rational thought, rather than ignoring that capacity in favor of blind faith. Likewise, the idea of faith as equal to the scientific method for exploring the physical world is not a common feature of every religious person’s worldview.

    Some of the religious accuse atheists and agnostics of abandoning all moral and ethical standards so they can pursue selfish and destructive behavior, without any conscience to limit their actions. Whenever I come across religious people making such claims, I also do my best to explain that this is simply not true. (Of course there are a few atheists who happen to be amoral and unethical, but these traits are equally likely to be found in the most devout believer as well.)

    In my experience, when people engage in respectful dialogue, they often learn they have more in common than any of the differences that threaten to divide them.

  • MaryAnn

    People deserve respect, regardless of their beliefs.

    Agreed: People deserve respect. I’ve never said otherwise. But people’s beliefs do not automatically deserve respect merely because they believe them.

    My point is, not every religious person and community uses this blind and mindless approach to “faith,”

    But the very definition of “religion” requires unquestioning faith in concepts that cannot be proven, and are deemed worthy *because* they cannot be proven.

  • Victor Plenty

    MaryAnn, how odd that you use the most narrow and fundamentalist definition of religion, as if that were the only possible definition. In reality it is merely one of many, and one that fails to accurately describe a large number of religious people and communities.

    I know of many religious people who utterly reject “unquestioning faith in concepts that cannot be proven,” and multiple religious traditions that teach the exact opposite. They encourage challenging questions, rational inquiry, and logical arguments about religious concepts.

    These traditions of valuing reason and logic are woven into the faith communities of every world religion, where they have waged an intellectual battle against the concept of blind faith for millennia.

    As such, they are the natural allies of modern atheists and agnostics. They reach different conclusions on some questions (such as the existence of a creator, obviously) but they agree on ideas far more vital to a civil society. Chief among these: that every human being has the right to ask such questions, to investigate the evidence, and to reach their own conclusions without coercion.

    The rhetoric of “religion is poison” threatens to split this natural alliance. It plays into the hands of fundamentalists who pursue power to coerce compliance with their narrow worldviews. Sowing suspicion and distrust between the religious and the non-religious gives these extremists a stronger hand, and endangers the hard-won freedoms we all take for granted.

  • Keith

    In a debate like this, ideas such as “belief” and “faith” need to have narrow definitions in order for all people to agree. Otherwise it won’t be possible to achieve the common ground Victor advocates.

    My Webster’s Dictionary defines faith as “belief without proof,” belief as “accepting as true,” and religion as “a system of faith.” As such, applying terms like “blind” and “unquestioning” to faith is redundant. Trying to make definitions more complicated than this, or create one’s own spontaneous definitions, only serve to confuse the discussion. Any definition too broadly applied is meaningless.

  • Victor Plenty

    Keith, the religious traditions I mention developed over many centuries. They are not anybody’s “own spontaneous definitions” of the concepts under discussion. Any definition too narrowly applied is just as useless as a definition that is too broad. Precision of definition is the key to mutual understanding.

    The fundamentalist campaign to oversimplify ideas on faith and religion has captured a hell of a lot of ground in the culture wars. As a result, many people now use those words in the excessively narrow way you describe. The lexicographers at Webster’s are correct in that limited context.

    However, not all religious people are thinking in such fundamentalist terms. If you want to properly understand the ones who are not, you will need to go beyond the Webster’s definitions you cited. Please consider your choice carefully. When cultures surrender in the face of a campaign to oversimplify ideas, the usual result is victory for the extremists, and in the endgame of that, nobody wins.

  • Bill Maher might be kind of an asshole, but he’s right: religion is poison.

    No, he isn’t. Religious people have fought for civil rights and against apartheid, slavery, segregation, fascism and communism. They have organized labor unions and resistance movements. On one occasion, a religious person even discovered the Big Bang Theory. (Yet interestingly enough, that doesn’t seem to get as much attention as all the hype from the Darwin-is-evil people.)

    Granted, not all religious people have done these things.

    But so what?

    Do we judge all scientists by the example of those who have either committed war crimes or else exposed test subjects to venereal disease without their consent?

    Of course not.

    And while there’s no denying the many ways religion has been used as a club to control other people, there’s also no denying the many times religion has often been used as a way to organize people to fight against oppression.

    Besides, religion is hardly the only tool used to control people and at a time when people have used abortion and ultrasounds to eliminate female infants and have talked about using “scientific” I.Q. stats as an excuse to justify discrimination, it seems naive to ignore the fact that science has the same potential for misuse as religion does.

    Bad people will always use certain tools in a different way than good people do, and philosophically, religion and science are best considered tools. You can either use them to improve your own life or to make someone else’s life a bloody hell.

    Unfortunately, human nature is such that certain people will always choose to go the second route over the first.

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to stop it but we should also be careful that we’re not simply empowering one sort of bully in place of another.

    Which is a round-about way of saying I agree with Victor–though I’m not sure he necessarily agrees with me…

  • @Tonio Kruger “…Religious people have fought for civil rights and against apartheid, slavery, segregation, fascism and communism. They have organized labor unions and resistance movements.”

    unfortunately, that is a specious argument, since religion has also supported, authorized, encouraged and collaborated on all of those things (except, perhaps, communism). and that’s only in the 20th century.

  • bitchen frizzy

    So has science.

    (And around and around we go. Specious, indeed.)

  • Victor Plenty

    Tonio’s argument is not specious at all. It might be, if he were using it to support the conclusion “religion is always good,” but as the rest of his comment makes clear, that is definitely not the conclusion he draws from the argument.

    It is an undeniable fact that many people have worked for good causes, using noble methods, with full respect for the rights and freedoms of others, all while motivated by religious beliefs of one kind or another. This fact constitutes compelling evidence against the conclusion “religion is always evil,” and against the variant that started this whole thing, “religion is poison.”

    As mentioned already, it is not sufficient to prove “religion is always good,” but nobody here is claiming that anyway.

    (Before anyone misunderstands my argument the way Tonio’s has been misunderstood, I’ll mention that of course the same fact is true of many people without any religious beliefs whatsoever. I’ll leave this as a parenthetical point for now, mainly because so far, nobody here has claimed that atheism is invariably an evil and corrupting influence.)

    Any attempt to demonize all religion (or to demonize all of science, or all non-religious people) oversimplifies the facts and is a counterproductive distortion of reality. On that point I must agree with Tonio’s logic, and find his argument the strongest yet seen in this discussion.

  • JoshB

    This fact constitutes compelling evidence against the conclusion “religion is always evil,” and against the variant that started this whole thing, “religion is poison.”

    I’ve seen religious people argue that atheists only do good because God is still trying to work through them. In other words, they do good in spite of being atheists, not because of it.

    That same logic could be reversed to support bronxbee by saying that religious people do good out of basic humanity in spite of their religious poisoning.

  • Victor Plenty

    JoshB, you could condemn any randomly selected group with ridiculous ease on the basis of that logic. Looking for excuses to condemn entire groups of people is always dangerous to civil society, whether motivated by atheism, by religious belief, or by any other ideology.

    This is why I utterly reject both sets of accusations you mention. “They do good in spite of what they are, not because of it” is an argument too often found on the path to oppression.

  • MaryAnn

    I know of many religious people who utterly reject “unquestioning faith in concepts that cannot be proven,”

    Then they’re not religious.

    Anyone who believes in a deity has not utterly rejected faith.

    I’ve said it before (though I’m quoting someone else): Bad people need no excuse to do bad. Good people need no excuse to do good. But to get a good person to do something bad takes religion.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Now you’re stating false dichotomies and black-and-white absolutes. It’s you being fundamentalist now. As if there are two categories of people – “good” and “bad” – and the “good” people have to be corrupted by outside influence into doing something bad in order to be bad.

    According to what you’ve said, a good athiest will not do something bad unless corrupted by religion.

    Bollocks.

  • Victor Plenty

    MaryAnn, you seem to assume all people must perceive the universe in the same way you do. Some religious people assume this too, making arrogant claims such as “There are no atheists in foxholes.” It’s disappointing to see you fall into the same error.

    I know of many religious people who utterly reject “unquestioning faith in concepts that cannot be proven,”

    Then they’re not religious.

    Would you find it acceptable for anybody to tell you that you’re not really an atheist?

    Anyone who believes in a deity has not utterly rejected faith.

    You misunderstand. They utterly reject blind faith, not all faith.

    To you, belief in a deity is a concept that cannot be proven, so you assume everybody must see that concept in the same way. Many religious people do not see it that way at all, despite loud shouting from various fundamentalists.

    Many religious people test the concept of a deity before accepting it. They examine it closely and do their best to apply logical proofs. When they accept the concept, it is not on blind faith, but on evidence they find sufficient to resolve their doubts. You or I might reach a different conclusion from the same evidence, but that does not prove they relied on blind faith. People reach different conclusions from the same evidence all the time, even when making diligent efforts to apply reason and logic.

    Many religious people see their faith as a result of examining available evidence and questioning the various interpretations. As a result, their views on the physical world are fully compatible with the scientific method, making them natural allies of atheists and agnostics.

    Fundamentalists insist blind faith is the only kind, but they do not speak for all religious people. It is a serious tactical mistake to surrender the entire concept of faith to the extremists.

  • Anyone who disagrees with the statement “religion is poison” and hasn’t yet read “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens needs to get ahold of it today. Speaking as someone who only recently escaped from the clutches of christianity: it’ll change your life :)

  • Victor Plenty

    Newbs, your special book, which I have to read right away, will completely, instantly, and magically convince me to agree with you. Now where have I heard that one before?

  • Newbs, your special book, which I have to read right away, will completely, instantly, and magically convince me to agree with you. Now where have I heard that one before?

    Heh.

    Tonio’s argument is not specious at all. It might be, if he were using it to support the conclusion “religion is always good,” but as the rest of his comment makes clear, that is definitely not the conclusion he draws from the argument.

    Thank you for the support, Victor.

    Unfortunately, that is a specious argument, since religion has also supported, authorized, encouraged and collaborated on all of those things (except, perhaps, communism). and that’s only in the 20th century.

    As Victor has pointed out, Bronxbee, there was more to my argument than what I wrote in the first paragraph of my last post.

    I’d say more but Bitchen Frizzy and Victor Plenty have already expressed any rebuttal I might care to add.

  • $victor plenty: “Would you find it acceptable for anybody to tell you that you’re not really an atheist?”

    an a-theist is one who holds there is no god. it is not a belief system. it requires no faith, therefore your question has no validity.

    “Anyone who believes in a deity has not utterly rejected faith.You misunderstand. They utterly reject blind faith, not all faith.”

    if they *believe* in a diety, who can neither be seen, nor heard, nor touched, nor smelt, nor tasted, then it is *blind* faith.

  • bitchen frizzy

    That is not the commonly accepted definition of “blind faith”. The connotation of that term is unthinking devotion and extremism. Maybe this is a question of semantics, then. However, if you are assigning all people who believe in a deity to that end of the spectrum, then you too are engaging in black-and-white thinking.

  • Victor Plenty

    MaryAnn, do you seriously advocate the following argument? (Asking this separately because there is already too much crosstalk confusion in this conversation):

    I’ve said it before (though I’m quoting someone else): Bad people need no excuse to do bad. Good people need no excuse to do good. But to get a good person to do something bad takes religion.

    You find that persuasive? Really?

    Unless it’s only a joke, it’s a textbook example of a specious argument. It has a rough eloquence, sure to draw knowing nods from cynics who never bother to think it through, and hence fail to see it is simply false on its face.

    History and everyday experience show multitudes of good people doing bad things for a vast range of reasons that have nothing to do with religion:

    simple survival (starvation, cold, etc.)
    fearful use of excessive force in self defense
    emotional breakdown (as in a “crime of passion”)
    economic gain from others’ loss
    family loyalty
    cultural tradition
    political maneuvering
    defending one’s community against perceived enemies
    promoting just about any ideology or worldview

    …and so on.

    Of course religion has been misused to get good people to do bad things, but it is not the only way to do that, nor is that the only thing religion has ever been used for, as Tonio mentioned above.

    Religion is also too often misused as a covering justification for doing bad things, without being the real motive. If religion hadn’t been available as a tool for people to misuse in this way, they would misuse one of the other motivating factors listed above, or find something else to misuse.

  • JoshB

    That is not the commonly accepted definition of “blind faith”. The connotation of that term is unthinking devotion and extremism…if you are assigning all people who believe in a deity to that end of the spectrum, then you too are engaging in black-and-white thinking.

    Here is an interesting take on the issue of “blind faith”: John 20:29 “you believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.”

  • Victor Plenty

    Bronxbee, you make some interesting statements which seem to arise from misunderstandings of what I’ve said.

    “Would you find it acceptable for anybody to tell you that you’re not really an atheist?”

    an a-theist is one who holds there is no god. it is not a belief system. it requires no faith, therefore your question has no validity.

    You seem to be addressing someone else with this. I am not claiming “atheism is a belief system.” I know that’s a common attack on atheism. It would not be constructive to use such a claim here, even if it did reflect my own opinion (which it does not). My question to MaryAnn had nothing to do with making any such claim. Perhaps it will clarify my point if I rephrase it.

    When somebody self-identifies as an atheist, and another person tells them “You’re not really an atheist, because blah blah blah,” it makes little difference what the blah blahs stand for. It’s a counterproductive accusation in the vast majority of cases. (With a few obvious exceptions, such as “…because you mentioned your daily worship of Zeus in the previous paragraph.”)

    The same point applies to a person who self-identifies as religious. It’s inappropriate and destructive to say the person isn’t “really” religious merely because they don’t fit into some narrow fundamentalist definition of religion.

    if they *believe* in a diety, who can neither be seen, nor heard, nor touched, nor smelt, nor tasted, then it is *blind* faith.

    The universe is chock-full of things I’ve never seen, heard, felt, smelt, or tasted. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; the pyramids at Giza; the Apollo lunar landing sites; and the island of Manhattan are just a few of these. Is it blind faith for me to think such things really exist?

    It might be, but not necessarily.

    If my only reason for believing in the pyramids has to do with thinking pyramids are awesome, and it would totally suck if they were fake, it might be reasonable to say I have blind faith on the matter. However, if I have a solid chain of logical arguments that support my conclusion, then no blind faith is required for me to accept the reality that the pyramids exist, and that they were built by ancient Egyptians with relatively low technology.

    The same is true on the subject of religion. Some people believe in deities without questioning, simply because it “feels right” to them, and that is blind faith. However, many people apply logic, reason, and evidence to arrive at their conclusion that a deity exists.

    My point is, even if we disagree with that conclusion, we can still agree on the value of logic and reason, and work together on that basis.

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