Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Natural Conclusion of Atheism?

"What's the most you ever lost in a coin toss?"


I have not seen the movie No Country For Old Men yet, but I have watched a few scenes of it on Youtube, as well as reading some review and opinions on the film on various web sites.

One discussion in particular caught my attention, the topic being whether Anton Chigurh, the cold-blooded killer portrayed in the film by Javier Bardem, was an atheist. The discussion was raised by an e-mailer who opines that No Country For Old Men is:

"a modern classic, a deep meditation on the natural conclusion of atheism (the recklessly craven positioning of self for purposes of survival) and the believers who dare to exist for causes outside of self, an endeavor that "No Country" makes clear is noble indeed but corrosive to the soul."

As an atheist myself, I don't see it that way at all. While Anton Chigurh may be an atheist (apparently the novel by Cormac McCarthy on which the movie is based implies that he is), he definitely strikes me as being a sociopath. He feels absolutely no connection to his fellow human beings, going so far as to turn a gas station owner's clumsy attempts at making small talk with him into a potentially life and death situation.

Rather than being a "natural conclusion of atheism," Anton Chigurh is at best a possible outcome of atheism, and one that will be only chosen by a small few who reject the idea of civilization itself. And what do I consider civilization to be? The excerpts below from this post probably express it better than I ever could:

"Civilization is not a lifestyle, it is a way of thinking about our relationship to other people. In a civilized society, you act as though other people are as real as you are - that is, you assume that they feel pain like you do, and you endeavor to do unto others as you would have done to you. In a civilized society you believe that others have rights, just as you believe you do, and you attempt to extend them as justly and fairly as possible.

Civilization has existed in all of human history at one point or another - and if it has a definition, if you can sort out the societies that thought public beheadings were civilized from the ones that didn’t - it comes down to the notion that we have responsibilities towards other people, and th[at] other people have rights and responsibilities towards us."

17 comments:

PhillyChief said...

A sociopath can function in any system, be it atheism, theism, polytheism, whatever. For instance, replace his coin flip and asking people to call the result of the coin toss with, "have you accepted Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?" or "do you believe the world is older than 6,000 years?".

Of course their strategy is two pronged:
1) the bible is THE moral compass
2) atheists therefore can't be moral for they don't have the moral compass

The way to combat this then is also two-pronged:
1) show that the bible is not THE moral compass but A moral compass
2) show that moral compass as being flawed and inferior, especially compared to secular moral codes

John Evo said...

You can also show them that the prisons are full of people who believe in god.

They will probably say, "of course. There aren't that many atheists, so you would expect that result".

The problem they face is this: It's true that atheist only represent about 10% of the population. But they only represent about 1-2% of the prison population. Atheists, like the character Anton Chigurh, are vanishingly under-represented in the prison population.

If anti-social behavior were a rather natural and to-be-expected result of atheism, one would expect that perhaps 15, 20 or 30 percent of inmates would be non-believers. You certainly would not expect 1%. Ask them if they have an explanation for even specifically "Born Again" Christians being so prominent in felonious behaviors, compared to atheist.

You can also ask them why atheist have lower divorce rates than the group in America with the highest rate of divorce - Evangelicals.

Samuel Skinner said...

He is a sociopath- history has shown you have theistic ones as well as atheistic ones. Where do you think the stories of werewolves and monsters come from? Some of them are fear of the night and some of them...

http://members.tripod.com/alam25/first.htm

It is one of the cases where the Churches belief they were dealing with the minions of Satan is understandable- that man was EVIL.

He also was a theist who claimed to have sold his soul to Satan.

Mercurious said...

I surely didn't get the message from McCarthy's novel that this villain is the natural extension of atheism...

There's really nothing in either the novel or the movie to hint at such an interpretation.

It is, though, an examination of the problem of evil, it seems to me. My take on the story is sujggests that evil arises whenever compulsion reigns over free will.

Tommy said...

Thanks for your comments guys.

Of course their strategy is two pronged:
1) the bible is THE moral compass
2) atheists therefore can't be moral for they don't have the moral compass

The way to combat this then is also two-pronged:
1) show that the bible is not THE moral compass but A moral compass
2) show that moral compass as being flawed and inferior, especially compared to secular moral codes


I agree Philly. Christianity was able to spread throughout the Roman Empire because its message was appealing. We need to offer a better message.

John Evo said...

Christianity was able to spread throughout the Roman Empire because its message was appealing. We need to offer a better message.

How about - atheist are the cool and intelligent people. Theists are little more than superstitious fools. Want to be cool, or want to be a fool?

Hey, it's all about sex. Cool people get a lot more. Plus the theists play our game, with all of their hatred of sexuality. Come on. Who doesn't like a good boning? Even those sweet young Christian women want a guy (or girl) to hop in the sack with.

John Evo said...

By the way, this Bardem is a fucking great actor. I'd never heard of him before "No Country" but I just saw him in a Spanish film, "The Sea Inside". Excellent film for secularists. I'll probably add it to my "movies for atheists" posts.

Tommy said...

Hey John,

I heard of Bardem several years ago but never saw any movies in which he starred. I definitely want to see Old Country soon, as well as the other one you mentioned.

John Evo said...

Both are excellent Tommy. Well worth a little of your free time. Be warned that "The Sea Inside" is in Spanish (subtitled for us). If you are one who doesn't dig subtitles, or speak Spanish, then it should be a "pass" for you. But if you're ok with it, I think you will like the movie - a lot.

Jason H. Bowden said...

I thought Chiguhr was supposed to personify evil -- something that will always be with us, something relentless, something dangerous, and something that we cannot negotiate with.

And sometimes -- the bad guys win.

Many believe we are in a new enlightened age, or can create one, but No Country For Old Men stoically suggests this is the way men have always been.

I didn't see any religious import in the movie; Cormac McCarthy is not a religious man, though he isn't anti-religious either.

Tommy said...

If you are one who doesn't dig subtitles, or speak Spanish, then it should be a "pass" for you.

I have seen many foreign films with subtitles John. Some of my favorite films had subtitles, like Das Boot or Cinema Paradiso.

And sometimes -- the bad guys win.

Yes, they sometimes do. I have to explain that to my 7 year old son sometimes. He is used to watching superhero movies like Spiderman where the hero triumphs over the villains in the end.

And of course, sometimes, there are no good guys or bad guys, just competing groups, each viewing the other as the bad guy. The conquest of the Maori in New Zealand by the British might be cast as a case of the bad colonials pushing around indigenous peoples. But several decades earlier, those some Maori invaded the Chatham Islands and murdered and enslaved the native Moriori people who were living there, thereby putting those same Maori in the role of bad guy aggressors.

Many believe we are in a new enlightened age, or can create one,

With the rise of religious fundamentalism around the world, I certainly don't believe that we are living in an "enlightened" age. As for trying to usher in an enlightened era of peace and freedom, that is certainly something worth fighting for.

mdorian said...

Yeah, saying that a single sociopath's behavior is the logical conclusion or outcome of atheism is like saying that a belief in the Easter Bunny among children naturally results in growing fur and a bushy tail.

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Michael said...

How do Atheists deal with the scientific principles of chaos. It's my understanding that order never comes from chaos, which is what an atheist must believe has happened with our universe, despite no scientific explanation. How does an atheist explain the precision of the earth's orbit around the sun?

phillychief said...

I don't know what you mean by the precision of the Earths orbit, but as far as understanding why it's orbiting, the short answer is mass and gravity and a longer answer is here.

Tommykey said...

Hi Michael, thanks for commenting.

One explains the orbit of the sun based on science, not atheism.

But what I will say as an atheist is that one need only look at the long history of the Earth to discount the idea that it was specially created by the Biblical god for humans.

Over the course of billions of years, the Earth has been pummeled by comets and meteors, continents joined together and became torn apart, countless numbers of species died out in extinction level events, all before the first anatomically modern humans existed.

So yeah, it's great that the Earth has the orbit that it does, and has a moon to stabilize its rotation, and so forth. But considering that the existence of humans on this planet is just a blip in geologic time, it wasn't made that way just for us.