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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Am I the only one...

That thinks Religulous looks idiotic? I don't plan on seeing it. The trailer made me tired.

Listen, I know I'm not unbiased. I was raised by an Episcopal priest. But I find the dull bashing of religion by smug pricks to be a dead end, self-congratulatory exercise.

I don't begrudge atheists their perspective and I'm at the very least agnostic. I also think that religion and religious tradition is an important part of the national conversation, a part of history as well as culture. I believe that religion has driven a lot of positive social change and created a framework for a fair amount of charitable behavior. It's been a force of harm and silliness, but its also been an organizing principle for community and kindness.

The fastest way to move yourself away from the center of American life is to treat religious faith as an enemy. Even within the world of religion, there's a struggle between those who take the lessons of faith and use them for good, or those who use those same lessons to do harm and justify their own selfishness. I live in the politics of that every day working in the Episcopal church.

I'm sure there are plenty of artists and liberals that are a member of a longstanding religious or spiritual tradition. I wonder how often they don't mention that, because they'd rather not defend themselves in this climate. The culture war cuts both ways.


David Cote said...

Lice-ridden wigs and wooden teeth are also a part of our nation's history, but we don't still depend on them. You believe in social progress right? Diminishing sexism and racism? Well some of us believe in the importance of diminishing Goddism.

Dan Freeman said...

That is precisely why I end up at odds with the Majority. Tradition dictates that I am an abomination and should be killed.

The bible is not ambiguous about this point either and it is difficult to take this "lesson" and derive a separate meaning from a person that believes the bible to be Truth with a capital "T".

What is the positive lesson of putting me to death? Is there some better way to interpenetrate this statement? No, I think this movie may have a point.

I don't think its smug to point out how religion is clearly impacting this country, and yes, I think the impact of religion in politics is generally for the worse.

Freeman said...

I do believe in social progress, but I think that progress moves towards religious diversity, not religious intolerance. I don't think intolerance within religion is a positive, and I don't intolerance OF religion is a positive either.

I think "Goddism" is reductive, to say the least. Do you believe that people should simply believe in God less than they do? I think sometimes we quickly conflate religious intolerance with religion itself. We should no more do this than we equate Darwin with Social Darwinism.

And Danny... I think that one of the true heroes of the fight against homophobia is Gene Robinson, who is an Episcopal bishop. If you listen to him, he seems to have a firmer grasp of what it means to be Christian in the positive sense.

I'm NOT saying that religious people and religious thought can't be negative. I'm just saying that liberalism vs. religion is a sophomoric fight. I'd wonder what Woody Guthrie or Martin Luther King Jr. would have thought of it.

David Cote said...

In my opinion, there is absolutely no reason to take anyone's religion seriously, that's all. I'm not talking about banning, or burning, or ostracizing. No one should expect me to take their vestigial tribal symbolic systems seriously, any more than they should, say, like my writing just because I really, really believe in it. So maybe Bill Maher is doing the right thing: mocking it. Sure, the trailers look trite. I'll give you that. My struggle is to disdain religion without devolving into misanthropy. Not easy.

David Johnston said...

I totally agree with you, Freeman. (Matt.) It's the same problem I had with that Hitchens book - which would have been a masterpiece if an editor had cut it in half. Adherence to a faith - or organized religion - is not immediately synonymous with suicide bombing and religious extremism.

Plus, I just can't deal with a whole film of Bill Maher. He's a shitty tipper.

RVCBard said...

One of the unfortunate casualties of the liberal vs. conservative conflict is that conservatives have outright usurped religion and family as their core values. It's to the point now where anyone who is open, sincere, and thoughtful about matters of faith is lumped into the same category as people who promote ignorance, bigotry, and injustice under the guise of religion.

I don't know about you, but it's difficult to have a dialogue with someone who assumes I'm crazy, stupid, or bigoted based on how I label my spiritual ideas and practices. And whether they like to admit it or not, there is more than a hint of Western imperialism inherent in the way people frame these conversations (for instance - treating people like abstract concepts), especially when you consider that women and people of color are more likely to be religious than men and Caucasians.

I believe that, at the very least, we should acknowledge that how people relate to religion is varied, complex, nuanced, and very personal. Going around with a proverbial hammer bludgeoning people (whether for or against) is not the way to go about dealing with it.

Jigsaw said...

From what I've read, the movie is, up until the end, a fairly even-handed look at the blind adherence to ANY religion - not just Christianity - and how extremist religions are bad for society.

Then it apparently devolves into "if you believe, you're probably an idiot," and any credibility Maher has developed flies out the window.

I've seen first-hand the tolerance and social welfare promoted by the Episcopal Church. I have also seen (and felt) the absolute hatred of the PCA churches. Is it a shame that both call themselves Christian? Yes.

On the other hand, I've always considered the Episcopal Church to be more a philosophical community than a proper religion. They're sort of a weird anomaly, in that they actually both read the Bible AND understand it.

When you get right down to it, the anti-religious movement isn't properly defined. The way it's framed now is as "Ooo, we're smart atheists, you dumb religious folks are the enemy." That is the majority of the fight, as I see it, and that is just as evil as the reversal; it generalizes and compartmentalizes and judges someone not by their character but by an outside label. That's wrong, certainly.

I think it's a combination of factors; there is a degree to which it is natural to hate someone who hates -you-, and a lot of the non-Episcopal Christians have a lot of hatred in 'em (funny, that). But it's also this immense frustration with the vast majority of religions (at least fundamentalist religions) due to their demand that their practitioners give themselves over to a common belief. The fact that the dogma of these religions demands UNQUESTIONING LOYALTY, and that this loyalty often demands a total and overarching rejection of logic and science.

Essentially the conversation has gotten completely screwed up by the fact that most of the major influential religions in this country -- including the Christian branches practiced by all the NeoCon Republicans we liberals loathe -- are NOT religions at all. They're, by definition, CULTS. Giant, sprawling cults that count our current President and Governor Palin as members.

And THAT is something that is worth getting a little mad about.

Dan Freeman said...

Good points all,

Truthfully the movie sounds like ten cents on a three hundred trillion dollar topic

According to these stats (listed below courtesy of CIA.gov) this movie should have limited appeal

People: United States: Religions:

Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)

and just for fun:

People: World: Religions:

Christians 33.32% (of which Roman Catholics 16.99%, Protestants 5.78%, Orthodox 3.53%, Anglicans 1.25%), Muslims 21.01%, Hindus 13.26%, Buddhists 5.84%, Sikhs 0.35%, Jews 0.23%, Baha'is 0.12%, other religions 11.78%, non-religious 11.77%, atheists 2.32% (2007 est.)