We know there are a lot of big-budget movies promoting Christianity coming out over the next few weeks — “Noah,” “Son of God,” “Heaven is for Real” — and there’s no shortage of Christian-themed films throughout history.
Lawrence Krauss thinks that Hollywood, contrary to its stereotype as a bastion of liberal ideas, should really start making some atheism-themed films:
Now, it would be silly to suggest that [the Krauss-and-Richard-Dawkins] documentary about two scientists debating religion and rationality might pose strong competition to a hundred-and-thirty-million-dollar blockbuster starring Russell Crowe as Noah on the ark. But that recognition notwithstanding, we were assured in advance by people in the film industry that a movie about atheism — even one that featured various celebrities — would not be suitable for a general theatrical release, in spite of more than four hundred thousand people downloading the film’s trailer, and a poll of test audiences which suggested that more than ninety per cent of religious individuals who saw the film would recommend it to a friend.
No one can fault Hollywood for recognizing that religion, like violence, is often profitable at the box office. But this logic leads to a prevailing bias that reinforces a pervasive cultural tilt against unbelief and further embeds religious myths in the popular consciousness. It marginalizes those who would ridicule these myths in the same manner as we ridicule other aspects of our culture, from politics to sex.
Somehow, Krauss failed to point out the most obvious reason Hollywood isn’t making movies about atheism.
Think about this: “Noah” is an interesting story. “Son of God” is an interesting story. “Heaven is for Real” is a *very* interesting story. Ditto with “The Ten Commandments” and “The Passion of the Christ” and, hell, even “Left Behind: The Movie.” I’m not saying the stories are true or that I liked those films or that they were good stories, but those stories are compelling to a huge number of people. They’re not films about Christianity, per se, but films inspired by it. In many cases, they’re about people who happen to be spiritual/religious. In all cases, though, they tell a story.
Even Kirk Cameron understands that. There’s a reason his movie Fireproof did relatively well — he wasn’t directly preaching faith; faith was just interwoven throughout the film.
That’s the problem with movies about atheism: They all tend to be about why religion is wrong and atheists are right. And no one wants to watch that (except for those of you reading this).
What’s the story of Krauss’ film “The Unbelievers”? Pretty much that Krauss and Dawkins are awesome people. (Spoiler: No one cares.)
What’s the story of Bill Maher‘s “Religulous”? That religious people believe in stupid things. (I liked this one, but it wasn’t a box office smash by any means.)
If you want Hollywood to make movies about atheism, then give them a vessel in which they can deliver it. In other words, a Ricky Gervais movie taking place in a world where no one lies (and, therefore, religion doesn’t exist) is infinitely more interesting to Hollywood than a Ricky Gervais stand-up special in which he flat-out rips on religion.
Movies like “The Ledge” (which I really liked) are the best route to promote atheism through film (though even that one was criticized for it’s overt message and one-dimensional characters).
That aspect of storytelling is what Krauss doesn’t seem to get.
Whatever one might hear on the right about a war on religion, in this country we still care more about catering to religious sensibilities, even in liberal Hollywood, than we do about encouraging the open questioning of the claims of the faithful.
Hollywood is interested in money and good stories make good money. This isn’t some anti-atheist conspiracy; we just haven’t given Hollywood enough to work with. The Bible has.
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