In Face of the Dark, There is Light
18 February 2017
abscence of evidence for god's existence, Atheism, atheism identity, Atheism is NOT a religion it's important to remember that, biological arguments, Book Review, Challenging Faith, Christopher Hitchens, Episcopal Church, Essay, foundation of reality, Gal Gadot, god is not Great, Individual Will, Joshua Jammer Smith, letter, Mrs. Jean Watts, nature, Objections to Religious Faith, Personal Development, Philosophy, Reality, reason, reflection, religion, religious corruption, Skepticism, The Matrix, Wonder Woman
Let me begin by apologizing. Before you protest that I’m always apologizing you’re right but this one does need some explanation. You see over the last few months I wasn’t in a good place. In fact I was in a rotten one, a fucking rotten one. Graduating college wasn’t the entrance into some new golden world as I had thought or dreamt it would be because I discovered the institution I had attended and hoped to teach at wouldn’t hire me. That resulted in a long period of joblessness which, while it saw a blossoming of writing, didn’t see anything in the realm of actual employment. Add to that my wife was bouncing between jobs and encouraging me to consider teaching high school. Now I hated high school and I hated being a teenager so imagine B spending the rest of my life in such an environment. It didn’t get better after that despite the fact I was offered a teaching job at a local college. I was lobbying to teach there but as always no positions were available until one of the professors had a family emergency and needed someone to cover her classes till the end of the semester. I hopped into the gig thinking that I would be teaching college students, when in fact, I wounded up teaching college students who were really just high school students. The students didn’t want to be there and after just a few weeks I realized I didn’t want to be there either. I realized day by day that I was miserable. And then the depression kicked in. Finding yourself huddled up in a ball and crying in a shower twice a week for eight weeks is a hell of a thing B—–, but it gives you some perspective. It was near the end of the that semester that several of my friends, unbeknownst to me, had begun to lobby for me at the Tyler Public Library. One of my friends is a full time employee there, and two others are part time, and because people tend to see something in me that I don’t they continued to lobby for me while I day-by-day began to realize that I actually wanted to work there. I was ready to leave college behind and start a new path. And when a temp job opened up I knew, for my own health that I had to take the library job.
This is a long fucking opening B—–, I know that, but I just wanted to offer explanation as to why I haven’t been writing back, and also why I decided to begin this enterprise that I’m starting with this letter.
You see you’d be surprised how many atheists and agonistics work at the library. One of them is one of the friends I spoke of, and one night while we were closing we were discussing being atheists, the end of our faith, secular humanist mommy groups (that’s a thing, they exist) and of course Christopher Hitchens. We briefly discussed the book god is not Great, because both of us had read the book and credited it as the document which helped us realize we were atheists. I say realize because I distrust people who say they “became” atheists, it reeks of false conviction. But as I was heading up the stairs towards the employee exit, I thought about our talk and I thought about our letters. The first letter I ever sent you B—–, included a quote from god is not Great, and I recommended that you read the book.
What I’m offering now B—–, is the chance to read the book and talk about it chapter by chapter. This could take a year, it could take only a few months, but I like the idea and I want to give it a shot. So this first letter will address the first chapter of Hitchens’s book.
Although before we begin I have to tell you that your current girlfriend looks remarkably similar to Gal Gadot. The Halloween party picture you sent where you were both Wonder Woman was just eerily similar and on an entirely unrelated note I cannot wait for the new Wonder Woman movie. Wonder Woman, World War I, AND Gal Gadot. Jammer be happy.
Picking up god is not Great has been a fascinating reminder of how much I have actually grown in my personal belief B—–, or lack of belief if you want to be specific. I noticed myself reading the opening chapter and feeling somewhat stalled. I feel lousy admitting that, especially about Old Hitch, but I think, to his credit, it’s because I’ve read so much about atheism because of him and so his initial arguments seem, to quote Aerosmith, like the Same Old Song and Dance.
Still if you’re reading this book for the first time, these ideas and declarations are bold and unsparing. The first chapter, if you’ve read it already, starts off with a declaration of his beliefs that he titles “Putting it Mildly.” What I love, from the start, is how Hitch recognizes that he’s going to be attacked the moment he hits the ground running. If you don’t believe me watch how he starts the book:
If the intended reader of this book should want to go beyond disagreement with its author and try to identify the sins and deformities that animated him to write it (and I have certainly noticed that those who publicly affirm charity and compassion and forgiveness are often inclined to take this course), then he or she will not just be quarreling with the unknowable and ineffable creator who—presumably—opted to make me this way. They will be defiling the memory of a good, sincere, simple woman, of stable and decent faith, named Mrs. Jean Watts. (1)
There’s a lot to get into in this first chapter B—–, and I can’t possibly cover all of it, but I wanted to start off with this quote because it provides insight to the reality facing out and about public atheists. I’ve been fortunate in my life that I’ve avoided such treatment by supposed “believers” but that’s usually because I only inform people about my lack of faith to people I know and trust. If a random Christian asks me about my faith I’ll usually just say something like “I was raised in the Episcopal church.” I’ve found though sometimes that when I out myself as an atheist those people who are bothered by it will usually just ignore me and quietly pray for my soul. But just because I’ve had it easy doesn’t mean that other people have. Atheists are some of the most distrusted people on this planet, and I suspect the only reason I don’t have people writing me angry letters telling me to suck dicks in hell is because I’m just some shit-for-shit nobody with a shit-for-shit blog.
How many shits was that by the way, I lost count. Must have been thinking about Gal Gadot again. There’s this one picture of her wearing glasses and this nice hat…
What I like about this opening however is that, while it does acknowledge the tendency of many people of faith to demonize atheists it also reinforces an observation I’ve had, which is that real atheists tend to be those who’ve experienced real religious instruction. Hitchens describes his early teacher Mrs. Jean Watts, as a sweet and kind woman who taught the children about nature and spirituality. Hitchens was raised in this environment and one moment was eventually attributed to his early skepticism:
However, there came a day when poor, dear Mrs. Watts overreached herself. Seeking ambitiously to fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said, “So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the color that is most restful to our eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, or orange, how awful that would be.” (2)
I suspect B—-, that every atheist has a moment like this. I sometimes refer to it as the “aha” moment, but really it’s probably more accurate to call it the “really, oh for fuck’s sake” moment, because honestly that what you feel when it happens. Or at least that’s what I felt when I experienced mine. Unlike some atheists that will profess having some kind of dramatic realization, real mature atheism occurs, much like religious instruction. It takes time, real study, introspection, and finally just one moment of initial skepticism. I’ll never forget mine.
A preacher from the local Baptist church in town came by to deliver the sermon, and given the fact that I attended an “Episcopal” school I failed to really observe the fascinating dynamic of a Protestant sermonizing at a Catholic-Light institution. He was a charming character and boomed rather than softly spoke, and the lingering sensation of him is the fact that I was wrapped up in his story. It was the Loaves and Fishes tale retold from the position of a boy who happened to be at the scene retelling the event to his mother. I was about twelve years old at the time, but I was transfixed by this man and his ability. I wondered where the story would go, or how it would end, and even after I realized this was the loaves and fishes story I’ll never forget the moment when the man raised a finger in the air and spoke:
“And do you know who that man was Momma? That man’s name? It was Jesus Mama. Jesus Christ.”
Something dropped into my stomach and I suspect it was the angels because that’s what it felt like. It felt like I had finally woken up and seen Christianity for what it was, or at least what it had always been: a cheap sell using a piss-poor story.
Faith and belief was shown for what it was B—-, a club ticket rather than a spiritual tool. It didn’t stop right there, and in fact it wouldn’t truly diminish until I read Hitchens’s god is not Great a year after graduating high school, but that moment of initial skepticism I believe is crucial and one of the reasons Hitchens makes it the start of his book.
Christianity is an institution, one that is wrapped up in almost every level of our culture. I won’t compare the skeptics and atheists and agnostics to Neo in The Matrix because that seems too dramatic a metaphor, but the first moment sometimes does resemble that scene when he wakes up in the gel and looks around the world. You begin to see how the power structure is embedded at every level. It’s important B—-, to have a social network so that one doesn’t feel alone in the world, and while there is Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Blogs, T.V. shows, and the internet in general, books can go a long way in helping someone reassess their beliefs or even just feel validated.
Reading this first chapter again I always remember that preacher and so there is an identification. Christopher Hitchens and I went through the same experience and that makes me recognize that my skepticism isn’t something unnatural, it’s common. That banalization is important for arguments I’ll try to get into later.
But this opening chapter is the first in what can really and should be called a kind of Manifesto. The readers who pick up god is not Great are reading the work of a new generation of atheists who feel free enough to openly declare their sentiments, opinions, and belief without (much) fear of the societal rebuttal. And Hitch, being the man that he was, decides to not spare anything and simply declare his sentiments to his reader:
There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking. (4).
These four points perfectly sum up my own position for why I believe religion is a dangerous institution. You’ll note B—-, that I said religion and not god. I’ve told you before B—– that the reason I don’t believe in god is not because of religion but from my own observations of reality. Because there is no empirical evidence for the existence of a divine being I cannot in good conscience profess belief or even pretend to believe in one. Likewise talking about the possibilities of such a being, or philosophy about that being’s intentions, from my perspective, is absurd.
It doesn’t matter the extent of god’s power because until there’s evidence for god’s existence there’s no point asking such questions. To put it another way, it’s useless arguing how many angle could fit on the head of a pin, or what is the molecular make-up of a unicorn’s horn. Neither have any solid proof of their existence so there’s no point having the conversation.
I take that back. Unicorns exist. They’re called Rhinos and they’re awesome.
This quote is vital however because it lays the foundation for everything that’s going to follow in Hitchens’s book. He lays out his ideas in the form of a thesis and statement of belief so that the reader can determine what is his ultimate position. Religion, and by extension god, are pollutants because they distract human beings from reality. They make man the focal point, the prime locus of the entirety of creation, and that allows human beings the opportunity to perform vile actions because they are the chosen creation. And, of course, this spawns dickish behavior ranging from murder, torture, rape, pedophilia, genocide, and wearing sandals with socks. (#Never Forget #Never Forgive).
I know the objection B—–, and I’m getting rather tired of it to be honest, but I’ll indulge it in the spirit of fairness. The charge, by the casual believer, is that atheism is a religion too. That atheists turn their godlessness into a kind of faith and that this in turn makes them just as much of self-centered assholes as religious people.
And you know, my problem B—–, is that most public atheists don’t really help me much here. Bill Maher regularly turns his atheism into a merit badge, Richard Dawkins actually has little merit badge pins that are large red “A’s,” and David Silverman has tried to establish an atheist television channel, and Sam Harris is the textbook definition of a giant douche-bag. The real problem is that most of the men I’ve just cited aren’t in fact atheists, but really more of anti-theists. And even Old-Hitch himself fell into this category.
If I can save the man though, at least a little in your eyes, let me offer the second most important quote from this chapter:
And here is the point about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Steen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins, concerning “punctuated evolution” and the unfilled gaps in the post-Darwinian theory, is quite wide as well as quite deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication. (5).
In short B—– it goes back to a point I’ve made before in these letters. Atheism, by it’s very definition, cannot be a religion. It can most certainly be called an “ism,” and therefore should be looked on with skepticism. But anyone who would argue that a lifestyle and philosophy can emerge from this position is fooling themselves. Atheism is simply, or at least the way I’ve executed it in my lifetime, an absence of belief and faith in god. That’s it.
I place whatever “faith” I have in this life, not with a god, but with facts, knowledge, data, and information. I trust these because they are not determinant purely upon faith, but by real material reality. A fact is determined by the collection of humanity observing the same phenomena and recording it, doubting it, testing it, and finally resolving it into reality. That’s the way knowledge is produced, coallated, and recorded for posterity.
I live my life now in the absence of god and there’s a lovely freedom to it that I’ll explore in later letters. I just wanted to start here B—– with an understanding of what Hitchens believes atheism is and how he’ll go about arguing it, and whether or not I agree with his points. I agree that Hitch can be abrasive, and there are certain elements of the text that I disagree with, but the quotes I’ve provided here are used because they seem to perfectly reflect my position. They did when I was a nineteen year old kid who had known nothing but the church, and spent most of his time reading with a heavy lump in his chest and crying while turning the pages. It felt like I had finally found the voice I had been waiting for. The person who had made the exact arguments I had been making in my head for years.
Which leads me to the final argument in this letter. There’s a temptation to make the lack of belief and faith into some kind of dramatic affair. It shouldn’t be. And that’s the point. Belief in the foundation of reality is difficult B—–, obviously, and unfortunately the arguments surrounding it have become wrapped up in emotion, politics, and power structures, so much so that, when a man decides to write a book criticizing religion he has to start the book by predicting a pushback. I don’t ever want our letters to be as such, because I know you are a believer. And so let’s hope in this correspondence for further dialogue rather than mutual excommunication.
Besides, even if we disagree about god we can both agree Gal Gadot’s going to be the best part of the new Wonder Woman and Justice League movie. As if there was any doubt of that.
It may be a while till my next letter, but keep writing, I enjoy your responses.
Sincerely, yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
A while ago Cracked.com got into a bit of trouble because they posted an article about the way atheists communicate in public and why their methods were flawed. This, to no one’s real surprise, created a bit of a tizzy by atheists themselves who proceeded to shit all over Cracked. I haven’t gotten a chance to read it myself, but whenever people are offended or bothered by a piece of writing I immediately pick it up and read it because people always get upset for the wrong reasons. Plus, discourse is important. Enjoy:
I’ve also attached a link to a newspaper article from my alma matter UT Tyler. A friend of mine was writing a piece about religion and college students and he wanted to get some of my insight about being an atheist. It is, as far as I know, the only time my name has appeared in newsprint. The article ends on a positive note about faith, which is rather annoying, but it’s still a well written article. If you’re at all interested B—–, simply follow the link below.
I don’t really have anything to add here B—–, I just wanted to gush about the fact that Gal Gadot is playing Wonder Woman again. I’m not obsessed, I promise, there’s just something….something….
Well shit I can’t remember. What ridiculous fool I am. At least I’m cute.
"mountain of knowledge", Art, Atheism, books, Christopher Hitchens, coffee, Cookie Monster, glasses, god is not Great, Joshua Jammer Smith, Literature, Mark Twain, original photograph, Philosophy, Richard Dawkins, Science, still life, The Bible According to Mark Twain, The God Delusion
A Small Mountain of godlessness
19 February 2017
"Hall Metaphor", Atheism, Benedict Cumberbatch naked sunbathing, C.S. Lewis, Christopher Hitchens, denominational differences, god is not Great, letter, Mere Christianity, metaphors, Preface, religion, Theology
Yes somebody actually Googled fish sex and found my blog. I have no idea. Seriously. I have no clue what lead somebody there. I understood all the “Mandingo” searches, but that fish sex stuff was just…I feel unclean. Thank you for that last letter, I hope your mother is feeling better. As for your decision, I respect it. I don’t agree with it, but if you believe in your heart of hearts that you are a Christian, then there’s nothing I will say other than I hope you find what you’re looking for. I hope you understand I’m not going to hold back from sharing my honest opinion. I believe religion is shit and inspires only fear in those it seeks to save. I believe it allows malevolent men in our society to reinforce and perpetuate patriarchy and controlling women’s bodies. I believe it has, over the course of human history, attempted to blur the lines between religion and politics, and ever always subjected members of the human race to thought-crime and psychological slavery. Just so we know where I stand.
Still though B—–, I am happy that you feel comfortable being honest with me. I’ve only ever wanted our correspondence to be about the honest exchange of ideas and beliefs, and one has to be honest in an honest exchange after all. Now let’s get to it, because I know you’re looking forward to this. I admit, I was hesitant to return to Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis has never done anything for me as a writer. The first time I read this book was in high school. I’ve told you several times I attended a Private Christian school in East Texas, and one of the requirements for graduation is the Senior Theology course. I learned a fair amount, though to be honest, the class did not stimulate me much intellectually except when I got the chance to give a power-point presentation over Satanism. That was fun. The canonical text for this course was Mere Christianity, and the man who taught it to us (it was co-taught by a Priest from the Episcopal church I attended, and our high school principal who was also a legitimate Baptist minister) sang the books Praises endlessly, but to be honest, I found problems every step of the way. I liked the idea in your letter B——, so let’s go as we said. I’ll write about the Preface and the first part in this letter, and then address the Concluded three parts either in another letter, or else break them into three small pieces I haven’t decided yet. You’re right to guilt trip me about this, I really should read one or two “Christian” works, if I’m going to knock it relentlessly.
All right then, Preface first. Lewis begins the text discussing where the book originated and we learn Mere Christianity began as three radio broadcasts done during the years between 1942-1944. Looking at those dates, it’s clear that Lewis’s reading, and he makes sure that their tone are just that, but I’ll discuss that in a minute, was a public service for the Christian people of Britain during the difficult years of World War II. If you don’t know anything about the period watch Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, you’ll get everything. Kidding B—–, that was a joke, though that is a good movie. Angela Lansbury, just, awesome. England suffered terribly after the successful invasion of France due to the relentless Blitzkrieg of the Luftwaffe, German air force, dropping bombs over cities to break the English’s spirit. It didn’t work. Lewis describes the initial inspiration and makes sure to note that his tone sounds more like a broadcast rather than an essay. This is a good tactic given what he’s working with. If you’re trying to inspire hope in people, you usually don’t want to talk like a PhD discussing the metabolic strategies of Fruit bats, and that’s spoken out of experience. He follows this address by stating that his book is not designed to help Christians who are struggling between denominations. Lewis is clear, that this book is designed for Christians at large to discover some sense of unity as a whole. It’s during this address that I find my first suspect passage becomes clear. Lewis writes:
In the first place, the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history, which ought never to be treated except by real experts. I should have been out of my depth in such waters: more in need of help myself than able to help others. (VIII).
Lewis has blossomed in recent times, which is not just my own opinion. Christopher Hitchens in his wonderful book (B—-I hope you never tire of my constant citing of this) god is not Great made a point of addressing the popularity and argument of Lewis, stating:
I am not choosing a straw man either: Lewis is the main chosen propaganda vehicle for Christianity in our time. (119).
The most likely reason for this burst of popularity is the coupling of the surge of religious revival in this country, and the real difficulty of tackling real Christian theology. Lewis addresses this point when he talks about “High Theology.” If anyone wishes to discuss and study Christianity it is a real effort. Let’s take a quick look at what it would honestly entail:
If this sounds difficult, it’s because it is. Theology is not something one simply jumps into, it is a life long journey that can leave you unsatisfied by what you discover, or else you may find yourself closer to the divine than ever possible. Lewis’s success may be due to the fact that he simplifies much of this “High Theology” to a readable series of musings allowing Christians the chance to enjoy a little bit of comfortable fluff rather than dig into the real meat of their religion. Some might contest me and suggest I’m over simplifying Lewis, but I don’t believe I am. If anything I’m giving him credit. The man has managed to reduce over two thousand years of philosophy and writing into a short little book, but let me address the follow up to the original quote. Lewis discusses the differences that manifest between religion and the threat of leaving this division exposed:
And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our division should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son. (VIII-IX).
This passage has always struck me as suspect, and my original copy is highlighted blue over the last sentence. I do understand what Lewis is trying to suggest, his argument being that if an outsider comes to the table and sees these divisions first, then they will most likely remain a non-Christian. Lewis’s argument makes sense, if you’re shopping for a house and the realtor describes the leaky roof, shit foundation, the three murders that have taken place in each bedroom, the lack of insulation, the crack natural gas pipe in the attack, the infestation of black widows, and the backyard that’s really a sinkhole, you’re not going to stick around to hear about the good stuff, like that Benedict Cumberbatch sunbathes nude everyday next door. Sigh….
What? Where was I? I was somewhere wonderful. Ah yes. The conflict with the passage , in my mind, (you’re still thinking about Cumberbatch aren’t you? Admit it. Come on man this is serious) is that Lewis sounds clumsily deceptive, creating an image that it’s only acceptable to discuss the conflicts in Christianity behind closed doors. It’s an us against them mentality that has polluted the institution of Christianity for centuries. This also breeds the nasty conception, that if Christians want to critique their own faith, they are somehow poisoning the religion, because god forbid you should ever agree with a jew or an atheist that there are serious disagreements between the denominations. I’ll be honest, despite these conflicts, so far this has been, not only the most tolerable portion of Lewis’s book, but also the only portion where I believe his endless series of metaphors actually works. On a side note, I find it interesting that Lewis denied that The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe series were metaphors for anything given how prolific the man incorporates them into his writing. The chief metaphor I’m describing is of course the one he’s most famous for and that is the “Hall metaphor.” Lewis describes the religion:
It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless he sees that it is good for Him to wait. (XV).
Lewis’s “Hall Metaphor” is the only portion of the book that I have ever stomached because it is one of the few theological texts that does not attempt to spread further divide and mistrust between the denominations. But to be honest the real reason, the only reason, I appreciate the metaphor is because it is the one metaphor Lewis employs in the whole damn book that works, perfectly. I know I’ve spent most of this letter dumping on Lewis, but trust me B——, the Preface to Mere Christianity is in my mind the strongest portion of the text. I assure you that when I get to the next four Parts, I’ll be just as discerning. I’ll leave the first part of the series on this note, Lewis starts prefaces his work with the clarification that he wants only to simplify the faith so that a person may tackle the larger issues of “High Theology.” He does this, while suggesting the faith is a complicated affair. I’m not against simplifying material to help make it more accessible, that’s my effort in this whole damn blog period, but trying to hide the flaws behind colorful metaphors and turning the religion into a fraternal organization is what started most of the mess he’s trying to solve in the first place. And hopefully the letter will be shorter.
Thank you again for your honesty B——, I hope mine, despite its bracing nature, has been some helpful service.
Sincerely, yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
action, Borderlands, Charlize Theron, Christopher Hitchens, Darren D’Addario, Feminism, Film, film review, god is not Great, Kill Bill, Mad Max Fury Road, Manipulation of men, Manipulation of women, science fiction, Tom Hardy
What madness has taken me that I would write a review about a new release that involves sex slavery, psychos in automobiles, and Charlize Theron with a shaved head? Naturally a review on this blog has typically been reserved for books, essays, and short stories that exist within the literary canon, so once again it must be asked, why would I bother writing about Mad Max: Fury Road?
The answer dear reader is simple, it’s an important movie. In the last week I have been pained as woman after woman has confessed their desire to see Pitch Perfect 2, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a goofy movie, it seems ironic to me that the latest Mad Max film inspires more feminist sentiment and issues than singing and dancing to songs. Let that be my last bitchy remark about what I’m sure is a…charming….movie.
Mad Max at first appears to be everything we experienced in the past franchise, a post-apocalyptic action film in which characters fight over fuel for their vehicles. I’m not going to lie, there is plenty of that in the film, and despite the feminist overtones to the movie there is still plenty to love from a male perspective. Mad Max is used for his blood by a War Boy, one of the numerous bald cronies of the warlord Immortan Joe (sure to be the next favorite cosplay for men in my particular weight category with his plastic armor, flowing white hair, and respirator mask complete with human teeth). Immortan Joe we see controls his people through manipulation of water. He sends Furiosa out to gather supplies and thus begins one of the most epic car chases since Death Proof or Smokey and the Bandit. Along with the chase scene that takes the viewer inside of a dust/electrical storm, there crazed psychos that attack Max and the women with chainsaws, spears that blow up, and there’s also a giant fat man with nipple clamps. There is not one moment in the film which fails to satisfy the typical male queue of action cinema, and yet the recent complaints by many male viewers is that the film is, and I cannot believe I am actually typing this, “Too Feminist.”
The fact of the matter is the film is feminist because the chief conflict is Immortan Joe’s “wives,” five young women that at first promise only cheap sexual imagery but in fact deliver real performances, have escaped because they no longer wish to be his sexual puppets. Charlize Theron delivers these girls out of their slavery, and with the help of Mad Max, liberates them indefinitely when they rip Joe’s face completely off. Spoilers.
When I watched the movie I was floored and not just because Charlize Theron was spectacular. I’m a sucker for buzz cuts and axle greese. As a fan of the Borderlands franchise(which is basically just Mad Max the videogame) and virtually every great/Bad action film Arnold Swartzenager has ever done I was constantly pumping my chest while I was watching the movie, but more importantly I was observing a trend I have observed and enjoyed in past films. The Kill Bill Franchise signaled a trope that has failed to continue in recent years which is the “Chicks Kicking ass” plot structure. There was a time when we allowed women to wield guns and swords and not just because the male lead handed one to them in a tone that was smacking of, “and if you’re not too busy make me a goddamn sandwich.” Furioso is much like the Bride, a.k.a Beatrice Kiddo, because her concern is first and foremost with saving the brides from the sexual slavery of Immortan Joe, and as the film continue the bonds that existed between women served as the saving grace from the relentless grotesque phallus wielded by men and their automobiles.
There is one scene that haunted me the most. Max and the women find the remnants of a civilization that amounts to five or six elderly women wielding single shot rifles. An older woman is showing one of the brides her collection of pieces from the old world that include a plant. Rather than center the shot on this small bit of green the director George Miller, instead centered his shot upon the contrasting faces. It is almost impossible in today’s cinema to even consider showing a woman over the age thirty, let alone fifty, and the contrasting nature of the young girl with the fair features, and the elderly woman whose face was cracked and lined with experience is unlike anything a movie-goer will expect in the next year. The old woman offered the young her knowledge and wisdom.
Beat that Pitch Perfect 2. Sorry, I know I promised, but dammit I’m making a fucking point.
Mad Max was unapologetically feminist because the women in the film were not reliant upon Max; they enriched his journey and thus the audiences.
Darren D’Addario on his website Afflictor.com has written one of the best reviews and I’ll allow his words to explain its significance before I continue with my own.
The key moment comes in the calm after the storm. Max drags himself across the desert, still connected by a length of chain and a blood-transfusion tube to an unconscious War Boy and his car door. He spots the wives, bathing in radiator water like nymphs at a pond while taking bolt cutters to their chastity belts. Half-wrapped in diaphanous linen, they resemble America’s Next Top Model competitors who’ve somehow escaped Tyra’s clutches before the makeover episode. You can read the movie’s politics loud and clear in the fight scene that follows, in which Max’s literal blood tie to a foot soldier of the phallocracy becomes both action beat and telling metaphor. Miller came close to shooting a Gibson-led version of Fury Road back in 2001 before 9/11 and the fall of the dollar torpedoed his budget; presumably, he can’t have anticipated Gamergate making representational parity and misogyny into third-rail issues within the core audience for postapocalyptic action movies any more than he saw Boko Haram coming. But the “men’s rights” crusaders now gnawing their fedora brims in righteous apoplexy over the thought of Mad Max’s manly iconography being perverted to serve a misandrist agenda aren’t actually imagining things. This is an unambiguously and unapologetically feminist, Bechdel test–passing sci-fi blockbuster that begins, I’ll say again, with Charlize Theron commandeering an 18-wheeled battle-dong in order to free some sex slaves and ends by explicitly linking the liberation of humanity in general to the dismantling (and, in some cases, dismemberment) of the patriarchy.
D’addario’s point seems to sum up the most pressing significance of the film, but upon reflection there was still another thought that needs to be addressed.
Within the film there is a character named Nux, a sick War Boy who literally uses Mad Max as a blood bag, and calls him such throughout the first half of the movie. Observing Immortan Joe’s control over the society rings a familiar tune to anyone who has observed cult behavior. For starters there is the psychological pomp of the self, and Immortan Joe throughout the film is dressed charismatically and treated as a King/God. Along with this is the subjugation of women for his personal needs, young women in particular that he fancies are controlled through sex. Those that are not used for sex are literally hooked up to milking machines. Finally is the manipulation of the War Boys themselves, all young men who are told through bloody conquest and heroism, typically through self sacrifice, they shall enter the plain of Valhalla. All of these elements combine together to form the typical façade that real cults follow in our society whether it be massacre at Waco or fundamentalist religions across the world, it is a traditional rhetoric that young men are kept at bay by denying them sex and instead channeling their energy into violence, while young women are used for sex to satisfy an older male who champions or leads the “society.” If this sounds familiar perhaps a passage from Christopher Hitchens’s god is not Great can illuminate why:
The Inter-Islam and Islamic Voice sites recycle this tripe, as if there were not already enough repression and ignorance among young males in the Muslim world, who are often kept apart from all female company, taught in effect to despise their mothers and sisters, and subjected to stultifying rote recitation of the Koran. Having met some of the products of this “education” system, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, I can only reiterate that their problem is not so much that they desire virgins as that they are virgins: their emotional and psychic growth irremediably stunted in the name of god, and the safety of many others menaced as a consequence of this alienation and deformation. (227)
Mad Max is brave to follow this pattern because within the film Nux’s psychotic devotion to the “next world” is broken as he falls in love with one of the brides.
The romance between Nux and Capable, the aptly names wife who is able to show Nux that life is worth living, disrupts the patriarchal rhetoric that has been plaguing the society dominated by the corruption of an old man bent on war and malevolent control of his people. When the young are allowed to interact freely, they may decide for themselves what they want out of this life
This relationship, while at first seems and sounds hammy, is the actual soul of the film because this new interpretation of a self-parodying film franchise affords audiences a real entertainment possibility while affording the audience intellectual concerns.
Never has it been a more difficult time to be a woman, and for all the talk that women in our society have it off great, there are still ills and problems in our society holding them back: Victim-blaming, rapes in the military that go unpunished, the fact that East Texas is the nation’s capital for sexual abuse, the new rise in sex trafficking, colored women’s continual negation in our society, and the very fact that this movie has been criticized for being “Too Feminist” as if that is some sort of problem.
This review is NOT going to keep people from seeing Age of Ultron and Pitch Perfect 2, and it shouldn’t. But an excellent film that addresses a real issue women face in our culture, without resorting to a rape scene thank-you-very-much-George-Miller-fuck-you-Game-of-Thrones, while at the same time watching psycho’s chase people in cars set to a Heavy Metal guitar that breathes fire?
Come on boys, don’t be punks. Just shut up and try and learn something because lord knows you’re getting anywhere complaining.
For the most part I cited Darren D’Addario’s entire article but I’ve posted a link to it here:
I’ve also posted a link to another review of the film that argues for the feminist position far better than I have:
Yeah screw Pitch Perfect 2, seriously that World War II joke is lame as balls. Just sayin.
I received your letter and found it hit a familiar ear(I hope that is not cliché). I understand your frustration. Being a non-believer, particularly an anti-theist, is never a simple affair. In fact the most rewarding and simultaneously exasperating aspect of such a mindset is the constant challenge by those who believe you are wrong in your disbelief. The never ending yet necessary challenge to re-assert your position and determine whether or not you truly are what you profess to be. If you are unsure of yourself do not fret or feel ashamed, for your feelings demonstrate your position as a freethinker. Renee Descartes, despite his affinity for the torture of animals for sport, did contribute one of the most important axioms before he died, and no I do not refer to that overly played out Latin quip. Descartes, being a product of the enlightenment, understood the necessity of inquiry even at the expense of existential threat. “Question everything.” If an assertion is made it is up to the individual to decide for themselves whether or not they agree with it.
I do not wish to burden you with platitudes and a point by point examination of the offenses of religion, for that will be necessary only if you choose to continue this correspondence. All I can offer you is my own realization and experience.
I admit I do not like the moniker Atheist. In fact I have grown to detest it. The name Atheist connects myself to too many idiots who peddle what they believe to be “free-thought” when in fact it is only a pseudo-tribal faith rooted in elitism. Did you know there are now “Atheist Coming Out Pins?” Rather than simply acknowledge a lack of faith, the contemporary public atheist has decided to laud his unbelief as a Christian would laud the cross round his neck. A hint to yourself, when your behavior mimicks the very people you despise you have lost whatever integrity you possessed. I would advise you to avoid such rubbish and stick to your guns. The only reason I continue to refer to myself as such is because it communicates clearly my opinions of the divine. In all honesty I prefer to call myself a skeptic.
I promised you a brief autobiographical experience. It happened around two years ago that I was talking with a friend and a student of mine and we were discussing god and religion. My own faith came up, or lack thereof, and rather than reciting the polished and rehearsed manifesto I had prepared and recited numerous times to the mirror, I balked. I mucked up my language and intent to the point I conveyed a loose deism for fear of social rejection. Leaving the table I approached the ponds that divide the campus in two and rested on the peer staring at the water. I felt sick. I felt confused. I was angry at myself. What had been an opportunity had become a bungle. But you see the first time you attempt to express your intellectual position, it is akin to having sex. You’ll always fuck-up the first time. Seeing the student the next day I was able to properly convey my sentiment regarding religion. She smiled. Nodded. And resumed reading her book. Simple as that, however I should warn you that you will not always meet such cheery acceptance.
If you will allow me one more moment of indulgence, I know your time is precious and so I shall do my best not to waste it, let me quote for you a passage from a book that helped me come to terms with my own skepticism:
“And here is the point about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake”
This quote from Hitchens’s god is not Great remains my stance for any who would suggest that I am part of some religion (those who fling such pathetic arguments never seem to fully comprehend they have smeared themselves with their own shit). I do not promise that you will always feel confident addressing people who’s convictions border on lunacy, nor can I promise you that all shall be courteous (on all sides there are assholes, never forget this truth). And finally please, I hope this letter does not come across as pompous, elitist, or self aggrandizing. I am only a man with a blog. This letter, and hopefully the more to come should we continue this correspondence, is merely an effort to begin the conversation.
Take your time. Think for yourself. Come to your own conclusion.
I hope I have helped.
Sincerely yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua Jammer Smith
On December 15th 2011 Christopher Hitchens took his last breath on this planet, and I’m sure if he exists in an afterlife he would (apart from being pleasantly surprised albeit simultaneously exasperated) lament that he did not have one last chance to remind the society he lived in of the dangers of blind faith and the importance of questioning the established quo. I got into Hitchens late, meaning that I discovered the man and his work near the end of his life. I count it among my many mistakes. I became aware of Christopher Hitchens via The Daily Show where he subtly announced his stage four cancer that would later rob him of life. Curious as to this character of this eloquent man I purchased a copy of his memoir Hitch-22. This first book is nowhere near the importance in my mind of two of his other works: god is not Great and letters to a young contrarian. I have elected to explain Hitchens through these two books, for more often than not human beings take shape in my mind through their written works.
Let us begin with the most controversial idea and therefore we must begin for me with letters to a young contrarian. You may question this as an obvious move to make you laugh at my sense of wit, but I assure this is not the case(I’ve never possessed any iota of wit, just ask my wife). You see Hitchens carefully and eloquently as always, presented to me through this work how radical a position it can be to be a contrarian. Through this small book Hitchens demonstrated to me the importance of the individual to develop not just an intolerance of ignorance and dangerous majority will, but to be ready to question yourself. He says:
“I repeat: what really matters is not what one thinks but how one thinks.”
This is a simple quote but in this sentence Hitchens dramatically altered my perception of belief and learning in my mind. I began to question whether or not I accepted many things in this world just because I had always believed them or if they had been taught to me. Hitchens statement led me to question whether or not we members of contemporary society are really encouraged to think; whether we are taught to critically perceive the reality around us. The individual mind is marked because it is individual. It perceives fault and does not falter from acknowledging fault which, and here’s the tragedy, is often perceived as a threat. Hitchens was often a source of public squabble (that’s a polite word for the debates he often participated in) because he was unflinching to attack hypocrisy where he saw it whether it be dictators, despots, politicians, religious officials, and even the divine. His insistence to speak often presented itself as him simply trying to “rock the boat” or “be an asshole,” but what his critics often neglected (carefully I might add) was that his critiques were ladened with truth. Letters to a young contrarian carefully guided me to the belief that if we are to live in this world, it is without compromising our integrity or sense of justice, for often the path of evil asks us to temporarily and then completely abandon both. I conclude with a line from the book when he says,
“If you want to stay in for the long haul, and lead a life that is free from illusions […], then I suggest you learn to recognize and avoid the symptoms of the zealot and person who knows that he is right. For the dissenter skeptical mentality is at least as important as any armor of principle.”
I did not feel comfortable calling myself an atheist until concluding letters and then the second work of Hitchens: god is not Great. I will admit that reading this book depressed me, for at that time I was still clinging to the battered and tattered remnants of my faith in god. Whether it was out of a sense of familial devotion or existential angst I cannot be quite sure, but whatever the case Hitchens provided me, not with a biased rant against organized faith and ideology, but instead a rational critique for the foundation of religion within the minds of man. I will cite two sources that I feel made the most impact upon me. He says,
“There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that is wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result of and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.”
Rather than submit to pathetic arguments Hitchens employs logos and carefully attacks the inconsistencies and corruptions that are derived from obsessive religious devotion. Hitchens could have turned his book into an emotional rant against organized religion, but instead he chose an intellectual argument. He wanted to create a conversation that would ask everyone to challenge their faith and lack-there-of, and in my mind that will always be the hallmark of virtue. We as human beings should always attempt to talk first before submitting to emotions that cloud our judgment. This of course leads me to the second quote for he says,
“And here is the point about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.”
As a young man I had always been uncomfortable with hypocrisy and blind devotion that never questioned itself, and in a few sentences Hitchens had stated clearly what had always troubled me about religion. He illustrated what exactly I wanted to be: an independent mind. Hitchens was openly atheistic but he never went so far as to argue that atheism should become the predominate ideology of humanity; instead what he was arguing for was independent thought. Hitchens attacked the divine because it is the ultimate source of assurance for many people, in that they accept it’s presence without bothering to question it’s foundation, its negative side effects, and the violence it seems to inspire. What he shows us throughout god is not Great, is that if an ideology is not questioned or challenged reasonably then it is never given the opportunity to prove faulty or given the chance to reform and fix its weaknesses.
Hopefully I have illustrated thus far that what Hitchens was preaching (I use that word loosely because, in Hitchens’ own words, the English language is often poor to provide us better verbs) throughout his entire life was questioning the totalitarian will power of the “assured” masses. He saw as many before him did, that the individual will often come under the scrutiny of those who feel a part of a larger system that they do not question, and therefore the individual must be prepared to defend themselves. Hitchens was not afraid to call bullshit. In that I mean he was undaunted in the face of conflict and was not afraid to be challenged when he spoke out against bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance. That bravery and strength of will is something I have always aspired to and I regret terribly I will never get the chance to meet Mr. Hitchens and thank him for such inspiration.