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DVD Review: The God Who Wasn’t There

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In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you that I am an atheist. For those that know me, this is no shock. Those that don’t know me probably don’t care. I only point it out so that you can know my perspective of this DVD.

The movie has a fascinating beginning. In an amusing montage of old movie clips and under Brian Flemming’s near sarcastic narration we are presented with the story of Jesus. The kitchiness of the old films and Flemming’s barely contained chuckle through it all do a very good job of showing how Christ’s allegedly miraculous time on Earth appears to those of us on the outside – as whole lot of hooey.

After this quick recap of Christianity, Flemming makes the surprising ascertain that Jesus never actually existed. This was a new one for me. I’ve always assumed that he did exist but was just one of the best documented cases of a messiah complex in history.

This is the kind of stuff that I can really get into. I’ve truly enjoyed the ride of The Da Vinci Code with all of the reactions and reactions to the reactions. I love to sink my teeth into conspiracy theories and history. And what better historical conspiracy could there be than the invention of the Christ?

But, despite the title of the film, very little time was spent on this angle In fact with my first viewing, I wasn’t really sure what the point of this DVD was except for Mr. Fleming to declare as loudly as he can that he doesn’t believe.

For after making the claim that Christ never existed and backing it up with a few facts presented with the same chuckling sneer, Flemming moves right on to begin ridiculing Christians and poking at them from every perspective that he can.

He explores the separation between the God of the bible, vengeful and absolute in law, and the God of today’s Christianity, more Care Bear than maker and overlord of all things. He examines the more likely folk tale roots of the “facts” of the bible. He discusses moral atheism, a concept that seems to be an oxymoron to many people today, with a handful of interesting scholars and thinkers.

In fact, it was these experts that I found myself enjoying the most. As the film moved on and went deeper into Flemming’s personal journey from a devout christian to an even more devoted atheist, I found myself liking him less and less. In the end Flemming, at the height of narcissism, revisits his old school – a Christian institution. The point of his visit and interview with its principal is really unclear though Flemming seems to think that he taking a stand. Really, he appears to whine about a time in his life that he’d rather have gone another way. While the principal does a fine job of remaining calm under his accusatory and erratic form of questioning, Flemming believes that he’s building the situation to a dramatic victory. When the principal mentions some sort of trouble that Flemming got himself into while at the school and ends the interview by walking away, Flemming gets his final victory by going to the school’s chapel where he thrice accepted Christ and declares that he now denies the existence of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps the only reason that I would watch this DVD all the way to the end is that I agree with every conclusion that Fleming has reached in life. In fact what he does tell about his life closely parallels mine.

I share with him the mixture of disgust, amusement and fear at the fundamentalist protestant christian movement that has become so powerful in almost every way in the United States today. My inclination is to praise this DVD but I try to look at works like this from the perspective of the other guy as much as I can and from that angle he failed miserably.

At the risk of abusing a metaphor, Flemming is preaching to the choir.

Any Christian that could sit through the first ten minutes of this film and not either walk out of the room or throw their DVD player through the window deserves high praise. Nevertheless, Flemming’s disparagement is so complete I can’t imagine that this Christian, patient as he or she might be, would be able to entertain any of the ideas presented. And that’s a shame because many of them are quite compelling.

With an attitude that both sides of the widening cultural divide in the United States is guilty of, Flemming does more than say that he disagrees with most of his countrymen. He loudly and proudly says that they are hateful, despicable, clownish oafs. He presents the extremes of their points of views as mainstream and damns them all for it.

Once again, I’m tempted to go along with him in this but I’m embarrassed at his maltreatment. Most Christians, like most people, think of themselves as good people and believe that they are doing the best that they can for themselves and the world. At one point Flemming does admit this but it is so deep in the film and a Christian would have to wade through so much muck that it hardly rights the wrong.

I watched the film again, trying to find where I might have misinterpreted something or taken Flemming’s approach too literally. I couldn’t find it. I also watched every minute of the extras, half because I found the experts very interesting and half to try to find the film’s message.

I finally found it. The last extra is a captioned slide show that purports to go deeper into the subject. Really it is little more than a recap with clearer references to the source materials. Then at the very end of the slide show, though, I finally got it.

For lack of a better word, this video is evangelical propaganda for an aggressive atheistic movement.

Really!

I couldn’t believe it. What good word is there to spread? I’ve been an atheist for years and I’ve never found it to be particularly fulfilling and I’ve never felt the need to convert anyone else. It’s not about fulfillment; it’s just a rational choice that one makes. Nor is it a lifestyle or life philosophy. I don’t ask myself at the end of each day whether or not I was a good atheist today.

But Flemming seems to be targeting people just like me and in that light the whole video, save that bit at his old school, makes a lot of sense and frankly is quite well done. Most of the experts in the film share a belief that christians are not only wrong but they’re dangerous. It’s hard to look into history and disagree. And today it seems even worse with so many of the political and cultural battles being waged on protestant fundamentalist lines. Once the film has gotten to the targeted viewer – because most christians would have already shut it off or walked out of the room – Flemming offers some atheistic, naturalistic, antireligious or whatever you want to call them organizations at the end of that slide show. I can’t deny that I’m intrigued so it appears that his propaganda has worked at least in this case.

I just hate feeling manipulated.

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About Bryce Eddings

  • Nancy

    That’s the only problem with anything of this sort, on either side of the cultural/religious divide: they’re always preaching to the choir, since almost none on the other side would ever listen/read anything critical of their own beliefs.

  • http://blog.efx2.com/user/unusualsuspect/ Catana

    Ugh, thanks for saving me from a wasted rental. I’m taking this doggie off my Netflix Queue pronto. As a lifelong atheist I’m completely turned off by aggressive atheists. I don’t see any difference between an atheist who feels the need to be constantly on the attack and fundies who do that. Flemming seems to be one of those whose “conversion” was more an emotional reaction than a rationally considered decision. This type is often as dogmatic as any theist, needing to bolster their new beliefs (or lack of belief) by vociferously tearing down their old ones. Koestler elaborated on the idea that such converts are always ripe to become converted again. The communists supposedly felt that ex-Catholics were their best converts.