Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

30 Days, of Hell in Heaven

If you haven’t seen it, 30 Days is Supersize Me author Morgan Spurlock’s show on FX. The premise is straight-forward: immerse someone for 30 days in a situation opposite to what they’re used to. Ostensibly, the idea is to learn “how the other half lives”, so to speak. The August 9 episode featured a woman, married with children, who happens to be an atheist. For 30 days she lived with a Christian family in Texas. To my eyes, there was a constant undercurrent of tension in spite of some very friendly and polite surface conversation. There’s plenty to jaw about here, but I’d like to offer up just a few quick observations.


The Christian family took their atheist guest on a drive-by of their church. It seemed pretty large to me, but then they drove by a “mega-church”. This thing looked like a public auditorium or small stadium. My initial reaction was “What else could they have done with the money to build that structure that might have directly helped people instead of just glorifying their church?”

The guest attended both Sunday services and weekly Bible study. I found it a little odd that she always seemed to be writing in a notebook at these times. Of course, I found this less odd than the questions and comments she received during the meetings. One of my favorites involved the leader of the group referring to the Big Bang theory. He said he understood that it claimed that all matter in the universe had been compressed into a tiny little space smaller than a pinhead. His question was “But where did that matter come from in the first place?” His answer, of course, was “God”, at which the remainder of the group smiled and nodded in agreement. He added “But I don’t wonder where God came from”. Sure. Because God was always there, right? It sounds to me that all he did was rephrase the question and then refuse to answer it. As one might expect, there were some uninformed comments concerning evolution at these meetings, and I was particularly appalled at a sidebar piece which featured “B.C. Tours” of the Denver Museum of Natural History. The group leader, who as far as I can figure is not associated with the museum- thankfully, stood in front of a dinosaur skeleton and proceeded to explain to the group that dinosaurs did not live 60 million years before humans appeared, but that instead, humans and dinosaurs co-existed. The museum director was equally appalled at this. By the way, “B.C.” stands for “Biblically Correct”. Yeeesh! My brain was spinning.

At one point, the family was talking with a group of local atheists and the conversation turned to the phrase “In God We Trust” appearing on US currency. One atheist said he felt it was not appropriate for the government to do that and that he would be equally opposed if the government printed “There is no God” on the currency. The father of the Christian family gave the tired and stunningly mindless retort “If you don’t like it, move”. On several occasions he also wondered how his guest raised her children without a “moral guidebook”. Apparently, he has yet to figure out that ethical action is not necessarily predicated upon following a top-down, authoritarian scheme. His wife seemed to be a bit more empathetic, particularly after they received a short visit from the rest of the atheist family and saw that they really are a caring, loving, concerned family in spite of not believing in a supreme being.

As I said, there was quite a bit more to comment on, but one thing struck me at the close of the show: Spurlock had no choice but to immerse an atheist into a Christian family and culture. He could not do the reverse. That is, it would have been impossible for him to immerse a fundamentalist Christian into an atheist family and surrounding culture. While the atheist was surrounded by a landscape of churches and church-goers, Spurlock would never have been able to find a town devoid of churches and populated largely by atheists. At least not in the US, and I think that’s the most telling thing about this episode.

Comments

  1. #1 kemibe
    August 10, 2006

    I’m glad I didn’t see this program, because had I watched it I’d be in the market for a new television set.

    “If you don’t like it, move.”

    This is my suggestion to Christians unhappy with the fact that it is illegal to teach creationism in public schools, the fact that abortion is legal, the fact that condoms are available to teenagers and others, the fact that premarital sex is legal, the fact that pornography is legal, that fact that homosexuality is not a crime, and the fact that if I feel like it, I can set a stack of Bibles on fire and then defecate on the ashes.

  2. #2 JKB
    August 10, 2006

    On several occasions he also wondered how his guest raised her children without a “moral guidebook”. Apparently, he has yet to figure out that ethical action is not necessarily predicated upon following a top-down, authoritarian scheme.

    You gloss right over that. I need this explained often and constantly because I don’t get it even as i hear people say it.

    What is ethical behavior predicated on if not top-down, authoritarian schemes? As much as I think on this, I conclude that most of my ethical behavior hinges on avoidance of negative consequences and some social benefits given in the form of carrot and stick.

    It seems to me that ethics as a branch of philosophy is grossly influenced by religious thinkers to the effect of it being largely outsourced to them by governments and culture. This guy’s view is relatively reasonable in that sense.

  3. #3 Jim
    August 10, 2006

    “I conclude that most of my ethical behavior hinges on avoidance of negative consequences and some social benefits given in the form of carrot and stick.”

    Really? Your primary motivator is avoidance of the negative and not one of seeking the positive? I feel sorry for you. Usually, I think in terms of “How would I like it if the tables were turned? Is it fair or equitable?”

    I simply don’t understand your penultimate sentence. In Western history, religion WAS the government so there’s no “outsourcing” involved, although it is certainly true that religious thinkers have had a sizable impact on the study of ethics. The guy’s view is not “reasonable” although it may be “understandable” in the light of his myopic take on things.

  4. #4 JKB
    August 10, 2006

    Ho-ho.

    Now I feel sorry that you feel sorry for me. And if this trend continues, you’ll feel sorry that I feel sorry that you feel sorry…so let’s cut to the chase and take my word if I say that I’m perfectly happy attributing my ethical practices to selfishness.

    This guy’s view is relatively reasonable in that sense.

    I’m still not seeing that ethics evidently come from elsewhere in our culture. You say that you “…think in terms of …”, but where does the ethical training come from? Where is it’s source? I didn’t get ethical training in school. And the college courses are pretty sparse. So most people get it elsewhere, and the religious element seems predominant in many cases I can think of. If I emulate others, in most cases their influence was religiously rooted. Even the laws that we have seem to be rooted in religious presentation of ethics.

    Usually, I think in terms of “How would I like it if the tables were turned? Is it fair or equitable?”

    Do you really see much of that? I live in the US, the top 5% of the conspicuous consumption pyramid on the planet, and honestly I don’t see too much of that. And I don’t see my neighbors thinking that way either. I’m perfectly happy to buy $12 jeans at Sam’s Club that was made by child labor somewhere abstract. It’s acceptable to me and my neighbors to bomb people preemptively if it superficially insures my safety. I’ll support a coup to replace a democratically elected populist in order to get cheaper gas. I’ll support ethnic cleansing among my friends but be appalled when it’s carried out by others. I’ll parade my prisoners on TV but get outraged when someone parades mine. I’ll never attack civilians, except when it’s absolutely necessary and they were standing around looking idle. I’m all for human rights, but not against killing people by starvation, withholding clean water or medicine if under the umbrella of sanctions.

    I could go on citing examples of why fair and equitable is an academic concept seldom placed in practice, but I think you can get the point from my examples. So, rather than be very conflicted, I just admit that my ethical decisions are based on creature comforts, the desire to get laid, propagate genes down the line and not have anything undesirable shoved up my ass. It’s really a basic, easy to understand philosophy that I have no issues whatsoever passing on to progeny.

    If you haven’t seen yesterday’s Daily Show, I encourage you to get it tonight on rerun. They had a great new Arab correspondent explaining the concept of reasonableness and tables turning.

  5. #5 quork
    August 10, 2006

    Usually, I think in terms of “How would I like it if the tables were turned? Is it fair or equitable?”

    Do you really see much of that?

    Some form of the ‘Golden Rule’ is found in nearly every human culture.

    As for top-down morality, you could start by reading up on the Euthyphro dilemma. Plato dealt with this 2400 years ago.

  6. #6 somnilista, FCD
    August 10, 2006

    the fact that if I feel like it, I can set a stack of Bibles on fire and then defecate on the ashes.

    You silly person. Didn’t you know that Bibles won’t burn? (Or so some Christians believe)

  7. #7 quork
    August 10, 2006

    What is ethical behavior predicated on if not top-down, authoritarian schemes?

    You could read up on Utilitarianism, or Kant’s categorical imperative. Those are two examples of ethical systems not based on authoritarianism.

    Otherwise, your arguments on ethics seem to consist entirely of offering yourself up as a bad example.

  8. #8 Trisha
    August 10, 2006

    I was hoping someone here would blog about this!

    ”On several occasions he also wondered how his guest raised her children without a “moral guidebook”. Apparently, he has yet to figure out that ethical action is not necessarily predicated upon following a top-down, authoritarian scheme.”

    That part surprised me a lot, that he couldn’t understand it. Are there really that many fundamentalists out there that really think belief in God is necessary to live morally/ethically?

    I like to see a show where they send a fundamentalist to someplace like India to live with people with a very different religious viewpoint. They seem to have a hard time even understanding that it is possible that people may live or believe in things differently than they do.

  9. #9 JKB
    August 10, 2006

    Some form of the ‘Golden Rule’ is found in nearly every human culture.

    As for top-down morality, you could start by reading up on the Euthyphro dilemma. Plato dealt with this 2400 years ago.

    Well darn, you got me on that one. And I even have that on my portable professor series. Oh, the memory it goes so fast.

    …still though, maybe subconsciously I just considered it an archaic, academic concept that got the life choked out of it by my Christian upbringing. Those nuns will beat the Utilitarianism out of you every time. They kept shrieking about communism, but I knew what they meant. If only I had insisted that Utilitarianism dominate my ethos, it would probably save me from this global warming.

    I guess I was offering myself up as a bad example, but give me a chance to equivocate.

    I recall reading about some study where the obese habitually underestimated how much they actually consumed. So I thought, hmmm — how can people delude themselves like that? But having seen it in an empirical study, I had to conclude that there was probably some truth to it even if I didn’t do it myself.

    So I thought — I wonder what else we delude ourselves about? Well, maybe being good people is something that we overestimate. So I put down all my selfish traits in one column, and my godly traits in another. After subtracting one from the other I discovered I had an overwhelming surplus of the selfish negatives. And for a while I was in a bit of a funk, but decided to stop hating myself over it and take advantage of screwing others guilt-free.

    DOH! Now you’re telling me that I forgot to carry the Kant and square the result by Plato.

    I’m glad you caught this. I feel like such a Homer for doing simple additive math where complex rationalizations were called for.

  10. #10 kemibe
    August 10, 2006

    Anyone positing that ethics have a strong basis in religious tradition needs to keep in mind that human beings created gods in the first place and appointed them celestial policemen — writers and administrars of morals and ethics and laws. Deities are nothing but mirrors of what human societies have developed by obligation. Maybe in ancient times when so little was known about the universe this made a certain amount of sense, but in today’s world, externalizing morality merely provides an excuse for benighted nutcases to persecute and condemn others. It’s a pitiful shirking of responsibility. These fundagelical assholes need to drop their Bibles and start owning their shitcaked views.

  11. #11 JKB
    August 11, 2006

    These fundagelical assholes need to drop their Bibles and start owning their shitcaked views.

    But I was owning my views and you all alternately felt sorry for me and then ridiculed me for my ignorance.

    I feel no warmth emanating from your academic ethos. So disappointing that looking for enlightenment, I only received patronizing condescension. I guess for compassion it’s back to the bible study group, although I don’t really go to study, as much as try to pick up available dates.

  12. #12 DieFundy
    August 11, 2006

    Aww. Didums feel no warmth from the thinkers? Aww. Personally, I do hate you for your religion. Go back to worshipping the sun and stop messing with our science and politics. Kthxbbye.

  13. #13 somnilista, FCD
    August 11, 2006

    That part surprised me a lot, that he couldn’t understand it. Are there really that many fundamentalists out there that really think belief in God is necessary to live morally/ethically?

    Yes there are. This is one of the most common msiconceptions about atheists, and one that is regularly drilled into the flocks by wannabe Elmer Gantrys.

    Here’s an example of this common bias:

    So I put down all my selfish traits in one column, and my godly traits in another.

  14. #14 somnilista, FCD
    August 11, 2006

    Here’s Michael Novak over at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research demonstrating his knowledge of atheism and morality:

    If you listen to their words, they are atheists. But if you watch how they actually live, they are Christians or Jews.

  15. #15 JKB
    August 11, 2006

    Aww. Didums feel no warmth from the thinkers? Aww. Personally, I do hate you for your religion. Go back to worshipping the sun and stop messing with our science and politics. Kthxbbye.

    Tsk-tsk-tsk. That sounds an awful lot like the fella in the blogger’s post that wanted people that don’t agree with him to move.

    The father of the Christian family gave the tired and stunningly mindless retort “If you don’t like it, move”.

    And I thought you enlightened thinkers were above that. But nothing more than hypocritical Tiaa-Crefumunists.

    I ask you brothers and sisters, what kind of ethos is this — to hate me for my religion? No compassion, no tolerance, no love for the gullable that walks among you, seeking enlightenment. Tonight I’ll pray for the students that interact with you in that cold, clinical world of academia. It’s no wonder we are alienated.

    I like to see a show where they send a fundamentalist to someplace like India to live with people with a very different religious viewpoint. They seem to have a hard time even understanding that it is possible that people may live or believe in things differently than they do.

    Missionary work being done every day to spread the good news of Our Lord. If you’re unfamiliar with it, think of it as unpaid fieldwork or like a peace corps assignment, but with a purpose.

  16. #16 bad Jim
    August 11, 2006

    Courtesy, it appears, is not part of at least one Christian’s ethos.

    I have to wonder how my pagan ancestors managed during the millenia before their conversion to Christianity.

  17. #17 Ick of the East
    August 12, 2006

    …..Missionary work being done every day to spread the good news of Our Lord.

    The good news is that they are having little or no effect in the atheist hell-hole where I live (Thailand).
    I have a couple of missionaries on my softball team. But I still have yet to meet a Christian.

  18. #18 DieFundie
    August 13, 2006

    Tsk-tsk-tsk. That sounds an awful lot like the fella in the blogger’s post that wanted people that don’t agree with him to move.

    It’s a dismissive ad hominim attack. It stems from pent up hate of religion and the damage it does to people. This hatred, on my part, most certainly does spill over to those that actively defend their religion’s beliefs. This hatred seethes when I see the negative effects of religion on public policy and elections.

    JKB, you are a troll. This is the last comment I will make directed at you or quoting you. You will be ignored by me in the future. Your beliefs stem from faith in a book. This book has been selectively hobcobbled together and retranslated over millenia. This book is mythology. People don’t live 800 years. People don’t rise from the dead. People can’t perform miracles. These are lies. If you want to live your life and structure your ethos around faith in a book men wrote, there are many to choose from. You’ve chosen a version of “the bible”. Maybe you did this because your family also believed in this mythology. Maybe you ate a bad cracker and had a vision leading you to the saving light. Whatever it was, you’ve been moved to support your mythology through words and deeds. Science has been a natural target for religion throughout history, and like many other zealots throughout eons, you rise as a representative of your religious beliefs to support them against attack. Hence, you troll here. Goodbye.

  19. #19 JKB
    August 16, 2006

    JKB, you are a troll. This is the last comment I will make directed at you or quoting you. You will be ignored by me in the future. Your beliefs stem from faith in a book. This book has been selectively hobcobbled together and retranslated over millenia. This book is mythology. People don’t live 800 years. People don’t rise from the dead. People can’t perform miracles. These are lies. If you want to live your life and structure your ethos around faith in a book men wrote, there are many to choose from. You’ve chosen a version of “the bible”. Maybe you did this because your family also believed in this mythology. Maybe you ate a bad cracker and had a vision leading you to the saving light. Whatever it was, you’ve been moved to support your mythology through words and deeds. Science has been a natural target for religion throughout history, and like many other zealots throughout eons, you rise as a representative of your religious beliefs to support them against attack. Hence, you troll here. Goodbye.

    That’s quite a taxonomy. Did you get that from Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life or are you a follower of Akimbo, the intelligent white show ape in Doc Bushwell’s simian petting zoo?

    Why do you want The Fundie to die and why are you so afraid of The Fundie? It must be unimaginably horrible to live in fear of terrorists, home grown Fundies and bad crackers.

    Jesus bade me to go forth and do missionary work among the tribes of the Tiaa-Cref spiritual savages. So, no moldy cracker is needed to come into this light brother; I extend my hand in compassion and fraternity…

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