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.