Donohue on The Ledge

Matthew Chapman is the writer and director of The Ledge, a movie that opened last week that is being heavily marketed to atheists. Via Chapman’s blog I see that Bill Donohue is irked that atheists have produced a movie with atheistic themes:

Matthew Chapman is the writer and director. “God-fearing straight men have had a monopoly for a very long time,” he says, “and many peculiar decisions have been made.” Among the most peculiar, historically speaking, is something Chapman doesn’t want to admit: it was the Judeo-Christian ethos of America that accounts for the unprecedented levels of justice and freedom enjoyed by non-believers.

First, given America’s track record in excluding both Jews and Catholics, it’s startling that Donohue would write a phrase like “Judeo-Christian ethos of America”. America’s “ethos” is largely an outgrowth of the Enlightenment, which itself was more of a product of the Reformation and Protestant Christianity. Catholics were feared and excluded during most of America’s formative stage.

And of course, Donohue also ignores that those people who rejected America’s ethos were also Christians. Tories were firm believers in the authority that God had invested in the divine monarch. America was formed by brave Christians and their loyal Christians allies fighting against despotic Christians and their sneaky Christian flunkies.

What are we to say to all that? Thanks for fighting this out guys. We’ll take it from here.

Chapman is an atheist and the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin. Darwin, it should be noted, was a self-described agnostic. He once said to a dogmatic atheist, Edward Aveling, “Why should you be so aggressive? Is anything gained by trying to force these new ideas upon the mass of mankind?” Too bad Chapman didn’t learn that lesson.

Seriously, what would we expect from Charles Darwin? We’re talking about a man who suffered several nervous breakdowns during the writing of On the Origin of Species. He’s a man who gently euthanized worms in salt water before baiting his fish hook. If you want aggressive, you don’t look to Darwin. There’s a reason that Huxley had to become “Darwin’s bulldog.”

Anyway, we’ve got an answer to Darwin’s question now. Darwin, like most of the rationalists of his time, believed that Christianity was still necessary to hold society together. We don’t believe that anymore, since we can see plenty of non-Christian and even non-religious societies that continue to function.

Instead, we’ve seen in this history of our own country that religion can be harmful to the society. Religion is an excellent prop for the tyranny of the majority, justifying the oppression of the minority.

We’ve also seen what happens to a religious institution when it become exempt from scrutiny and pressure from the outside. The willingness of American Catholics to let the church deal with various wayward priests rather than going to the authorities helped lead to the enormous pedophilia scandal.

I’ve probably put more thought into Donohue’s comments that Donohue has. Being outraged is his raison d’être after all. Still, it’s the best I can do until I see the movie. Some folks in the forum are commenting on it, and the CNN Belief blog has a lengthy post which is moderately positive.

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