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On "Eli Stone" and Atheism - Nothing to See Here — LiveJournal

Jul. 12th, 2009

01:50 am - On "Eli Stone" and Atheism

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This evening, my wife and I watched an episode of Eli Stone (a show we both greatly enjoy) called "Flight Path" and I was mostly very happy to see something very rare for American television: An atheist character!

Not a tortured Catholic (or whatever) who's "lost touch with their religion" -- that's common enough -- but an atheist, entirely comfortable with their lack of belief.

Warning: VERY mild semi-spoilers for the episode follow below.....

Why was I so happy to see this? Well, apart from the very fact of her being atheist, the thing which really made it so awesome was that the character was very strongly moral. This was a person who had no faith in any higher power telling them what they ought to do/think, but who had a powerful enough set of morals that she was not willing to cause emotional pain to others in order to gain a heart transplant she needed to live.

How often do you see THAT on television?

The one dampener on it was when the argument was made that here was this atheist doing a very Christian thing. I think the statement was in fact ok in that it was the right argument for the character that said it to make to those he was addressing it to (a jury) in the context of the show. That said, it was a bit of a pity to slightly water down the message that ATHEISTS CAN HAVE MORALS TOO by painting it as Christian. On the one hand, I do understand that it was totally valid in that there are kind of two definitions of Christian (the one saying that someone is of a given religion, and the one saying that they are kind and selfless). On the other, it, well, as I said, seemed like it slightly weakened the message.

Still, with that one mild reservation about it, I applaud the writers, producers and network. Bravo! Kudos!

In case I haven't done so publicly already, I was extremely pleased that President Barack Obama in his inauguration speech mentioned atheists/agnostics in with the list of religions. Kudos to him also!

It is all too common a misunderstanding among Christians (especially in America) that an atheist can't be moral because ... who is telling them what to think? An atheist friend of mine once pointed out that isn't it in fact more moral for someone to choose to do good because they believe it is the right thing, the human thing, to do rather than because they were told to do so to save themselves?

While that argument is persuasive, there are also many religious people who are good because they know, deep down, what is right and not because they are following orders. I know many good, moral people with very high standards of morality and who are thoughtful towards others who are atheists, and many who are religious (and of course there are plenty of obnoxious people of both persuasions too).

Really, the point of all this is not to hold up one or the other as better, more right(eous), but to show that morality does not hinge on somebody sharing your beliefs (or lack thereof).

It pleases me to see that message in mainstream media.

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: pleasedpleased
Current Music: Eli Stone theme


[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)
For at least three generations back, hardly anyone in my family has been religious. In the places where I grew up, that wasn't unusual.

So I was completely taken aback when one of the few religious kids in my school asked "If you don't believe in hell, what's stopping you from stealing and lying and being horrible to people?"

I think I was fourteen or so. It had never occurred to me that it wasn't completely obvious that behaving like a big jerk is a BAD IDEA. I'd always assumed everyone knew that, even thieves and criminals and rude people -- they just had some problem that made them do it anyway.
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[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
Precisely. :) I think there's a lot of people out there who while they inherently understand that things are bad don't really feel any remorse about the little stuff and are only held back by that inherent feeling of right/wrong for REALLY bad things and either do all the little bad things or only don't do them because of fear of heck. Maybe we're lucky so many people are religious. =)

As mentioned, though, I don't think religion means you're likely to be less principled--just that lack of religion doesn't mean you'll be less principled either!
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[User Picture]
Date:July 13th, 2009 03:38 am (UTC)
I had a roommate in my senior year of COLLEGE who didn't understand why people wouldn't just go off and do bad things without the threat of hell.
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[User Picture]
Date:July 13th, 2009 04:00 am (UTC)
That's not terribly surprising to me given how many grown adults don't understand this.
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