The other day I went to see Watchmen on the grand silver screen. The epic cluster fuck of a film was a hard one to sit through, but in the end I felt, well worth it. Despite numerous shots of Dr. Manhattan’s radiating blue penis which deserves another post all together, and awkward sex scenes between Nite Owl II and Silk Specter II (really Alan Moore?) the movie did have an interesting premise. The Watchmen wonders, loudly and clearly if the sacrifice of some is worth it for the thin security and prosperity of the majority. We also find a trans-dimensional, universally connected “superhero” that is an atheist in Dr. Manhattan. Radiating blue penis and all. These two pseudo spiritual questions fall on the world at a time when we are plagued by unending wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and the real threat of greater wars with Pakistan, India and Iran loom. Least we forget the violence that is occurring at our borders amongst drug lords, in the heart of Columbia funded by American tax dollars and we have an abject amount of killing of animals occurring every minute to sustain an untamed and unintelligent hunger.
In the mist of all this, your self proclaimed Atheist friends here at Franconia Station World Industries in the Philosophy department have been inhaling as much of the On Faith columns as possible. Understanding perspective is what we do here. And it is in fact an op-ed piece by Anthony Stevens-Aroyo that inspired me to make a last minute decision to see Watchmen. In this piece of opinion Aroyo states first that Watchmen should sound the alarms for Catholics everywhere as the funeral pyres of Atheism are being lit. Comic Books, Aroyo states, are replacing religion as these spandex clad superheros can offer more in wow and dazzle then the church and religious texts can. In the old days it seems, the glorious imagination of the first religions and their fantastic stories were enough to captivate and trap the minds of the flocks. Today, this type of fanfare has been replaced by our comic book style tales of larger than life, and thus God like superheros doing the unimaginable and kicking as while doing so.
Aroyo also states blankly “People are moving away from Atheism.” He says this the day before Trinity College, A Catholic institution, released the results of a study showing that membership in established churches are falling and that the growth of people who claim “no religion” has increased. IT would be irresponsible for me to claim that this means the Atheist society of the world is growing by leaps and bounds as Brad Hirscfield points out in his own op-ed piece. It does seem however to ring true Aroyo’s statements of concern for the Catholic church. Suspect and spooky in it’s practices in the Vatican, the righteous protectors of Christ have been plagued with scandal for decades now. Never mind they hoard the wealth the accumulate from their congregation in a wicked compound at the heart of Italy. The Catholic church needs a PR make over in a bad bad way. No doubt the pulpit is rising from it’s knees and rejecting it.
The complicit language and practice so often taught to us in religion is driving many people away from churches. We in America are not stoked on being told what to do. We don’t like orders and we don’t like our relationships defined by others. This is certainly true in our spiritual relationships. And so we are redefining spirituality. For some of us, this means outing ourselves as Atheists. For others it means joining Universalist Unitarian Churches so that the community that Churches, Mosques and Temples provide is maintained. We also live in fear of what we define as “Islamic Terrorism” (a term this Atheist finds disgusting I might add) which no doubt is driving Muslims into hiding or possibly even away from their churches. I have not read anything on such trends, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many Muslims were trying to suppress their faith. Which, though I don’t agree with it, is sad to me. Expression of self is hard enough without persecution or the threat of violence from anyone for any reason.
Thus I have a bone to pick with Aroyo who says that Atheists have room in this world as long as they don’t impose their “belief” on the rest of the world. This is of course a dangerous thing for any Catholic to ask as they have imposed violence through action and ignorance on the world for 2,000 years now. First and foremost, the word belief only applies to religious thought. I don’t “believe” in anything. There are things I know and there are things that I don’t know. We can’t apply words that are ascribed to one facet of the world to another. Using the world belief in the context of Atheism is like using baseball terminology to describe love. It doesn’t work and shows a complete lack of intelligence and understanding about the world. Watchmen does not suppose their is no gods, it certainly believes in masters however. The question of doubt however remains. An honest, human and crucial human emotion. This is where we self check our notions and actions. It’s unfortunate that the character who has doubt (contrasted with Rorschach who deals in absolutes) is also non-human and leaves the earth for good.
I don’t share Aroyo’s view that the sleek Hollywood superheros will replace religion. They are filled with the stories of lone rangers, fighting a solitary fight, outcast and dejected from a world. There is nothing deeply meaningful in the end about these figures. Spirituality is about so much more than just the fantastic power of God and it’s wrath and might as the Catholic religion likes to portray. There are terms like redemption, salvation and grace that are so often used when talking about religion and spirituality. Watchmen certainly did not provide any of that. It did have some awesome fighting scenes though.