Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 7


First up, a black (and black and white) comedy, THE EVANGELIST. Theatre director and confirmed atheist Daniel gets more than he bargained for when he adopts what seems like a cool kid, Gideon (dig the Bible names). Turns out, besides being enthralled with stage blood, Gideon reads the Bible and believes it (the horror!) Daniel plays along with Gideons mission to convert people, thinking it's just a phase that will pass quicker if he doesn't fight it. But it doesn't pass, and instead leads to hilariously grisly results.

It's hard to peg if this movie is anti-religious or anti-atheist. It seems to be anti-fanaticism on either side. Certainly the scene with Daniel finding out the book Gideon is hiding under his pillow isn't a porn magazine but the Bible makes him (Daniel) out to be the intolerant one. And since the movie is about religious fanaticism, I feel like going off on a weird rant about my own beliefs.

I am an atheist. And I mean that not in the sense that I have no beliefs one way or another, but I believe (without proof of the unprovable) that God does not exist. Although I can summon doubt, I am still an atheist, not an agnostic. Those who argue that if you have doubt you're an agnostic piss me off. With them, the word agnostic stops meaning anything about your (lack of) belief in God one way or another but rather about your capacity to see other viewpoints and summon doubt in your beliefs. In their definition, people are either agnostics or arrogant drooling morons with insufficient mental agility to imagine a world in which they're wrong. While this definition might ensconce agnostics in a cloak of smug superiority, it's a useless definition for discussing matters of faith, and agnostics who insist on that definition are just assholes.

Besides, agnosticism is a dangerous gateway philosophy. Sure, I understand how it's appealing. You're hanging out with friends, maybe having a few beers when someone sparks up a thought, 'Dude, what if God like...existed, man?' And you might experiment with it a few times, just to expand your mind. And maybe it makes the world more intense and alive (or maybe it makes everything more mellow, I don't really know). I've even tried it before, although I am by no means an agnost-head. But beware, it can lead to harder, more dangerous beliefs. No sir, it's just good, clean atheist lifestyle for me!

With that said, I did once try to read the Bible cover to cover. I got bogged down in Leviticus, but before I gave up I did read a story that changed my whole worldview. It's an oldie but goodie--the ten commandments. But it's an onscure part that most people gloss over, if they know it at all. You may recall that God gave Moses the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai, but he was up there so long those silly Israelites started worshipping a golden calf. And you may recall that Moses was so angry he smashed the tablets and ran back to tell God, who this time made Moses carve the commandments into the stone tablets and bring them back to his chosen people. But I just skipped my favorite part, Exodus 32:7-14 (KJV)

7And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:

8They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

9And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:

10Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

11And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

12Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.

14And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

My added emphasis. Basically, God wanted to kill all the Israelites, and Moses talked him out of it. What Moses did was pretty darn amazing, but what struck me is that God can change his mind. I suppose there are many possible ways to interpret this. For example, it could mean that even God can make mistakes and be corrected. Or he could've been testing Moses, with no intention of killing anyone. But when I first read it I chose to interpret it as God is perfect (at least, the Bible is written with that premise) and yet he can change his mind. The obvious implication that perfection--in particular moral perfection--does not have one unique solution. For a given situation (in this case, the tribe abandoning God) there are multiple possible actions (Kill them all! Forgive them all!) that are all morally correct. Now maybe that's only true for God himself, but once that idea got into my mind I couldn't shake it, or how right it felt when applied to human actions, too.

Please note, this is not moral relativism. There can still be objective, constant standards of what is or isn't moral. Nor does it mean that normally immoral actions can become moral when compared to more immoral alternatives. Instead, this is about recognizing that there are multiple good options to every scenario, and fighting over which good option is better is kind of silly. I've heard many times that "honest, well-meaning people can disagree." It's a common phrase in political debates (or at least was, back in the days of more civil, reasoned debates, like the Clinton impeachment hearings). I used to always think the implication at the end was that people disagree because we're all fallible and as much as we want to be morally correct we all routinely fail. However, after reading and thinking on these Bible verses, I now think that honest, well-meaning people can disagree because they're both morally correct, and just haven't come to the realization that morality does not have just one unique solution.

Anyway, I'm sure there are religious people who will insist I have my head up my ass and this sort of thinking will lead me straight to hell. I will remind you that I am an atheist. I don't believe in heaven or hell, so I really don't care if this thinking condemns my soul in the afterlife. It has brought me a great measure of peace here in life on Earth, and that's a good thing.

Okay, that's enough of that tangent. This is supposed to be a movie blog, not a religion blog! Good God, I can't possibly let this become a religion blog, that would really be hell.

So the next show was WORST IN SHOW, and ironic title for such a fun, well made movie. It's about the amusing little world of ugliest dog competitions. The Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma started it, or at least popularized it so that it's become a bizarre worldwide phenomena. There are controversies, like should badly sick or injured dogs compete against perfectly healthy but just butt-ugly dogs (like the Chinese Cresteds, they're perennial competitors). While there are some pictures of truly ugly dogs (the first appearance of the late, great Sam actually brought out a few screams and then laughter from the audience). But the movie is really about the owners, the wacky people who all insist their dogs are just "unique" and it's just the outside world that finds them ugly. They all truly love dogs, and while there's a natural camaraderie, there's also a natural competitiveness. And no one is more competitive than Dane and his pride and joy (and multiple times champion) Rascal. And that was really the oddest thing for me. You see, Dane comes off--despite his smiling, happy demeanor--as someone who takes this way too seriously, even as kind of an ultra-competitive jerk about it. But the thing is, I know him from Cinequest. In his day job he's a celebrity photographer, and he works Cinequest as well as other local film festivals. I didn't even know he had Rascal and competed in ugliest dog contests (much less competed for decades with champions going back to Rascal's grandparents) until a couple of weeks ago when he showed up to the Cinequest media launch party with Rascal. In fact, since I knew this movie was playing in Indiefest and Cinequest's scheduled hadn't been announced yet, I figured that WORST IN SHOW was going to play Cinequest and that's why he brought Rascal (it isn't, and what's up with that Cinequest? It's a great documentary with local interesting and Rascal would be a returning star after appearing in CARMA back in 2005 when it was called COMPARTMENT). Anyway, it was a really fun movie, and it was really weird seeing a film festival friend in a totally new light.

Total Running Time: 174 minutes
My Total Minutes: 222,328

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