Bad Influences: The Unbelievers

“Bad Influences” is a segment in which the author pays tribute to the people and texts that contributed in specific and memorable ways to the decline of her Christian faith--or, depending on how one looks at it, the burgeoning of her authentic self. As you’ve probably figured out, the title is somewhat ironic.

    I’d resisted sating my curiosity about the atheist/freethought ‘movement’ for some time. I haven’t read any Hitchens or Dawkins, and up until very recently I watched documentaries on just about every philosophical tradition but the one I just mentioned. Part of my reticence surely has had to do with the intense conditioning I received as a young Christian, which succeeded in convincing me that atheism is akin to an infectious disease ready to infest my mind with devilish thoughts at the slightest exposure.

    Also, in general, it just so happens that I am not all that angry with the church. Though it may not always seem like it according to this blog, I still have a lot of sympathy for and sentimental attachment to Christianity, and I am not interested in swapping one version of fear-mongering for another (which is what I was assuming this kind of public, gathered atheism was: vindictive.)

    This last summer, I tried to put all that bias aside and clicked “play” on The Unbelievers. The film is a documentary that follows scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss around the world as they speak to a variety of crowds about free thought and reason. Interspersed throughout these recorded sessions are interviews with and clips of other celebrities and public figures sharing their views on the same overall topic.

    I made a half-hearted attempt at being optimistic about the film before I turned it on, but the undertaking was unnecessary. The movie needs no defense, and I quickly realized that I needed no convincing of its credibility. It is a fair and relatively friendly glimpse into the concerted effort these two men--and many others like them--are putting forth to help open the public’s eyes to a more evolved world view, and the work they are doing to create a community for those who find no place in the theological traditions by which they’re surrounded.

    What I valued most about the film is how it revealed the love with which the labor it portrays is undertaken. I feared that I’d spend an hour and a half trying not to be overwhelmed with hate speech and bitterness toward Christians and other religious people. Instead, I was delighted to find that the people who were documented or interviewed showed a real compassionate conviction about offering love and acceptance to people who were experiencing rejection and isolation because of their free thought. They (those at the center of the film) also seemed to to have as one of their main goals the liberation and evolution of society as a whole from old, insufficient, often harmful ways of doing and understanding things.

    I still don’t know whether or not I fit into the “atheist” camp, but I feel more of a connection to and understanding of that group thanks to this movie. It was educational and stirring, and much warmer than I could have imagined. I recommend the film to anyone who feels ‘scared’ of atheists, and anyone who feels like they’re alone in their frustration with the status quo.