Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Invention of Religion

1/31/2010—in the sharp and funny movie based on a world in which only one person can say things that are not true, The Invention of Lying, Ricky Gervais invents bank theft and fiction before he invents religion. Nevertheless, he does invent heaven, hell and God on the way to comforting his dying mother who is terrified of death. The results are funny precisely because everyone takes the message in a way opposite from what Gervais intends. For example, we see a character who had been getting out of his shell, decide to drink beer and do nothing until death because bliss then is permanent.

The movie’s view of the source and even intention of religion are echoed by the feelings of some atheists. Religion is an opiate for the masses too stupid to face life as it is. A false comfort. Even Marx said so.

But there are numerous problems with this view, at least insofar as it is a critique of religion in general. For one thing, as Pascal Boyer points out, embracing fantasy solace is not consonant with a species that evolved. Facing facts is usually preferred by survival.

In addition, there is not a direct connection between ancient religion and personal survival after death. Abraham is not promised anything like heaven, for example.

Religion is more complex than The Invention of Lying suggests.

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