Every Atheist Needs: Spotlight

SpotlightIt’s not often I enjoy new movies these days. They are all sequels or prequels or remakes of remakes or some monopolization of previously successful franchises. There’s no creativity involved anymore, no original stories like Forrest Gump or Donnie Darko. Creative meetings go more or less like this: “Well, we made a lot of money off it last summer. Why not keep that train rolling?” Then some elderly billionaire waves his hand and barks, “Make it so!” and we have the seventy-fourth Batman movie in a fucking decade. Are there any actors left who have not played either Batman or the Joker?

The saddest part is that we all pour our hard earned money into them, like a goldfish rediscovering the little plastic scuba diver in the corner of his tank, over and over and over again.

Recently though, I’ve seen a rash of good movies with great stories and fantastic acting. I don’t know what’s happened. It’s like someone spiked Hollywood’s coffee with some sort of creativity serum, making possible flicks like The Martian and The Revenant and last night’s biggest winner, Spotlight.

I finally got a chance to sit down and watch Spotlight on Friday night. I went into it with high expectations for a few reasons: 1. I never learn. 2. I’m an outspoken atheist and a take down of the Catholic Church better be righteously fulfilling. 3. Telling this story poorly would be a slap in the face to hundreds of thousands of victims of the Catholic criminal organization the globe over.

When the credits rolled and I was literally gasping for air, it was safe to say it met my expectations. The story of the harm the Catholic Church has done to so many is not a story that can aptly be told in under 2 hours, but this movie did a pretty good job of covering what the church had done in Boston.

There is a quote from Sam Harris:

Sam Harris

It is no exaggeration to say that for decades (if not centuries) the Vatican has met the formal definition of a criminal organization, devoted not to gambling, prostitution, drugs, or any other venial sin, but to the sexual enslavement of children. – Sam Harris

 

I feel Sam is being gentle here. I knew the extent of this problem going into the movie. I knew the stories, I’d seen the stats. I understood the extent to which this quote by Sam Harris is true. I knew it all, and yet watching it acted out by Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams and the man who will always be Batman to me, Michael Keaton… it all utterly blew my mind.

It’s the sort of movie you spend a good amount of time reflecting on, and while I reflected, I thought about a few things:

1. Faith is dangerous. Faith is the arena in which this victimization of hundreds of thousands of people was allowed to take place. Faith is the engine on which this crime ring runs; the nutrition that keeps this monster fed. Without unquestioned faith, very little of this would have been possible. Without the undue reverence people pay to their pastors, priests and other religious leaders, they’d have been treated as regular, fallible people just like you and me. Perhaps they wouldn’t have been blindly trusted with children. Faith led to this. Faith enabled this. Faith is the platform on which these perverts stood, elevated above good, decent people like you and me, just out of reach of the fingertips of the law, and just out of reach of being judged and held accountable in this life, the only one we know we have. Faith… faith is vile.

2. Under no circumstances does any Catholic have the grounds to question my morality as a non-believer. You are someone who gives money to an organization that gives child rapists safe haven and that gives you no right to question anyone’s morality but your own. How do you justify that? How do you sleep at night, knowing you actively choose to remain a part of an organization that has victimized hundreds of thousands of children? How do you live with yourself? I certainly wouldn’t be able to. Of course, I don’t get my morality from a book full of genocide and slavery and I don’t make myself feel better through the ritualistic reenactment of cannibalism.

This movie was well-acted and easy to follow when it could, very easily, have been confusing. There were moments that rose goosebumps on my skin and moments that made me cheer and moments that made me so angry, I did indeed yell out some choice language to express it. It had a Bernsteinian and Woodwardian feel, reminding me of All The President’s Men. It was entertaining, emotional and important.

The movie won best picture last night I think, not because it was well-written, or well-shot, or well-acted, but because it’s something we need to be talking about; it’s something that desperately needs attention. It won best picture because it dared to tell a story that so many trusted leaders had worked so hard for so long to ensure was never told.

Have you seen Spotlight? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

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  • Oh, how I agree with the statement that faith is dangerous! I’ve not yet seen the movie, but after reading this post, it’s gonna happen!

    Faith, the consummate enabler! Faith in priests, pastors or any “God” authority is a recipe for misplaced trust and subsequent abuses. On top of that, there are some seriously sticky tentacles that creep out of it, like fear of eternal damnation or some earthly punishment for disobeying God. It can render the believer hopeless and motionless as they wait for their God to rush in for the rescue in answer to prayer. Just… yuck.

  • thompjs

    Plus all of the financial scams done by Vatican Bank, priests taking money out of the till. Condoms in Africa, it can go on and on.

  • The first paragraph of this post really struck a nerve. I am trying to remember the last new movie I’ve enjoyed, and I’m coming up blank. Watching new movies was one of my favorite things not more than 5 years ago, and now I rarely bother.

    I haven’t seen Spotlight, and I’m not sure I want to. I doubt I’d enjoy it, and I’m 100% sure it would make me really mad. I guess I just don’t enjoy being mad like I used to.

  • Jiří Drozd

    I find it interesting that there are these two movies you mentioned, Spotlight and The Martian. And each of them kind of advertises the same worldview in a radically different way. On one hand, Spotlight shows the negativity of dogma and organized religion, giving an example of how not to do things in a decent society. On the other hand, The Martian shows the positivity of humanism and scepticism, a good and optimistic example.
    It made me think about how both of these lines of argument are needed.