An atheist living in an evangelical world? How novel.

August 9, 2006 | By | 34 Replies More

Morgan Spurlock, filmmaker and creator of the successful fast food critical documentary Super Size Me, has a groundbreaking program running on the cable network FX called 30 Days. The premise of the show goes like this: every episode details the journey of one person, either Spurlock or another willing participant, living a life vastly juxtaposed to their own for, you guessed it, 30 days.

The show’s first episode last year let audiences watch as Spurlock and his girlfriend attempted to shell out a living on minimum wage. Episodes through this year have sent an outsourced American to meet his Indian replacement, a minuteman to live with a family of illegal immigrants, and a Christian man to follow Islam in a Muslim community. But tonight’s upcoming episode leaves me truly confounded: an atheist woman moves in with evangelical Christians.

So far, nearly every episode of 30 Days has introduced an average American to a radically different perspective, and has left them deeply changed and enlightened in the process. For example, the outsourced American, upon viewing the extreme poverty and antiquated living conditions of India, concluded that his replacements needed his technology support job much more than he did. He entered the country complaining that his job loss had made him downsize from a house to an apartment; he left with the guilt that he could not take all of the impoverished children he enountered back with him.

This episode, though, doesn’t sound all that earth-shattering. An atheist, encountering a widespread Christian movement, in America? It sounds like Spurlock has it backwards. The atheist woman’s host family will no doubt learn with shock that despite her lack of religious faith, she has morals and decency, but what can she learn from a community that already dominates a large subset of American culture? Unlike Muslims, illegal immigrants, and those earning minimum wage, evangelical Christians hardly have a bad rap that needs debunking.

Regardless of this judgement call with which I would dispute, I highly reccommend this program as one of only two or three worthy programs on television.

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Category: American Culture, Culture, Media, Religion

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

Comments (34)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Sorry, Martin. You're WAY off-base with Antonio Demasio. He's a top-rate scientist who has published his work often in peer-reviewed scientific journals and who has lectured often to audiences of scientists. It would be hard to find a more admirable and scientific CV than his. http://usccollege.usc.edu/tools/mytools/Personnel

  2. Martin says:

    Erich,

    I regret that I have not made my point very well.

    I did not say that Dr. Demasio is not a Scientist.

    I did not say that Dr. Demasio has not published lots of articles in peer reviewed journals.

    I did not say that Dr. Demasio has not given a lot of lectures before Scientific audiences.

    What I did say was that the specific "theory" indicated by Vicki has so far been supported only by reference to two books by different authors, by an appeal to authority by Dan Klarmann, a lot of handwaving, a vague reference to fMRI and now you have attached a link to what is admittedly a very impressive CV.

    But in a debate an impressive CV is still only an appeal to authority.

    Where is the peer reviewed article in which he presents the specific theory referred to by Vicki?

    When a reader has had an opportunity to read that he is in a position to form an opinion about it. Until then all he has to go on is your say so.

    And if you don't know which of the many articles on his CV covers the theory under discussion then we must presume that you haven't read the article and that your opinion on the veracity of his theory is based entirely on his book. You may normally form your opinions on scientific matters in that way but I prefer not to do it that way because that does not conform to my understanding of how science works.

    Maybe you are right? I don't know, but so far you have not given me sufficient information upon which to base an opinion.

  3. Without looking it up in a dictionary, intellectuals for me are people who are defined by spending extensive amounts of time thinking. They think a lot about society, cultures, human beings, philosophy, religion, ethics, morality, and much more, and know how to express their ideas more eloquently than Tom, Dick or Harry. In no way does it mean that they are more rational and are not influenced or led by their feelings. It also doesn't make them better people. They can think as much as they want, but as humans they are simply not able to transcend the human condition. Certainly most will agree that Heidegger was an intellectual, did that stop him supporting the Nazi regime? How often has support for crimes against humanity like genocide been justified with an outer facade of rational arguments and internally fueled by plain irrational human feelings like xenophobia and a longing for superiority.

    Or as Dan wrote:

    As Heinlein put it in the 1960’s, “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal”.

    Thoughts are powerful, they can trigger positive changes but they are also used to rationalize misery; and they do not exist in a vaccum.

    Regarding Damásio, I just happen to read a couple of days ago that he is the editor of an academic journal called Medical Hypotheses that published racist trash like this (for a full article go here or here) or other wacko stuff like this.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Martin: I am quite familiar with the arguments of Descartes' Error, a book that implores that we cannot study human rationality without deeply considering emotions. In the notes section of Descartes' Error Demasio relies, in part, on his own published, peer-reviewed research (at least a half dozen of his own studies).

    If you're looking to pick on a hack scientist who publishes popular books that lack rigor, Demasio is the wrong guy. Go pick on Deepak Chopra instead. for the past 10 years you will rarely find a respectable book on human cognition and rationality that doesn't rely on Demasio's work. In sum, the post Vicki was referring to wasn't just "Erich's theory of intelligence." I was reviewing the work of a top notch scientist.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    projektleiterin: I agree with you that the Downs Syndrome article sounds tryly wacky. Keep in mind that it wasn't written by Demasio, who for all we know, vigorously opposed its publication. Until we see Demasio's position on that "research," I will withhold judgment. If that journal commonly published such strange articles, that would indeed, be strange that Demasio would be on the board.

    I very much oppose the "good person" versus "bad person" way of characterizing people. Thoughtful people have lapses. Idiots sometimes speak the truth. The scientific community does not association Demasio with this particular article. They do think of him as an extremely accomplished fellow who hit the homerun when it came analyzing the role of emotions in rationality.

  6. Vicki Baker says:

    Martin- I'm aware of the difference between science journalism and scholarly articles in peer reviewed journals. I also think that most of the time I can distinguish between good science journalism and bad. I think you're writing from England, so perhaps the low standard of science reporting on the BBC has influenced your opinion of science journalism in general. I suggested Gladwell because it seems the whole idea of preconscious cognition is new to you, and he provides some good summaries of the revelant research.

    If you want references to peer-reviewed journals, presumably you can use Google Scholar as well as I can. (Though you should search on Damasio and not Demasio if you want to find articles by the author of "DeCartes' Error" – but of course his CV will list his publications as well.) This article on Deciding Advantageously Before Knowing the Advantageous Strategy"may help you understand why preconscious cognition is adaptive in an evolutionary sense.

    Forgive me if I point out that for someone who says "Science R Me" your analysis of the conflict in N. Ireland was biased by the salience religion has for you as an explanation for violent irrational behavior. Northern Ireland is a very poor example of a purely religious conflict. When this was pointed out, you reacted with an appeal to emotion about how very very bad it is to bomb innocent civilians. Of course it is, no matter if it's the IRA or the US Air Force that's doing it, but that really has no relevance to the strength of your argument.

  7. You know what, Erich, I will get Damásio's email address and ask him for a statement.

    The article is not wacko or strange it's foremost offensive and insulting and if he indeed gave his permission for its publication it's unexcusable. It completely lacks any hint of scientific basis, making it hard to believe that it's not intended as an affront to Asians or people with Down Syndrome. Even if he had not supported the publication of this paper, a person with integrity would have resigned from the job as editor. I personally would not want my name associated with this kind of trash and I'm sure most people would not want either.

  8. So, about four weeks ago I sent Damásio an email and asked him for a statement. As far as now he has not replied. I have forwarded my email and will wait he will answer now. If not I will ask the institute manager about his whereabout.

  9. Hey, an update on Damásio. He said he had nothing to do with it and referred me to the editor. Now that one really annoyed me.

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