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More like an unexpected delight! I was wondering how – and why – the prequel to THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy was going to be reasonably divided into two, and then later into three, movies. The book itself is only about 1/3rd as long as any one of the component volumes of the later work, and they were exhaustively treated by Peter Jackson in his film versions. So, yeah … I went in dreading that padding had been added for padding’s sake, to ensure the next three Decembers were good paydays for the producers, not just this one.
I am happy to say my fears were unfounded. Just as in the LOTR films, certain concessions have been made in order to boost the hell out of the box office takings, but the story itself neither suffers or drags because of it. If you want to avoid SPOILERS (but lets face it, we all know – Bilbo finds the Precious) stop reading here and go spend your money on a ticket. Otherwise, press on….

The film opens, appropriately but confusingly, about half an hour before the first “hobbit” scene in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, just before Gandalf’s arrival for Bilbo’s big party. This establishes the framing device of Bilbo writing his memoirs for Frodo to complete at the end of the final LOTR film, THE RETURN OF THE KING. We then follow old Bilbo’s memory back sixty years, to a time when he was a respectable hobbit of middle years with no interest in doing anything more exciting than wishing strangers a hearty “Good morning!” as they pass his door. Unfortunately for Bilbo’s equanimity, but fortunately for everybody else (including the Dwarves, the rest of Middle-Earth, the genre of heroic fantasy & the heirs of J.R.R. Tolkien) one such stranger is the wandering wizard Gandalf the Grey. He orchestrates a meeting between Bilbo & a party of Dwarvish adventurers who are hoping to kill the dragon Smaug and retake their ancestral homeland, and Bilbo is swept up into their party quite in spite of his own misgivings, in the role of ‘professional burglar’ no less.
These opening scenes establish a tone for the movie – the Dwarves are somewhat comical but can be threatening; Bilbo is quite the opposite of any sort of adventurer, almost effete in his mild hedonism; Gandalf is mysterious and manipulative – but overarching everything is a sense of fun, of being swept of one’s feet into something quite possibly regrettable but most probably wonderful. Of course, that’s entirely the tone in which Tolkien wrote his little novella nearly 80 years ago and for Jackson and scriptwriters Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro & Phillipa Jackson to capture that spirit so perfectly is a remarkable achievement, given the opportunity to let so many other things (the special effects, or the melodrama, or the action, or the continuity with the LOTR films) dominate proceedings.
The vast majority of the film is one long chase scene. If you thought Frodo and co had a time of it in the wilderness in FELLOWSHIP, then you’ll be aghast at what Bilbo & his mates are subjected to – nearly cooked & eaten by trolls, chased by warg-riding orcs (and incidentally, these wargs look infinitillion times better than the hyena-hybrids in the LOTR), caught in the middle of a fight between mountain giants, captured by goblins & rescued from a burning forest by giant eagles. A few of the chase scenes look as though they are specifically written as playable missions in the inevitable video game, but that’s all part of the modern adventure movie business, I guess. Bilbo gets separated from the Dwarves for a spell, during which he encounters Gollum and takes possession of the One Ring. The movie ends with Our Heroes taking a well-deserved breather and catching sight (in the far distance) of their destination – The Lonely Mountain, Erebor.
As mentioned above, the writers have taken a few minor liberties with the source material – I don’t recall Bilbo crash-tackling any Orcs in the book, let alone Azog (who is dead in the book by the time the story takes place, but takes the place of the Orc leader Bolg in the film, with a much enlarged role); the film features in great detail some things touched on towards the end of the book by Gandalf which later tie into backstory for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, such as the presence of the Necromancer in Dol Goldur & the ‘White Council’ of himself, Elrond, Galadriel & Saruman; and plenty of material on Dwarven history is lifted from the very voluminous Appendices to LOTR. Also appearing in a far greater role than expected is Radagast the Brown Wizard, who is only very briefly mentioned in the FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and not at all in THE HOBBIT book. (Sylvester McCoy’s portrayal reminded me of nothing less than Catweazle playing Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit). However, I found all inclusions to be quite valid and much more true to the source than the (still tiresome after all these years) expansion of Arwen’s role in the LOTR films.
The cast are uniformly terrific, with standouts by Martin Freeman (maybe his Arthur Dent in THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY turned out to be more or less a rehearsal for his Bilbo Baggins here) & of course Sir Ian McKellen, who grunts and gapes his way though this movie as effortlessly as he did the earlier three times he played the part of Gandalf. Barry Humphries does a fine ham turn as The Great Goblin, complete with a goiter that George Lucas would be proud to own. Andy Serkis’ Gollum is a tad more predatory than I recall from the other films, which could be due to script, actor or a combination of both. Richard Armitage is heroically fatalistic in the best traditions of Northern European folklore in the role of Thorin, leader of the Dwarves – but if I have one gripe it’s that while the rest of the Dwarves are elaborately made up, with outrageous beards and prosthetic noses and blocky physiques, Thorin simply looks like a short guy with a grim face. Perhaps Jackson wanted to avoid any chance of the noble Thorin being perceived as comic relief, I don’t know, but it irked me a little.
The sum total of the parts is a wonderful movie, with the production values and attention to detail that made THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy such a joy to watch.  If you kept reading after the spoiler warning (and clearly, you did), well now its time for you do what I said back there – go spend your money and enjoy THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.


Part two of the trilogy (THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG) is due for release Christmas 2013, with the concluding chapter (THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN) due for release Christmas 2014.



Calendars, huh? What a terrible idea THAT turned out to be.
The world turns around the sun regardless of whether we mark the occasion or not – its a sign, I think, that somewhere along the journey we have overcomplicated things as a species if we have to know well ahead of time when other things are going to happen. When it starts to get warm, and the days seem longer, plant some vegies & make sure you wear a hat outside. When the baby birds start squawking, go pick & store some fresh fruit & start gathering wood for the colder days to come. When the days start getting shorter again, check there are no holes in the walls, brew some beer up and air out the blankets. When it’s cold, don’t lick steel things. When it’s dark, go to bed. If it’s light, get up. Surely that’s about all we really need to do to get by in the universe, don’t you reckon?
Instead, we developed arbitrary measures to give ourselves the illusion of control, and became slaves to not only the calendar but it’s little brother the clock as well. Our lives revolve around bus schedules and loan repayment dates and what time to be at work and what day our kid’s homework is due and what time our favourite TV show is on (and when they do that ‘start 5 minutes late thing’ to stop you switching channels, oh how we curse them!).
Over the last few years, I have made a conscious decision to simplify my own life. I have shed as much routine as I can, and continue to look for more ways to do uncomplicate things. Its very liberating, and I highly recommend everyone give it a go …

… maybe next month.

Happy New Year

The old year closes.
The new one dawns.
The past fades behind us.
Ahead, the future yawns
Unknown and unhinting.
Who knows what may be?
It’s beyond any power
To attempt to see.
So all we can do,
No matter our lot,
Is hope for small joys
And accept those we’ve got.
Anything better’s a bonus,
A prize…
So walk through the New Year
With wide open eyes.
Don’t dare to expect it,
It won’t work that way;
Just simply accept it
And hope it will stay.
To all of you I say
(From over a beer)
Best wishes, good luck
And a Happy New Year!!

© Darryn Roberts 2000


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So, 5 months is a normal gap between blog posts, yes? Those of you who are Facebook friends will know that I’ve been busy rearranging my life. I’ve moved from Sydney to Mangrove Mountain, living on a farm and selling fresh produce at a grower’s market.
In other words, my only excuse for not blogging is that I am still perennially lazy, as I warned you about here.
But anyway, it’s Christmas. Xmas. Yuletide. Malkh. Saturnalia. Hannukah. Natali Invictus. Kwanzaa. Taiwanese Constitution Day. People have different reasons for celebrating the season, but the main thing to me is not the story behind the festival … its the mood. We shouldn’t NEED a reason to be happy and nice and a little bit silly, no matter what the time of year. (Oh look, there’s a whole diatribe just waiting to spew out and preach itself at people … another time perhaps, Darryn). Point is, no matter what your beliefs or heritage or situation, have a great holiday.
Tara and I will be at Coast Shelter serving lunch and bringing seasonal cheer to the less fortunate; if you’re in the area, sing out and say Hi!

The Christmas Spirit

That special time of year has come
For ham and beer and Christmas fun.
The gifts are there, beneath the tree;
Our spirits all are running free.

Have you noticed, round this time,
How people treat each other fine?
Where we’d get cranky through the year,
Instead we’re filled with Christmas cheer.

I wonder why it should be so –
Why do we lose that Christmas glow?
Why should “Goodwill to all men”
Run out just as December ends?

Maybe we should all remember
This, from January to November.
Try and keep that glow alight;
Pick a friend and not a fight.

Our lives would doubtless all improve
If we stayed in that Christmas groove
All year round and all day long –
All those Elves just can’t be wrong!

© Darryn Roberts 2003



THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Such a clumsy title, and such an implicit promise. Unfortunately, the movie lives up to the clumsy and fails in the promise. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is no stinker – it’s not SUPERMAN RETURNS or GHOST RIDER or CONSTANTINE or BATMAN FOREVER or HULK bad. Its a well made film, to be sure; very technically proficient and visually satisfying. It offers a rich, layered story and some outstanding performances from the cast. There are gasp moments and wow moments and some really great stuff that ties this movie to Christopher Nolan’s other two Batman films (BATMAN BEGINS & THE DARK KNIGHT, in case you just escaped from a North Korean gulag). But at the end of the movie, I left the theatre feeling that yet another comic-book movie franchise has fallen at the hurdle of the second sequel, after the first sequel kicked arse.

There’s some spoilers below, you have been warned.

Before I go any further, let me clarify my personal position on the Nolan-Bale Batman films. They are comic-book adaptations, but they are not ‘superhero’ films in the traditional sense. You don’t wanna be taking your eight your old nephew to see this the way you took him to THE AVENGERS or SPIDER-MAN. This Batman is a fully realised human being, with deep psychological issues. This Gotham is in the real world. The bad guys are not freaky super-powered individuals in garish capes with melodramatic soliloquies; they are damaged, deranged and dangerous reflections of our inner demons. In BATMAN BEGINS, the Scarecrow reminds us what it is to fear; in THE DARK KNIGHT, the Joker shows us why we value control even as we secretly crave the freedom of anarchy; in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Bane draws us a picture of how thinly the veneer of civilisation is brushed upon us. These are crime dramas, edge of your seat thrillers and studies of the darker places of the mind; they are not ‘superhero’ films. I think THE DARK KNIGHT may just be the greatest crime movie ever made, and I think this version of Batman is easily the most plausible, the most gripping and the ‘defining’ one. So, keep all that in mind as I tell you why I was disappointed with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and also what was great about it.

First, to the story, which is based in part on three classic Batman storylines from the comics – “Knightfall”, in which Batman battles and is defeated by Bane; “No Man’s Land”, in which Gotham finds itself cut off from civilisation; and “The Dark Knight Returns”, which features a mostly retired, older Batman resuming his career in his city’s hour of need. The movie draws as much as it needs to from these disparate sources without relying too heavily on them, and it would be silly to focus on the differences between the comics and the movies, because a) the latter are not the former and b) no disservice is done by the adaptation. In a nutshell, eight years after the events of THE DARK KNIGHT, Batman has hung up his cowl and Bruce Wayne is living as a recluse, with a limp and no real connection to the outside world. Bruce is still grieving the death of Rachel, while Gotham has gone onward and upward in honour of its lost ‘hero’ Harvey Dent. Commisioner Gordon is conflicted between satisfaction with the fact that Gotham is virtually crime free, and loathing of the fact that this success has come at the cost of the truth about Dent & Batman. Wayne Industries is on the brink of financial collapse, due to a failed investment in hi-tech nuclear fusion energy. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, the masked terrorist Bane fakes the death of a scientist. PROBLEM – Bane’s mask. Its unnecessary, impractical looking and even with the excellent sound editing done in post-production, his dialogue is sometimes unclear. Once the decision was made to vary the appearance of Bane from his pictorial roots, no mask was necessary at all – although thematically it connects him with the other protagonists in the series – Batman, R’as al Ghul, Scarecrow, Joker & Two-Face are all hidden behind some kind of facade, one way or another.  The point is, while the mask makes Bane look like a cross between Hannibal Lecter and Humungous of the Wasteland from MAD MAX II, its not done as well as it could have been. Late in the film we learn that due to earlier injuries, Bane uses the mask to provide a steady stream of anaesthestics, but this is neither plausible nor consistent with the depiction of Bane throughout the film as an uncompromising, hardened figure who believes that the only worthwhile advancement comes through suffering.
We are introduced to Selina, a professional thief who infiltrates Wayne Manor in order to steal copies of Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints, and gets away with it because Bruce is a long way from the top of his game these days.  We meet Miranda Tate, socialite and social crusader, a willing ally of Wayne should he just turn to her. And on the streets of Gotham we find honest working cop John Blake, who is aghast when he learns that the orphanage he grew up in has lost its funding due to the downturn in the Wayne fortunes. He’s investigating mysterious deaths occuring in the sewers of Gotham, and not getting on with Assistant Commissioner Foley. These threads set up the rest of the story – investigating Selina brings Bruce out if his shell; the deaths in the sewers lead the cops to Bane’s hidden lair; the stolen fingerprints are used to steal control of Wayne Industries from Bruce and place them in the hands of Daggett, a shady member of the board who we soon learn has links to Bane, who wants to control the aforementioned abandoned energy project because it can be made into a bomb. PROBLEM – even on his worst day, with Bruce totally disinterested in running Wayne Industries, he would not leave himself vulnerable to Daggett. We saw what happened to Mr Earle in BATMAN BEGINS, and we saw the very sharp Lucius Fox placed back in control as Wayne’s watchdog. We saw how Fox and Wayne deal with dodgy associates in THE DARK KNIGHT, when they kick the Chinese embezzler Lau to the curb. Daggett would never be on the Wayne board in the first place, let alone be in a position to win control. Luckily, after he does somehow use Wayne’s fallen cred to do just that, the lovely Miranda Tate comes to the rescue, by means unclear but which somehow revolve around her being let in on the secret energy project but not being allowed to tell anyone. She becomes the new CEO of Wayne Industries. PROBLEM – the secret energy project that could become a bomb is still viable and still vulnerable, and nobody knows about it except Fox, Wayne … and somehow Bane, who grew up in a brutal prison and presumably has never been to America before.
Anyway, long story short, we learn that Bruce hasn’t been to see a doctor in eight years. He visits one on the pretext that he wants a clearance to indulge in exterme sports, and we learn that his body is in very poor repair, literally from head to toe. Of course Bruce has no interest in extreme sports and this is just a very hamfisted way of letting us know how far the road Bruce needs to travel really is. So, he gets home, straps on a knee brace and after about 6 seconds he no longer has any medical issues at all. Did I say clumsy earlier? This is one example of what I meant.
About now, Alfred really comes to the fore. Alfred, the trusty retainer who raised the orphaned Bruce as a surrogate father. Alfred, the loyal servant who safe guarded Bruce’s interests whil he went missing for seven years. Alfred, the acerbic confidante who helped design and outfit Batman. Alfred, the truest friend and only constant in Bruce’s life. Alfred, the guy who has watched Bruce withering away in mourning for eight years without complaint, but now up and quits as soon as Bruce starts to show an interest in the world again. Really? Not only is this a totally implausible turnabout for the character, it doesn’t even add story value. It means nothing. It achieves nothing. If removed, this subplot would have made no difference. It sets up a mirror scene at the end of the film, as Alfred talks about how his fondest wish would be for Bruce to run away from the world. find a girl and settle down in anonymity, but even that could have been managed without this mawkish and uncharacteristic insertion.
Bruce, for some reason, feels the only person he can really trust is Selina the thief, based on a careful study of her nose at a costume ball and not much else. Again, this is totally out of character for not only the Bruce Wayne we have seen in the last two movies, but the Bruce Wayne we’ve now seen as a hermit, cut off from all human contact and grieving his lost love for eight years, the Bruce Wayne who’s just seen his surrogate father and only real friend turn and walk away in his hour of need. Clumsy storytelling, and only done to get us to the scene where Bane and Batman confront each other for the first time. We learn a little of Bane’s history, and that he sees himself as the heir of R’as al Ghul from BATMAN BEGINS, the man who wanted to burn that decadent old whore of a city Gotham to the ground. Bane kicks the crappers out of Bruce, and ships him off with a broken back to that same prison in a far distant third world country where Bane himself was born and raised. Bane explains that Bruce will live there and watch the news reports of Gotham destroying itself. Bane goes back, blows up half of Gotham and traps the police force underground (instead of killing them outright) – all except for Gordon (who’s currently in hospital), Blake (who’s savvy enough to stay out of traps) and Foley (who just goes AWOL). Bane takes over the city, and tells the world that any attempt to interfere will trigger the energy bomb and kill the entire population.
Back at the prison, Bruce decides he’s gonna get better and get out. The two oldest prisoners in the joint, the ones who’ve been in this hell-on-earth longer than anyone, the ones who are most intimately familiar with the cruel and brutal Bane who now apparently owns the place, decide to help him, first by curing his broken back and then by inspiring him to train even harder to become only the second person to escape the place – the implication being that Bane did it, and only by matching this feat will Bruce show himself worthy of taking on Bane again.
In Gotham, weeks and months pass and winter sets in. The city lives in a state analogous to the terror of the French Revolution, with citizen courts declaring arbitrary sentences on ‘enemies of the people’. Bane has revealed the truth about Harvey Dent and exposed all of Gotham’s peace and prosperity as being built on a lie. The dumb people are happy, the rich people are scared, the key people – Selina, Miranda, Lucius, Blake & Gordon are able to stay out of harm’s way and even represent some sort of feeble resistance movement. We learn that that energy bomb is gonna go off no matter what happens. Happily, the 3000 police officers trapped underground are well fed and in great shape, apparently with Bane’s blessing. PROBLEM – why would he allow this? If he really wanted to terrorise the people of Gotham, he’d either kill the cops outright, or starve them into cannibalism and then turn them loose on the citizenry. Let me tell you, the Joker this guy ain’t.
Time marches on, and there’s about 24 hours left til the bomb goes off. Bruce finally escapes the prison, and as you’d expect when you find yourself friendless, broke and on the run in a distant foreign land controlled by terrorists, he has no problem getting back to Gotham, into costume and fully equipped with about twelve hours to spare before the bomb times out. He hooks up with Selina again, still willing to trust her and not at all curious why she is now running around desolate Gotham wearing a domino mask, when she used to run around robbing prosperous Gotham without one. He gives her the Batbike, which is carrying enough armament to blow away several tanks as well as bring down a wall of rubble and wrecked cars while he takes to the air in the Batcopter, which was conveniently left on the roof under a camo net for five months and is still there in perfect working order. Lucius tries to disarm the bomb one way, Gordon tries another way, Blake rallies the resistance and Batman frees the trapped cops, who are in perfect fighting trim. Even Foley comes back to the fray, leading the police against Bane’s troops in a climactic battle. Bane and Batman fight, and in a turnaround of Rockyesque moment, the Dark Knight overcomes his adversary… only to be betrayed at the last minute by Miranda, who it turns out is really Talia, R’as al Ghul’s daughter. SHE was the one who escaped from the prison, not Bane. He is and always has been her loyal servant and pawn, and together they are sworn to finish the work started by R’as. While she skips off to set the bomb off (we’re down to about 10 minutes now), Bane is left to finally kill Batman … until Selina comes good on that trust Bruce showed her, and saves his life. Everyone works like crazy to disarm the bomb, but the only way to be rid of it is for Batman to fly it out to sea, sacrificing his own life to save the city he loves. Before he goes, Gordon learns that Batman is really Bruce, joining Miranda, Bane, Blake, Alfred & Lucius as co-sharer of the worst kept secret identity in recent memory. Cut to funeral, where the only people who care enough to turn up are Alfred, Fox, Gordon and Blake. Cut to will-reading, where we learn that Alfred inherits everything, except the house and land (as Bruce went broke early in the movie, and even says “Well, at least they left me the house”, Alfred really doesn’t get much out of the deal). The house is turned into an orphanage, atoning for the negligence caused by Bruce’s selfish withdrawal in the early parts of the film, and Blake is left with cryptic instructions which lead him to the Batcave, implying that he is going to take up Bruce’s mission. Then we learn his real name is Robin, not John. Corny stuff, but not as corny as the final scene of a distraught Alfred sitting in a cafe in Italy, and looking up to see Bruce and Selina happily chatting away, the mission complete, the final masks donned and everyone lived happliy ever after.

Now, I tell you again. This is not a bad film. I’ve probably exaggerated the negatives in that summary; the plot holes are there but they’re not all as very big as I might have made them sound. In any other film, especially any other fantasy film about a bloke who wears a mask and carries small explosives on his belt, you wouldn’t even notice them. There were bigger deus ex machina in STAR WARS, there were cornier scenes in IRON MAN and far more hamfistedness in GREEN LANTERN. But this movie must necessarily suffer by comparison with its nearly flawless predecessor, and Nolan’s usually immaculate story-telling. We have grown accustomed to a Batman who does not trust, not a Batman who trusts arbitrarily. We have been blessed with carefully nuanced plots which end in “Ahh NOW I get it!” credit rolls, not stories which require us to make leaps over their gaps. The bar was set high, and the old record still stands.

I’ve told you all about the story, and where I see its shortcomings. The actors, on the other hand, are generally without fault. Christian Bale inhabits the role so well, I fear for whoever next takes it on (for this reason among others I don’t think we’ll see Batman on screen again for at least 10 years). Tom Hardy is utterly convincing and totally terrifying as the ruthless Bane, silly mask not withstanding. He struts like a pro-wrestler and dominates any space he shares with the rest of the cast. Bane has always been drawn as a big man and written as a big personality, and Hardy pulls it off perfectly. He reminds you of nothing less than a force of nature, come to wreak havoc and quite unstoppable. Anne Hathaway is an adequate Selina Kyle, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an adequate John Blake. Any of a hundred others could have done equally well in those roles. Morgan Freeman coasts but does not disappoint as Lucius Fox & Michael Caine over-emotes as an apparently pre-menstrual Alfred. Marion Cotillard is slightly wooden and unappealling as Miranda Tate; for obvious reasons this is a character we should be urging on and worrying over; she’s ostensibly the weakest of the bunch and the most good hearted, from her opening scene, but I just found myself unsympathetic and only intellectually concerned about what was happening to her. The real standout is Gary Oldman as Commissioner James Gordon, who (as in BATMAN BEGINS & THE DARK KNIGHT) is the real hero of the story. It’s Jim Gordon in his trenchcoat and glasses that we feel is really in danger, not Batman in his kevlar and mask. It’s Jim Gordon who goes down into the sewers or jumps into the moving truck with only with a snub revolver and his own courage. It’s Jim Gordon who travels the hero’s journey through self-loathing & inadequacy to  the growing realisation that there is no faith to be had in the instituitions of man, but simply in a man’s integrity. Heath Ledger won a nag of posthumous awards for the Joker’s anarchic insanity; Gary Oldman deserves no less for Gordon’s humble humanity.

Back at the top of this very long review I said that Nolan’s Batman films aren’t traditional superhero films. However, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is the most superhero-ish of the three, with its corny moments, its ‘from-the-ashes’ pivot, and its unnecessary costumery. Its not gonna knock the Avengers off its eleventy-jintillion dollar pedestal. It probaly won’t even match THE DARK KNIGHT for box office. But its a damn fine piece of work and as an element of the large trilogy, its quite effective in tying itself to the other two films both in terms of dtory and theme. Its just a shame that the third part in these things always seems to represent the weakest link. Think SUPERMAN III, BATMAN FOREVER, SPIDER-MAN III, X-MEN: LAST STAND, even THE GODFATHER PART 3. Someone explain that to me one day.




Something a little different today – instead of poetry or brief & allegedly humorous comments, I’d like to share with you some things I wrote on Facebook today, as part of a discussion that started with somebody making the statement “There is no religion quite as intolerant as atheism.”

I guess there’s a lot of misconceptions out there, and I certainly would never refute anyone else’s firsthand experience of intolerance. They were there, I wasn’t.
But if you’ve met ‘intolerant atheists’ that’s a different thing to ‘atheism being intolerant’; in much the same way, there are ‘terrorist Muslims’ & ‘paedophile Catholic priests’ without those descriptions being either exclusive to, or all-inclusive of, those groups.

Anyway, here’s what I ended up writing over the course of a couple of posts. I don’t know the other guy, who was hosting the discussion on his wall, well enough to presume that I can cut & paste his posts here, so I’m not going to, but after the initial post he was mostly asking straightforward questions which I think I answer in depth, so there is nothing left out by me …err, leaving them out.

Oh that’s not true at all.
Atheism isn’t a religion, and we are ‘intolerant’ only of misplaced faith.
We don’t condemn any segment of society to torment or punishment, and we don’t exclude any segment of society from our company, our buildings or from employment or government, simply because they think differently or had a different set of birth circumstances.

Religions are characterised by a number of shared features, even if they differ in beliefs and practices. Religions include rituals & festivals, which adherents participate in to reinforce their shared experience; religions request their members accept an imposed belief that may or may not accurately portray the observable reality of the universe, but must be adhered to none-the-less; religions contain at the very least a rudimentary spiritual element; religions impose a code of moral behaviour, deviation from which will have consequences ranging from social to physical sanction, and in extreme cases, execution. Atheism shares none of these aspects – we have no common ritual or festival; we require no person to believe anything at all, but do not sanction those with belief simply for having faith; there is no spiritual aspect to atheism, no souls, no ghosts, no higher purpose, no redemption or afterlife; no moral code adheres to the atheist except that which he deems best.
The closest atheism comes to ‘faith’ is trusting the knowledge that a demonstrable, repeatable evidentiary process can be relied upon to produce the same results time after time without having to actually occur. I know, for instance, that gravity will cause a hammer to land on my toe when dropped, even though I don’t actually drop it. Having burned my hand once, and having heard of many other cases from various cultures and locations that similar things have happened, I don’t need to expose my child to fire to know that they will burn if I do it. The stronger the evidence, the stronger the corroborative experience, the more verifiable the instances, the more firmly I can trust the knowledge.
On the specific question of evolution, I trust the science because the evidence is strong. Anyone who cares to make the effort can actually perform empirical real-time observations of evolution and will always come to the same result. Its a time-consuming expeirment, but can be done with very little equipment or scientific training. The theory of evolution allows for expansion of the relevant knowledge base; and while yes there are many gaps in that knowledge base, I can trust that evolution is still a true theory because previous gaps have been addressed, and resolved, without discrediting the theory in toto. Intelligent design is neither verifiable, nor does it allow for consistent addition to its certainty when new facts come to light.

I would define ‘misplaced faith’ as believing that something you can neither see, feel or prove any other way impacts on your life. Again, I can rely on the laws of physics & the observable universe to provide me a framework in which to operate. If its raining, and I don’t take an umbrella, I will get wet. I know this without actually having to get wet. If I eat poison, I will become unwell. But if I pray to Ganesha, I cannot be certain he will provide me with good fortune. If I kill a thousand infidels, I cannot be certain that I will reside in paradise with 72 virgins after I die. If I drink unfermented grape juice, I have no certainty that it transforms into the blood of a long dead man-god and forges a link between us. More to the point, even though I am an atheist and you are a theist, I know that YOU will get wet in the rain or unwell if you eat poison. I know the same things will happen to a Buddhist, a Muslim, an Odinist, a Sikh.

Its a misconception that atheism is well-organised. Certainly, some atheists form mutual interest societies, but I can be accepted as an atheist without belonging to any of them. There is no central authority in atheism, and nor should there be. There are well-regarded atheists, but they are invested with respect for their achievements or discoveries, not elevated to a superior position.

On the subject of exclusion – no atheist would ever wish to exclude a Christian, a Muslim, a Kabbalist or anyone else from a school, a club, a sporting organisation, a job or a position of civil authority SIMPLY because they are a person of faith. Its simply irrelevant. There are no exclusive atheist schools, no exclusive atheist meeting places. Where we take umbrage is with the imposition of a faith on those who either don’t have any, or have a different one, by dint of political power. In other words, be a Christian politician all you like. Let that inform your personal behaviour if you wish. Worship and pray all you like. I won’t lose any sleep knowing that you do. But if as a Christian politician you wish to legislate your beliefs onto me – that I must acknowledge your god in public prayer; that I must follow your particular morality even if the impact on others is negligible; that others of different faiths must be discriminated against or disadvantaged in some way – then we are gonna have issues.

Now, that’s not to say there are not intolerant atheists. There certainly are. But that’s because they are intolerant people, and would be intolerant Christians, intolerant Jews, intolerant Voudouns or intolerant Dionysians if their circumstances were different – not because there is an inherent intolerance that comes from being atheist.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me be clear – I grew up in a church-going house, and my parents are still happy Presbyterians. I love them dearly and do not begrudge them their religion, or judge them for maintaining it. It works for them, and that works for me. Some of my close friends are religious, and I would hope we could never fall out over something as intensely personal as their faith or my lack thereof. If ever we do, it won’t be my choice.

We could conceivably get a reasonable discussion going here if you guys are interested, so feel free to chime in with comments. All I ask is that you remain civil.


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