Sunday, January 03, 2021 4:51 AM
Seduced By a War Hero (2021Jan03)
In “Winter Meeting” (1949) Bette Davis has this strange line: “I have no particular religion, but even I have more faith in God than that.”
If you don’t know the movie, it was on TCM just now—it’s about a Manhattan heiress poetess (yes, the ‘weepers’ layered it on pretty thick) played by Davis, seduced by a war hero who, afterward, confesses that he was really intending to join the priesthood (I was raised Cat-licker—trust me, even for us, this was far-fetched—even in ’49).
But he ‘explains’ (finally) to Bette that he forsook his plans for the ‘hood one day, taking the train to his hometown (where they awaited with banners & bands) and a war-buddy plops down next to him (the war-hero being all aglow with heroism) and says, ‘too bad that ship you saved with your heroism got sunk with all hands two weeks later’.
Ah, old-timey Hollywood. Who the hell else would dare to so blatantly manipulate our emotions? And they knew we would pay for the privilege, too! But, hey: That’s Entertainment.
So, that’s when Bette delivers this curious line (after supposing aloud if a God would sink the whole ship and all hands just to teach this guy a lesson about being too cocky?!) But it isn’t this melodrama that really got me writing (big surprise, right?)
That line about I have more faith in the goodness of the god you believe in than you do, even though I don’t share your belief—that resonates the hell outta me. All my life, I’ve thought Theists got off pretty damn easy, with their special rule: anyone who questions the foolishness is too foolish.
Look, if you can’t talk about it and it’s too precious to be shared—it ain’t f-ing love, it’s a scam. If you can’t speak aloud, you’re being used (and abused). If you’re afraid to speak aloud—to debate with others—you’re being faithless to your own faith—don’t blame me. That’s cowardice.
America stands, in part, for the willingness of humans to stand together, regardless of religion and annoyance, to make things better for all of us. To be against this, by virtue of your ‘faith’, is to misunderstand where you are—and what’s going on.
I speak (as an atheist) with respect to theists: I will not mock your Faith—and I hope you will not try to use it as a replacement for Reason…s’pretty simple. Only totally extremophile, violent types would wish to attack—and we know the wealthy like to fund them, so look out, me—I guess… (Ain’t dat a bich!?)
But wasn’t Bette Davis the greatest? Hey, cis grampas can love her, too—she was a goddamn artist—respect must be given. In the late forties, no one dared to deny the existence of God, despite the new science of the early twentieth—not on film, at least.
For Bette to say “I have no particular religion” –even that was ‘racy’ for the time. Yet the screen-writer was speaking to a Humanism that forced even God to help us. It’s a curious inflection-point in social evolution. Censors never before so blatantly advocated for linguistic lobotomization, before the post-war era, when the authoritarians were still flush with the feeling of absolute control.
It was as if, having won world freedom, it was now their privilege to determine what that was, down to the very grain. Had not the subsequent explosion of capitalist corruption made them all ridiculous in their own human failings, we would have probable ended up with Hitler-lite (It seems nearly half of us are still in favor!)
But I speak, as always, from the point of view of one who sees nothing, where others see ‘faith’ (if that has any reality). Faith in people, I got—even in myself. But with reason, dammit. The psycho-socio-politics of America in the late 1940s isn’t not any specialty of mine, except for the contextual extrapolations allowed by my general study. But what a line, eh?
I hear stand-up comics taking cheap shots (funny, yeah, but still cheap) at atheists. “Why would you pick ‘atheist’? Everything is random and meaningless?! Why would you do that?”
But atheists don’t choose to become humans without religion—we simply find ourselves with a selection of faiths that are impossible to credit. Atheists, unlike the religious, do not ‘find their answers’ in atheism. We just accept that it’s possible the universe is so big and enigmatic that it may have little or nothing to do with this one planet’s smart-animals. It may even be about something too complicated for our tiny brains to understand.
Is it kinda chilly, seeing our human race as a bunch of smart-ass monkeys who can’t sleep at night unless we convince themselves that the universe was made just for us. Unfortunately, science makes most things clearer—and one of the things it made clear is the human origin of belief—of all our beliefs.
The history of evolving belief-systems through the centuries is not a comfortable one for Preachers. It clashes with the whole ‘forever and ever, as it was and shall ever be’ riffs they like to throw in. It also highlights the more venal uses of religion.
We don’t need to have faith because God said so—we just need to have faith—period. Souls, afterlives, sins, saints, and angels—our prehistoric graphic novel without graphics—it comforts us and it beats back any suspicion that we’re on our own, without a mission (unless we make up our own).
Atheists never proselytize—we see people, happy in their faiths, (and assuming they don’t get up to mischief over it) we see no reason to harsh their mellow. Most angry, vocal Atheists are new to it, still resentful of being indoctrinated (by their parents, or worse, their whole community) into something as restrictive as it was random—eager to spread the word, that it’s all a scam.
But nobody, raised happily in a reasonable form of Christianity / Islam / Judaism / Whatever, will find many opportunities to question their faith—only extremists make a big deal out of it, anyway. It has been my experience that God does not answer questions, but She also never argues with me. I assume she’s got stuff to do. If you have faith in her, it rarely does any harm—but if you have none, it makes no difference at all—except to other people.
But Atheists don’t literally believe in nothing—we just believe that ‘making up an answer for something we don’t understand’ is an obsolete solution. The universe is a mystery, yes—that doesn’t mean we get to know or understand anything—how hard is that to accept?
The human race must find validation within itself, purposes among ourselves, for the sake of each other and our own pursuit of happiness. Such an advanced society would find itself with much more achievable goals, without the distraction of the sky-daddy. And evil would lose its favorite hide-out.