Continuing from part 1 of my series of posts on the 2011 Atheist Film Festival, I am going to discuss a documentary shown in the afternoon titled “The Nature of Existence” (1). In the documentary, director Roger Nygard, who also directed Trekkies, asks people all around the world a variety of “big picture” questions such as “what is god?”
In the documentary, Nygard asks a widely varied group of people their opinions, including Richard Dawkings, evangelist Brother Jed, Indian holy man Ravi Shankar, Nygard’s next door neighbor in the 7th grade (who is wickedly smart), Buddhists, Native Americans, Taoist monks, new agers, and so on. What really struck me was that he approached each interview with the mindset of just wanting to listen. If it weren’t for the Q&A with Nygard after the screening, I wouldn’t even know what his own beliefs were (he’s an atheist). It’s amazingly non-confrontational, and I suspect that few religious people would find it offensive, regardless of which religion they belonged to. Considering that this entire movie was about people discussing what their religious beliefs were, that’s pretty amazing.
It was almost like a world religions class in documentary form. Even though I have previously taken an actual class on world religions, I still learned quite a bit from this documentary. Even though it asked big questions, it was more personal in nature. During the Q&A, Nygard referred to his interviewees as “friends,” even Brother Jed. Nygard’s basic premise was that, although people may disagree with each other on issues of religion, in the end we are all still people and have more in common than not.
This approach created an environment where the interviewees were free to discuss what they wanted. The results were quite interesting. One the one hand, we got a view of what the individuals thought was important about their religions, as opposed to the general consensus about their religions. On the other, they never talked about the negative aspects of their religion (obviously).
This gets into the bigger issue of how to best approach the atheist rights movement. Should we be nice, or should we be confrontational? I think that both approaches are important, and that documentaries like this are necessary. They help to build bridges between people of various religions, and by extension to atheists as well, allowing us to gain greater acceptance among the population at large. That said, this approach does tend to lend credence to the views of the interviewees even though it isn’t warranted, even if that isn’t Nygard’s intention.
Whatever the ultimate effect this documentary will have on the public’s view of atheists, this is an interesting one, and one I recommend seeing. Check out the trailer below. (1)[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/18178226]