I recently saw the movie Paul. It's a comedy about two young adult male British nerds who are realizing a longtime dream of coming to America to visit Comic-Con, followed by taking a tour of famous UFO sites in the US (like Roswell and Area 51). As they're traveling, they witness a car suddenly veer off the desert highway and crash. When they stop to investigate, they meet Paul, a rather foul-mouthed alien who has escaped government capture and is trying to get home.
The movie is pretty funny, with lots of nerd references — from Star Wars (the cantina theme being played in a trucker bar, a guy shooting out his CB radio as he murmurs "Boring conversation anyway") to Close Encounters (a spaceship landing at Devil's Tower, a large firework that plays the five-note theme) and Aliens (a character quotes "Get away from her, you b---", a line spoken by Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, to Sigourney Weaver's character in Paul). It is also full of bathroom and locker room humor that's so popular with the kids these days.
The part where it starts to dig at religion comes when, soon after meeting Paul, the Brits decide to pull their RV into an RV park. They are greeted by a young blonde girl, Ruth, who comments on how she'd like to travel someday but has never gone anywhere in her life yet. The conversation is interrupted by a gruff voice calling her back to the office/house for "PRAYERS!"
The next day, Ruth visits the Brits' RV, and she starts to reveal herself as what I like to call a "Strict Creationist" — someone who believes in the literal word of the Bible, that the Earth was created 4,000 years ago in a process that spanned six days, and that there is no possible way there could be "alien life" elsewhere, as we were all created in God's image. Paul, somewhat put out by this, emerges from his hiding place in the bathroom. After fainting (something of a running gag in the film), she awakens and tries to convince herself it was her imagination, until she sees Paul again. She then goes into a fit of hysterics.
Up to this point, it's not so bad. Hollywood loves its stereotypes, especially taken to extremes. An openly gay character will be extremely flamboyant; a character born in the Lone Star State will almost invariably be wearing a cowboy hat and calling every female "Darlin'". It's almost a foregone conclusion that an openly Christian character will end up being extreme fundamentalist.
To stop her fit and from denying his very existence, Paul does this "alien thing" where he gives Ruth all of his knowledge and experience, including memories of his galactic travels.
Here's where it starts to turn south.
Filled with this knowledge, Ruth decides that all of what she believed is wrong, decides there is no God, and she is free to swear and fornicate. She then spends the rest of the movie trying to swear (in a manner not completely unlike Captain Kirk trying to "fit in" to contemporary Earth in Star Trek IV). Paul does make a token effort at trying to settle her down and say his experience doesn't necessarily preclude the existence of God, but his comment is ignored.
Going from one extreme to another isn't completely out of place in a low-brow Hollywood comedy. But the telling scene comes at the end, when, in a very sober moment, Paul says he's sorry for destroying Ruth's faith. Her reply? "You didn't destroy me; you freed me."
That actually made me a little angry. This was not a comedic scene; it was said with all seriousness, like it was one of the morals of the story. Faith is confining, and a foul mouth and spread legs is freedom. The disdain for religion is reinforced when Ruth's father wishes him well by saying "God be with you", and Paul scoffs, "Yeah, whatever."
I know it's just a story, and I should really just relax. And, when it comes down to it, I do see fundamentalism to be rather confining. I believe God has created this whole universe and there are many wonders and possibilities we have yet to even discover; and refusing to acknowledge wonders God has created because you cling to your narrow interpretation of what you know of Him today is akin to wearing blinders. I just object to this assertion that immorality and atheism is automatically superior to religion. These things are never "free", whether you believe in God or not — not believing does not release you from the consequences. And I'm not just talking about "fire and damnation". Promiscuity can lead to unwanted pregnancies, diseases, lack of trust in relationships; foul language can lead to loss of respect.
But, I guess, if you really believe your existence is over and done in 80 years, even these "little" consequences don't mean much, either.…