At the recent Oscars, Matthew McConaughey won the best actor award for his role in a movie called Dallas Buyers Club. From this, I infer (a) that there’s a movie called Dallas Buyers Club and (b) that there’s an actor named Matthew McConaughey. (A quick look at IMDB reveals that I have not seen anything he has been in.) While I can’t comment on the quality of the film or of McConaughey’s performance, I can comment on McConaughey’s acceptance speech, which has been in the news. In part, he said:
“First off, I want to thank God because that’s Who I look up to. He’s graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, ‘When you’ve got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you.’”
This was followed by scattered, tepid applause, unlike McConaughey’s closing remark, “just keep living.” That’s a quote from another of his films, Dazed and Confused (which I also haven’t seen). That the audience liked.
While some of the Twitterati applauded McConaughey recognizing a Higher Power, there was also, unsurprisingly, a fair number of detractors. A sampling includes the following:
· I thought Mcconaughey (sic) should have won until he started with all that God [stuff]
· Shhhh McConaughey stop talking about god you’re ruining it
· Ugh, I hate Matthew McConaughey… I can’t believe he’s thanking “god”
· I thought we could get through the Oscars without someone thanking god but no he had to ruin it
One person – who goes so far as to actually have the word “atheist” in his Twitter handle – celebrated the dearth of applause:
· I loved the lack of clapping as Matthew McConaughey thanked god. Things are getting better.
What’s with all the hating on God? It’s like we live on the Planet of the Apes. (I did see that movie. And all the sequels. And the remakes.) Why Planet of the Apes? Because of the Scopes Monkey Trial. I’ll explain.
The 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial – formally “The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes” – saw high school teacher John Scopes on trial for violating his state’s law prohibiting teaching human evolution in public schools. This was the basis for the 1960 film Inherit the Wind (which I have not seen). Just as the apes in Planet of the Apes overthrew and enslaved their human masters, the tables have turned in real life. Now those who recognize God are marginalized and labeled “fundamentalists” or “Creationists.” Have we forgotten the lesson of Battle for the Planet of the Apes? For those who haven’t seen it, the apes and the humans must learn to get along, lest both perish.
God used to have to compete with idols. In the Talmud, an idolater is frequently called an “akum,” which is an acronym for ovdei kochavim u’mazalos – those who worship the stars and constellations. So it should not surprise us that there’s little room for God at the Oscars, an event dedicated to idolizing movie stars. These terms were not coined at random! Honestly, is there an industry more dedicated to self-worship than Hollywood?
And yet, the overt antagonism towards God still takes me aback. Where’s the tolerance that we’re asked to preach for people of every race, ethnicity, sexual identity and socioeconomic status? Why does “religious exemption” mean that the religious are exempt from being tolerated? McConaughey may have voiced an unpopular position, but if his faith is a crime, it’s a victimless crime. Why the righteous indignation?
In truth, what we’re witnessing is not really the result of atheism. Atheism rejects the idea of a Higher Being. Atheists simply don’t believe in God. There are lots of things I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. I don’t believe in aliens or Big Foot. But I don’t invest one iota of my energy in trying to convince others to change their beliefs. Why should I? A real atheist should say, “You believe in God? I don’t,” with the same aplomb that you or I would have with an acquaintance of a different faith.
No, this antagonism towards God is the product of antitheism. Antitheism is the active opposition to the idea that there’s a God. Antitheists believe that the very existence of religion is inherently harmful to society. (Obviously, I disagree with their position. If only so many religious people of all denominations didn’t give them so much ammunition to work with!) Antitheism says, “I don’t believe in God, so you shouldn’t be allowed to, either.” In this sense, antitheism is itself a fundamentalist doctrine. I’ve seen things said in the name of antitheism at least as hateful as anything ever said in the name of religion.
In I Kings 18:21, the prophet Elijah asked the Jews, “How long will you waver between two positions? If Hashem is God, follow Him; if it’s Baal, then follow him!” The people were paralyzed with indecision.
Our society is becoming likewise paralyzed. Wasn’t it tough enough when people simply had to pick a religion? Now there’s a vocal minority who actively oppose you having a religion at all. If talking about God becomes less and less cool, how many people will stifle their personal faith out of fear of ridicule?
McConaughey and I may not share the same religion but I applaud his expression of faith. Let us not be intimidated by intolerance. Each of us has what to be thankful for. Let us take to the streets, the airwaves and the social media and proudly proclaim, “First off, I want to thank God!”