Saturday, March 24, 2012
The supposition at the heart of Ricky Gervais’ (2009) The Invention of Lying is that religion is so closely linked to story-telling and historical embellishment that it is understood as lying.
From Scepticism to Suspicion
In this film, the distinctions made by Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche in their critiques of religion (see here, here and here for “Atheism for Lent” Course material) between appearance and reality, or manifest and latent meanings, becomes that between lies and the truth. But in the world within The Invention of Lying there are no such terms; there are simply “things that are” (the truth) and “things that aren’t” (lies), just “the way things are” and Mark’s new-found ability to say “something that wasn’t”. This language of being or existence denotes Gervais’ scepticism: ‘God doesn’t exist… Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true’ (Gervais, “Why I’m an Atheist”).
But Gervais’ suspicion is also apparent in the ways that Mark’s theological inventions function as
psychological wish-fulfilments (Freud’s critique of religion),
oppressive ideologies (Marx’s critique of religion), and
vengeful morality (Nietzsche’s critique of religion).
Can Gervais’ film help us to understand the critiques of religion by these three great atheists?
Once framed in the sceptical language of falsehood and lies, is it now possible to more clearly identify the functions that critics suspect religion plays?
If religion existed in a world where we (like Mark) knew it to be deceitful, which of our religious beliefs and practices could we more readily identify as harmful?
In other words, if religion is a lie…
…what happens to my faith?