The Nature of Existence

I forgot to mention that I did attend the local screening of The Nature of Existence, the new movie from Roger Nygard in which he traveled the world asking various people grand questions about the meaning of life, etc. It was entertaining, and it is subtly subversive of religious views, so I will recommend it. But I do have a few reservations that I was also able to bring up in the Q&A after the movie.

One thing that was alarmingly obvious when watching it is that almost all the gurus and authorities and religious figures that he interviewed were male. There were exceptions — the 12 year old daughter of his neighbor (who was an unrepentant atheist, and I thought the most sensible voice in the whole movie), a lesbian priest, the wife of a pastor — but otherwise, this show is one long sausage-fest. When I pointed this out, Nygard was apologetic and recognized that this is a significant omission, but explained that he simply hadn’t noticed when he was filming the material. Isn’t that the whole problem, that we’re oblivious to these omissions of half the population of the planet?

Another problem was actually a tactical decision, and I can actually understand why it was done this way. All of the interviews were friendly; Nygard made a conscious decision to be entirely non-confrontational and just allow the interviewees to speak without criticism. It’s a policy that opened doors and allowed him access, and encouraged the people to speak at length. I can’t imagine him making this movie any other way, but still…there were parts where the lack of a critical interrogation meant the subjects were able to effectively hide the more hateful parts of their beliefs. For instance, he interviewed the odious Zakir Naik, the Muslim fanatic who thinks it is a religious obligation to kill opponents of Islam (apostates should merely be imprisoned), and who also considers homosexuality grounds for execution. He also interviewed pompous ol’ Orson Scott Card, and his raving homophobia was left unexposed.

So I was left with rather mixed feelings. The movie only illuminates the middle ground of religious belief, and while it exposes the absurdity while avoiding being judgmental, it also manages to bury the worst aspects of religion. That’s tactically sensible and I consider it an overall good because it will get the movie watched by more people, but man, it’s not my style, and it sort of grated on my nerves. It was nice. I kept waiting for something to explode.