The Sciences

Bill Donohue and the Catholic League Attack Matthew Chapman's New Atheist Film, "The Ledge"

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJul 6, 2011 5:48 PM

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I kinda suspected this new film, The Ledge--the topic of the latest Point of Inquiry--would raise a culture war brouhaha. When do you know you have such a brouhaha? Well, one early barometer is often Bill Donahue--whose conservative Catholic League is always trying to police depictions of religion in the public square. And now Donahue has weighed in on the film--negatively, of course. Here's his statement [warning, spoiler alert below]:

People of faith, especially Catholics, are used to being trashed by Hollywood, but they are not accustomed to films that promote atheism. Yes, there was "The Golden Compass," an atheism-for-kids effort which the Catholic League successfully boycotted (in fairness, it was the book upon which the movie was based that triggered our response, not the screen adaptation). "The Ledge" is different in that its backers are selling themselves as the real pioneers: they expect it to be a ground-breaker. In short, they are relying on its potential fan base accessing the film through Video on Demand (it opens in only two theaters). The characters in the movie are utterly predictable. Gavin's loss of faith deepened after his wife blamed him when their daughter was killed in an accident. Because he believes in nothing, he is the good guy. Gavin has an affair with an evangelical's wife—you guessed it, the evangelical is a close-minded homophobe—leaving the poor gal (played by Liv Tyler) in a mess. You see, she was once a prostitute before her husband (himself a former alcoholic and drug abuser) introduced her to God. In any event, after Mr. Intolerant, the evangelical, discovers the affair, he tells Gavin to jump from a ledge or he'll kill both of them, including himself. Matthew Chapman is the writer and director. "God-fearing straight men have had a monopoly for a very long time," he says, "and many peculiar decisions have been made." Among the most peculiar, historically speaking, is something Chapman doesn't want to admit: it was the Judeo-Christian ethos of America that accounts for the unprecedented levels of justice and freedom enjoyed by non-believers. Chapman is an atheist and the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin. Darwin, it should be noted, was a self-described agnostic. He once said to a dogmatic atheist, Edward Aveling, "Why should you be so aggressive? Is anything gained by trying to force these new ideas upon the mass of mankind?" Too bad Chapman didn't learn that lesson.

Doesn't that make you want to see the movie? Interestingly, I don't recall any characters in the film being Catholic--rather, and as Donohue himself states, the religious character is an evangelical. Again, for our Point of Inquiry episode on this film, listen here. P.S.: I take one thing back--Hollis, the cop in the movie, played by Terence Howard, is a Catholic. And an extremely positive character...which Bill Donohue managed to miss somehow. P.P.S.: Matthew Chapman sends this response:

In a thinly veiled threat, narrow-minded and parochial Bill Donahue brags at the top of his article that the Catholic League successfully boycotts films it considers anti-religious, while at the bottom claims that it is the "Judeo-Christian ethos of America that accounts for the unprecedented levels of justice and freedom enjoyed by non-believers." If Bill travelled a little more he'd know that there are many countries where attempts to censor criticism of religion are considered both archaic and repulsive and where non-believers have a far better time of it than in America - along with gay people, women, and the poor. I actually cut some lines of dialogue from "The Ledge" about the devastation caused by Catholic edicts against condom use in AIDS infested Africa. (Note to self: Must put them back in the DVD extras.) As for using a quote from my great-great-grandfather (out of context) chastising an overly aggressive atheist, one has only to watch Bill barking people into submission when he slips his leash and comes on TV to see how laughable that is. I'll debate Bill any time any place - and let the public judge who has more reason and compassion and who has more aggression and dogma.

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