Sunday, April 03, 2011

Atheism for Lent: Derren Brown

Tonight at "Atheism for Lent," we split into two groups (there were about 14 of us total) to watch Derren Brown's "Messiah." We spent a bit of time marvelling at how good he is at reading and predicting human behaviour, and wondering how the programme is edited to best showcase his talents. Bracketing his atheistic scepticism about whether or not God exists and whether or not psychics are charlatans, we thought about what his suspicion about why we believe what we believe and why we behave as we do might mean for our faith. In particular, we thought about Brown's presentation of the "false logic" at work in magic (see here), in which we miss certain elements in the trick, thinking they are unimportant and therefore not consciously recognising their existence. Might this also be happening in religion? What might the steps be that we are not aware of, or that we repress?

Discussing Brown's perspective on magic made me think about Slavoj Zizek's reflections on Jesus, in The Monstrosity of Christ, where he links the sequence of a magic trick in Chrisopher Nolan's (2006) movie The Prestige to the crucifixion.

'...when a magician performs a trick with a small bird which disappears in a cage on the table, a little boy in the audience starts to cry, claiming that the bird was killed. The magician approahches him and finishes the trick, genlty producing a living bird out of his hand - but the boy is not satisfied, insisting that this must be another bird, the dead one's brother. After the show, we see the magician in the room behind the stage, brining in a flattened cage and throwing a squashed bird into a trash bin - the boy was right.' (The Monstrosity of Christ, p.286).

This squashed bird is part of the magic trick that the skilled magician doesn't let us see, the step that we miss.

So in the context of tonight's discussion about magic and religion, I remembered this aspect of the movie and wondered whether there are steps in the "false logic" of religion that we miss either because they seem unimportant or because, like the squashed bird, they are too traumatic to bring into consciousness.

Zizek writes of Jesus as the 'supreme squashed bird' (The Monstrosity of Christ, p.291), and perhaps the crucifixion is one of the traumatic steps in religion that we too often repress, preferring to focus on what Derren Brown calls 'the easier pattern' of Jesus' life and resurrection.

For the material I prepared on Derren Brown, see

Although I'm off to the States on Tuesday for a conference, I've lined up some posts about Ricky Gervais, and we'll be watching his film "The Invention of Lying" next week at Journey.

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