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Total posts: [30]
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Avoiding 'Hollywood Atheist":

So one of the main characters of my series is an agnostic-atheist in a setting where nearly everyone has some sort of belief in a higher being to some degree, whether or not they actually identify as a member of an organized religion. Some things to keep in mind:
  • This is an alternate 'High Fantasy' setting
  • This character's belief will probably be mentioned only once or twice at the most
I've been sure to avoid some of the obvious cliches
  • He is not a raging anti-theist caracature. At the worst, he's the first one to tell the participants in the Bigot vs. Bigot religion argument to shut up. He respects or at least tolerates members of all religions he comes in contact with
But he does have a few aspects that could be interpreted as his agnostism being caused by a Dead Little Sister and related Angst
  • His parents were murdered when he was young, he still has a little bit of PTSD from this.
  • He is also a person who prefers logic and reason over hard-to-control emotions, so his lack of belief is not entirely based off his misfortune
  • He can be quite sarcastic
So basically, when you put together the attachment issues and the fact that he is quite sure that there is Cessation of Existence after death, he doesn't like getting close to people.
  • I'd just like to know if there are any problems with this characterization that immediately jump outor anything else I should work on with this. Thanks

edited 5th Feb '13 12:35:38 PM by TheMuse

Focus more on making him a well-rounded character first and you won't need to worry about him becoming a caricature. Going out of your way to avoid cliches can be just as bad as using cliches.

Also, I would suggest making the dead parents thing almost coincidental. It can be a factor in his beliefs but he shouldn't be like "my dead parents are evidence that there is no God".

That's all I got

edited 5th Feb '13 6:49:15 PM by WSM

 
 3 nrjxll, Tue, 5th Feb '13 6:57:08 PM Relationship Status: Not war
Honestly, I think Hollywood Atheist is just an outright bad trope. Not in the Tropes Are Not Bad sense, but in the sense that the way the concept is seen and discussed doesn't really make sense. Yes, this kind of character is usually done in a hamfisted and unrealistic way; that's why they call it "fiction" and not "reality". But I don't think there's anything really that implausible about the underlying idea, and certainly not enough so to deserve the "Hollywood" tag.

 4 Madrugada, Tue, 5th Feb '13 7:16:41 PM Relationship Status: In season
Zzzzzzzzzz
What makes an atheist character a Hollywood Atheist is the way it's handled. The trope is based on the common assumption that faith is the default, that something must have happened to make the person "turn atheist". The reality is that faith is not the default for everyone, and some people are atheist or agnostic because they haven't seen any reason to believe in the first place, not because they had a reason to stop believing.

But as WSM said, make him a fully-developed character, and don't give him a reason to have lost his faith and "turned atheist".

edited 5th Feb '13 7:17:38 PM by Madrugada

...if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you for it.
 5 Prime of Perfection, Tue, 5th Feb '13 8:36:50 PM Relationship Status: P.S. I love you
Happy holidays!
I'm always a fan of reading fiction from POV of people with such believes and actually trying to understand them to avoid such mistakes. As said, treat people like people. A book I can suggest reading is Philosophers Without God.
Kneel.
I am a Christian myself, but honestly, I can see where atheists are coming from; it is really damn hard (and outright impossible to not a few) to believe in something that really can't be proven by observable methods.

Why not just make him just a normal person who never came to believe any supernatural beings at the first place?
Stay awesome, people.
 7 drunkscriblerian, Tue, 5th Feb '13 9:54:36 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
Hollywood Atheist is a lot like Psycho Lesbian. Both have the same inherent nasty insinuation; that the opposing view is the "baseline" and that for someone to deviate from that they would have to be "forced from the true path" by some sort of horrible experience...making them irrational and damaged as a result. Basically, a Hollywood Atheist is damaged goods, a person who doesn't believe in religion because religion abused them and they are angry about it.

While I'm not going to comment on the accuracy of such a belief as it applies to lesbian women (being a guy, I'll leave that for others to debate) but when it comes to atheists...yes, some of us leave the Church for reasons of abuse and some of us really don't like religion because of it, many others just simply spend their lives privately asking why belief in a deity is so important. They go to religious ceremonies and mouth the words like everyone expects them to, while deep down they are asking "why? What's the big deal? I'm obviously not getting what those people over there are getting from this stuff...is there something wrong with me?"

Eventually an atheist simply realizes that they feel differently and becomes okay with that. They realize that belief in a deity is simply a point of view and it is all right to opt out of that point of view.

Sure, there's a struggle and probably some issues...being different from social norms generally causes those. But there's no reason why an atheist can't be a reasonable, well-adjusted individual despite having some static in their background. Most people have conflict in their background and they turn out all right.

Simply put: if you want to avoid Hollywood Atheist, don't feel as though you have to give them a "reason" for being an atheist. Have them simply be that way, and have that be okay.

edited 5th Feb '13 9:57:19 PM by drunkscriblerian

If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 8 nrjxll, Tue, 5th Feb '13 10:03:44 PM Relationship Status: Not war
It seems like there's a lot of assumptions there, although I think this is getting a bit off-topic.

 9 drunkscriblerian, Tue, 5th Feb '13 10:10:38 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
I'm an atheist and I was giving him a believable way to write an atheist. Where's the assumption in that?
If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 10 nrjxll, Tue, 5th Feb '13 10:30:34 PM Relationship Status: Not war
Basically, I think this trope is more likely to come from the perceived need/intention to develop a character arc than the theist-as-the-baseline assumption. Said character arc itself might well be based on that assumption (given how often it involves these characters "regaining their faith"), but I think dismissing the character type itself as merely a "Hollywood Atheist" is a bit of a leap, especially because it does exist in real life.

 11 drunkscriblerian, Tue, 5th Feb '13 10:35:04 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
[up]I guess we disagree then. My take; Hollywood Atheist (like Psycho Lesbian) stems from the idea that such behaviors are "obviously deviant" and therefore require the justification of some form of abuse when portrayed in media...so the audience will find the character sympathetic.

When in reality, such behaviors can develop without any such abuse taking place. Some people just like to question stuff, and some chicks like chicks. No "justification" required.

edited 5th Feb '13 10:36:41 PM by drunkscriblerian

If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 12 Night, Tue, 5th Feb '13 10:52:00 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
That just sells the idea that faith is not a natural state (considering its current extent and indeed that every human culture known has had a faith, hard sell) and that reasons for arriving at atheism via event are not valid.

edited 5th Feb '13 10:52:35 PM by Night

Trusted Poster of Legitimate Advice (from Wo-Chan)
 13 drunkscriblerian, Tue, 5th Feb '13 11:10:45 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
Uh...what?

Yeah. explanation needed, Night.
If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 14 Wolf 1066, Wed, 6th Feb '13 3:21:35 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
One suggestion: somehow make it clear that the he was atheist prior to the deaths of his parents, that he had already come to the conclusion that there is no afterlife, no deities etc - which means that when his parents died he had to deal with the fact that they were gone in every sense of the word, had not "passed on" to some reward etc.

So the deaths aren't likely to be construed as the "reason" he's an atheist.

The deaths are still, however, the reason behind his PTSD-related issues, which is completely unrelated to his religious outlook.

edited 6th Feb '13 3:22:00 AM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
There's also the fact he has a little epiphany near the end of the series which helps him finally trust people again. It's not a 'he found God' kind of thing, far from it actually. He ends up in a situation where he needs to keep vigil over one of his firends as he is dying, that, combined with other factors, makes him realize that even though the existence of an afterlife is extremely improbable, that doesn't mean he should avoid people out of fear of losing them. He isn't 'cured' of his agnostism, just lessens some of his angst and gives him some closure at last

 16 Night, Wed, 6th Feb '13 5:08:11 AM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
Uh...what?

Your suggestion.

I just outlined why it's problematic at best.
Trusted Poster of Legitimate Advice (from Wo-Chan)
 17 Prime of Perfection, Wed, 6th Feb '13 7:08:48 AM Relationship Status: P.S. I love you
Happy holidays!
I disagree, their argument isn't problematic at best. Some people just don't believe in such things. It's just a fact. It doesn't imply anything by it, it's a simple observation. Anything one concludes from that ultimately says more about the beholder than the creator.
Night, what? Drunk Scriblerian could have chosen to phrase it that way but he rather emphatically didn't. I mean, the comparison was even to Psycho Lesbian, so... can you see how "That just sells the idea that heterosexuality is not a natural state (considering its current extent and indeed that every human culture known has had heterosexuality, hard sell) and that portrayals of lesbians being psychotic are not valid." would sound in a slightly different discussion? Because that's what you're doing with atheism here. You can portray atheists leaving their faith as being by event, sure, since it's a thing that can happen. But when it's the most common story about them and is essentially all people see in fiction, it gets problematic, and when it's the default portrayal of atheists, even more so. And it reveals and/or reinforces unfortunate personal/cultural beliefs about what atheism is. Further, people moving away from that portrayal is a good thing, and it doesn't imply anything about faith if someone does so. The naturalness of faith can be attacked if someone says it's not natural, but not when someone says atheism isn't "obviously deviant".
You will not go to space today.
 19 Night, Wed, 6th Feb '13 9:03:05 AM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
Except it is.

I say this as an atheist, by the way. But it is clearly deviant, in the sense that it is not the norm; nor close to it. If you want to infuse the word with other meaning, that's your problem. Treating it as if it's normal is being untrue, and unlike many other untruths we tell in stories, the need for faith speaks to something much deeper than that of many of the other things we've eliminated for our storytelling down the years. Saying that people leaving by event is default in fact probably is reflective of how we get to be atheists in reality most of the time. (And I'm all for storytelling demographics catching up to real ones.) It's certainly how I got out, though it has little to do with why I stayed, and my story is probably quite typical.

Storytelling is about verisimilitude. There are aspects of this trope that are bad, because they bear little on telling a believable story and much on making the audience feel good. Treating atheism as "wrong" is a part of that. Atheism being different from the norm and leaving by event ain't a part of that, and do help tell a story the audience can relate to. They are the aspects of the trope that should be discarded last if it's under consideration.

edited 6th Feb '13 9:08:44 AM by Night

Trusted Poster of Legitimate Advice (from Wo-Chan)
 20 Madrugada, Wed, 6th Feb '13 9:56:05 AM Relationship Status: In season
Zzzzzzzzzz
Socially deviant doesn't mean "unnatural". Because of the pervasiveness of religion in modern cultures, it's almost impossible to say that faith would still be the default, if the conditioning that generally begins in early childhood were absent. In other words, it's close to impossible to answer "Is it nature or nurture?" about faith.

But the main objection to your statement, Night, is that the trope Hollywood Atheist is about people now or at least in relatively modern times, not guesses about prehistoric religions, and that it is not "Some people are atheists", it's "Atheists are only atheists because something bad happened and it caused them to lose their faith."

edited 6th Feb '13 9:56:15 AM by Madrugada

...if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you for it.
The problem with default portrayals is not that they are common, it's that people aren't exposed to things that are not that portrayal because writers keep defaulting to the same thing. Like all stereotypes, it reflects and affects how people think of atheists. I don't care, especially, if fiction portrays someone as leaving their faith because of some sort of trauma. I do care if, from a random collection of fictional atheists, it's difficult to find an someone who didn't. (I may then care about the portrayals that do exist because it's a reminder of the lack of variety or the lack of atheists-like-me specifically—I don't, but it happens for other things. Mostly other things, really.) Default portrayals are always suspect because they can lead to things like that. They are also suspect because if it's the default, it's generally less "most X are like this" and more "this is how X's are".

And as far as I can tell, Drunk Scriblerian was using "obviously deviant" in a more societal context and I was trying to use it the same way—and yes, that does have negative connotations. Because the usual usage is that there's something wrong with the deviant and that feeds into how they are portrayed and perceived. It's more about how some momentous reason to leave a faith is required because clearly that's just the nature of atheism, to be some sort of response to trauma. It could be required for some people. It shouldn't be required for people, general.

Even faith being widespread is more of a culture thing—cultures have it, but that doesn't mean individuals must, since it's generally taught.

edited 6th Feb '13 10:32:02 AM by greedling

You will not go to space today.
 22 Wolf 1066, Wed, 6th Feb '13 10:38:07 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
Night seems to think that we're born believing in some religion or other.

We are born without religion. What religion we pick up, if any, is taught to us at some stage.

Even some Christians acknowledge that simple fact and do not count their children to be "Christian" until they are old enough to understand and make a mature decision whether or not to be "Born Again in Christ"

Whilst most people are born into a family that follows some religion or other or into a society that crams a given religion down the throats of its people, that is by no means universal - especially these days when burning non-believers (or believers that have differences of opinion) has fallen out of fashion in most places.

So that mechanism of being taught to believe a given religion is not, by any stretch of the imagination, universal or "default".

If a person grew up in Utah or the Bible Belt or an Islamic nation that bases its entire law structure on scripture, then the likelihood they've been fed the tenets of a religion along with their mother's milk is very high, but in other areas that likelihood is less.

The idea that a person is "Religious by Default" and has to have some "reason" to stop believing is pure crap.

It may well be how Night arrived at a state of atheism, but it is certainly not the only way. It may well be a very common way, especially in areas that are highly influenced by religion but, again, it's not the only way.

Hollywood - and Night, it seems - perpetuate the myth that religion is "natural" and that those who are not religious must have had some traumatic event to make them anything other.

In this modern day and age, it's perfectly reasonable to portray a character who has never had any religious indoctrination - for example, a child of two atheists (such as myself) - and therefore not be religious to begin with.

Sure, in most countries, children of atheists would be aware of religion and that there are people who believe in some religion or other (the mainstream religions aren't shy about ramming their beliefs down everyone's throats through the various media or bashing on doors at ungodly times), but that does not equate to the child being "religious" and they have no belief to lose due to some plot-convenient trauma.

And even among those who were raised in religious families, "leaving the faith" is very frequently a matter of gradually coming to a personal realisation that the religion doesn't work for them and a "drifting away", rather than a cataclysmic "my mummy died horribly so therefore there can't really be a god."

No offense intended to any adherents of any faith in my pointing out of the less than stirling behaviour of organised religions.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 23 drunkscriblerian, Wed, 6th Feb '13 12:56:07 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
And as far as I can tell, Drunk Scriblerian was using "obviously deviant" in a more societal context and I was trying to use it the same way—and yes, that does have negative connotations. Because the usual usage is that there's something wrong with the deviant and that feeds into how they are portrayed and perceived. It's more about how some momentous reason to leave a faith is required because clearly that's just the nature of atheism, to be some sort of response to trauma. It could be required for some people. It shouldn't be required for people, general.

I was. With a story, if a character takes an action that is morally murky (say, killing someone) and the writer wants the character to remain sympathetic some sort of justification for the action has to be presented. However, there's no need to present justification for a character having, say, red hair; you can simply describe the character as being a redhead and move on.

My comparison of Hollywood Atheist to Psycho Lesbian was chosen for that reason. As Maddie and others pointed out, both tropes carry the insinuation that the trait (atheism, homosexuality) requires justification for an audience to accept it. If you want to avert the trope, avert a need for justification.

Whether or not it is a moral decision to be an atheist in the real world is beyond the scope of this thread. Sure, angry atheists are a thing...but they are not the only thing. Whether a writer wants to classify their atheist character as holding their beliefs due to trauma or not is up to them, but it always pays to be aware of stereotypes and how various groups view them when crafting your characters.

If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
To get back on topic, I just wanted to clarify
  • Making him atheist or agnostic before his parents' deaths, as to not make it seem like that 'turned' him atheist= GOOD
But if I added that as one of the (small) contributions to his attachment issues Also there's the fact that there's a war going on and any of his loved ones could die at any time, so it's not like "I/My loved ones could have pretty sweet lives but that doesn't matter because GOD AND HEAVEN AREN'T REAL AND WE'RE GONNA DIE, SO THERE'S NO POINT"

 25 drunkscriblerian, Wed, 6th Feb '13 3:14:09 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
[up]Well, losing someone could have caused your character to examine his beliefs...plenty of people start doing that when they suffer a loss like that. I mean, wondering what became of his parents after they died, him being an atheist and all, might make for good story grist depending on how you played it.

Lots of people play "crisis of faith" in the believer-to-atheist direction, few show an unbeliever going (or wondering about going) the opposite way.
If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
Total posts: 30
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