Religious Right's Antarctic Day Dreams“Passion of the Penguins – a Rightie's Spiritual Rorschach”
Like the spiritually needy who pay $10 at a roadside carnival for a chance to pray before some Rorschach
Virgin Mary emblazoned on a burnt piece of toast, the Radical Right Conservatives are flocking to the new blockbuster conservation film “March of the Penguins
Hailed as a virtual “Passion of the Penguins” – in reference to Mel Gibson’s the “Passion of Christ” – Religious Righties claim that the marvelous and complex survival behaviors of the Emperor Penguins evidence both God’s plan for humanity and offer proof of Intelligent Design.
Boiled down, the claims are that (1) the Penguin’s exhibit God’s plan for human families because they exhibit anthropomorphic traits such as monogamy, sacrifice and childrearing; and (2) given the extreme conditions of the Antarctic, the survival behaviors and physiology of the Emperor Penguin are too complex to be the result of “evolution” and are thus unexplainable – ipso facto, they constitute proof of God’s Intelligent Design.
I’d love to spend some time debunking this silliness, but instead here is an excerpted article posted by David Smith in the Guardian today that reviews the topic in a very cogent and enjoyable way. Enjoy.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~How the penguin's life story inspired the US religious right.
Antarctic family values: Is the emperor penguin an enemy of Darwin? America's surprise film hit was meant to be a nature documentary. Now it's a pawn in the war on evolutionary theoryDavid Smith
Sunday September 18, 2005
It is an odyssey to rival Scott's in the Antarctic, albeit with a happier ending. Fierce snowstorms rage, icy blasts flick across the screen. March of the Penguins, an epic nature documentary with a cast of thousands, was the surprise usurper of summer blockbusters at the American box office and is tipped to be the hit family film in Britain this Christmas.
To many, it will be no more nor less than a life-affirming portrayal of Mother Nature, reminiscent of Sunday-evening television with Sir David Attenborough whispering from the undergrowth. To some, however, the mesmerising images of birds waddling, mating and nurturing their young have become cinema's most politically charged parable since Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/1.
Conservatives in America claim to have seen God in the emperor penguin. They have rejoiced in the way the film shows penguins as monogamous upholders of traditional family values. They presumably welcomed the screenwriters' decision not to pursue arguments about climate change. They have even pointed to the heroically resourceful penguins - blinded by blizzards, buffeted by gales, yet winning against the odds - as proof of 'intelligent design', the religious belief system that aims to challenge Darwin's theory of evolution.
Audiences and critics of the £4.4 million French-made film have found themselves uplifted by the sight of emperor penguins trudging 70 miles, in single file, to their breeding ground during the harsh Antarctic winter in temperatures of -40C. The creatures' comical gait and tuxedo-like plumage have amused children, while their fortitude and tenderness in raising their offspring have had parents sighing in recognition. One reviewer gushed: 'It's impossible to watch the thousands of penguins huddled together against the icy Antarctic blasts ... without feeling a tug of anthropomorphic kinship.'
Now America's religious right has weighed in. Film critic Michael Medved was quoted by the New York Times calling it 'the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child-rearing'. Speaking of audiences in America's heartland who often feel snubbed by liberal Hollywood, he added: 'This is the first movie they've enjoyed since The Passion of the Christ. This is The Passion of the Penguins.'
As happened with Mel Gibson's Christian blockbuster, churches have block-booked cinemas and organised visits for their members. The 153 House Churches Network in Sidney, Ohio, runs a March of the Penguins Leadership Workshop after screenings of the film. Its website, http://www.lionsofgod.com,/
provides a form that can be downloaded and taken to the cinema. It advises: 'Please use the notebook, flashlight and pen provided to write down what God speaks to you.'
Ben Hunt, a minister at the network, said of the penguins' struggle for survival: 'Some of the circumstances they experienced seemed to parallel those of Christians. The penguin is falling behind, like some Christians are falling behind. The path changes every year, yet they find their way, like the Holy Spirit.'
A contributor to the Christian Science Monitor wrote: 'The penguins' way of life has illustrated to me some aspects of how God is parenting us.' On WorldNetDaily.com, a conservative website, an opponent of abortion wrote that the film 'verified the beauty of life and the rightness of protecting it'. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, told a conference of young Republicans: 'Penguins are the really ideal example of monogamy. The dedication of these birds is amazing.'
The 80-minute film - which grossed £37m in the US, the second-highest total by a documentary - movingly shows female penguins laying a single egg, then trekking back to the ocean to feed, while the males keep the eggs cradled on their feet, huddling together for warmth during a two-month vigil without food. The female must return in time to feed her hatchling for it to survive, at which point it is the starving male's turn to make the 70-mile trek to the sea.
Andrew Coffin, writing in the Christian publication World Magazine, said such miracles of nature were evidence that life is too complex to have arisen through Darwinian random selection: 'That any one of these eggs survives is a remarkable feat - and, some might suppose, a strong case for intelligent design. It's sad that acknowledgment of a creator is absent in the examination of such strange and wonderful animals. But it's also a gap easily filled by family discussion after the film.'
The only contradiction of the Bible in March of the Penguins is near the beginning, when the narrator says: 'For millions of years, they have made their home on the darkest, driest, windiest and coldest continent on earth. And they've done so pretty much alone.'
But the film's makers say they are strong believers in evolution, and its American distributors, Warner Independent Pictures and National Geographic Feature Films, insist that it is simply a tale about penguins. Laura Kim, a vice-president of Warner Independent, said: 'You know what? They're just birds.'
Adam Leipzig, president of National Geographic Feature Films, said: 'These penguins are model parents. What they go through to look after their children is phenomenal, and no parent who sees it will ever complain again about the school run. There are parallels with human nature and it is moving to see.'
Leipzig pointed out that this species of penguin, the emperor, is usually monogamous for a year, but not for life: the following year, it takes a different partner. He added: 'People read it into what they want. There are universal truths about parenting and bonding with offspring, but it's not a film with a political and social agenda. When we put the English-language version together, we never once had a discussion about social, religious or cultural points of view. We wanted to get the audience involved to follow the penguins' lives.'
The film's director, Luc Jaquet, a French biologist who shot 140 hours of footage on land and 30 hours underwater, added: 'It's obvious that global warming has an impact on the reproduction of the penguins. But much of public opinion appears insensitive to the dangers of global warming. We have to find other ways to communicate to people about it.'
Scientists in Britain, where the film will premiere at next month's London Film Festival, with general release in December, dismissed the intelligent design lobby's expropriation of the film. Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London and an atheist, said: 'I find it sad that people with intrinsically foolish viewpoints don't recognise this as a naturally beautiful film, but have to attach their absurd social agendas to it.
'The problem with intelligent design is that there is no conceivable observation in nature that can disprove the idea. It's not part of science, which is why scientists are not interested in it. A group of penguins standing upright looks like co-operation, but in fact the ones on the outside are struggling to get in and those on the inside are trying to stand their ground: it's a classic Darwinian struggle. The idea that the life of a penguin is any more beautiful than that of a malaria virus is absurd.
'Supporters of intelligent design think that if they see something they don't understand, it must be God; they fail to recognise that they themselves are part of evolution. It appeals to ignorance, which is why there is a lot of it in American politics at the moment.'