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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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No atheism for ol' Anton

From Jake Cremins, New York, NY:

I've just read Brad Smussen's letter about Anton Chigurh's possible ties to atheism, and I'm insulted indeed. I didn't know this was a big secret, but I guess it needs spelling out: To be an atheist is not to live in a moral vacuum where one functions under a "recklessly craven positioning of self for purposes of survival." Yes, that's correct: You can be an atheist without being a sociopath or a bundle of pure animalistic impulse. You can even be sincerely selfless and noble and love your fellow man *without* religious faith being involved. It's true!

I can't speak for every atheist, but I personally believe that this life, the physical life that's enabling you to read these words right now, is the only one you're going to get, is absolutely finite, and is therefore incredibly precious—much more so, in my opinion, than if it continued on for eternity after the end of your physical body. This is how I feel about my life, your life, and everyone else's. I like to think that I'd be brave enough to save someone's life even if it meant my death, but I don't insist upon or even much expect the reverse, and I certainly wouldn't kill innocent strangers left and right or otherwise abandon common decency and morality in order to make sure I could draw another breath. That doesn't make me an unusual atheist, but a perfectly normal one. That doesn't even make me an unusual creature with a survival instinct—as far as evolution goes, it's counterproductive for anybody to value preservation of self over preservation of the species, and the natural reaction to such a thing is to regard it as evil and monstrously selfish.

In short, anyone who sees Chigurh in action and thinks he's an excellent representation of atheism has been getting some very bad information.

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