Sunday, July 3, 2011


Just watched Agora, a movie that I heard about from the entries about it at The Wild Hunt.

I can't speak too confidently about the historical Hypatia (nor do I particularly expect this movie to do so, because it probably doesn't). Near as I can tell from totally cursory Googling on the subject, not only was Hypatia's religious affiliation not relevant to the circumstances of her death, but she herself was barely relevant. She could have been anybody sufficiently important to Orestes. He had pissed off Cyril (who was kind of a big deal at the time) and Hypatia happened to be an appealing target for a revenge killing.

So... I wanted to say first off that I'm not really inclined to believe anybody who says, "Hypatia was killed by nasty misogynist anti-intellectual Christians because she was an educated and independent Pagan!" or anybody who says, "Hypatia was killed by nasty misogynist anti-intellectual Christians because she was an educated and independent atheist!" Near as I can tell, she was killed for being there.

There's my take on the historical Hypatia. People who have actually spent some study on her will know more about her than I do, though, so if they post in the comments and say I'm wrong, y'all should probably listen to them instead of me. I just wanted to touch on the actual real person we are talking about here so that I could talk separately about Hypatia The Character In The Movie Agora.

Hypatia The Character In The Movie Agora was a total atheist, you guys. I am sort of confused and amused and a litle dismayed by how many Pagans seem to have watched this movie and thought, "Ah! Look what the Christians did to us! They always do this to us Pagans!" Bonus points if they then go on to say some bullshit about the Burning Times (when some arbitrarily-large number of totally undeniably really real actual witches were burned alive by Christians).

Movie!Hypatia got along with Pagans a great deal better than with Christians, it's true. Historically speaking, Christians have not made very good neighbors, either literally or ideologically. So yeah, she got along better with the Pagans, but that doesn't make her one.

I've been a practicing Pagan since I started giving a damn about religion at all--so since I was about ten or eleven. Just long enough to make my parents sound ridiculous when they say it's a phase (which they evidently still think it is). I went to school in a small town where parents didn't want their children talking to me because I was a servant of the devil. The school administrators saw me as a disruptive presence because of the books I read while I sat by myself at lunch, which they took and never returned. So I get it, really I do, that Pagans aren't wanted in Christian-dominated areas.

I've also been comfortable identifying as an atheist for a few years now, too. I identify with a group that was recently found to be the least trusted minority in the USA, which I find incomprehensible but hard to deny.

Every now and again I'll watch a movie that makes me feel small, and angry, and a little unsafe. The last one I watched was actually the Stepford Wives (the new one, which I actually thought was hilarious and terrifying), and now this. It wasn't because it called to memory the myth of the Burning Times, or the time when good Christian friends and neighbors taught their children to be frightened of me.

It was because we get to watch someone be cast aside by her political allies and be stoned to death by Christians because she--the character, mind you--is an unrepentant atheist and that makes her a problem. My friends and cousins with whom I share religious practice, it's not about you this time. It's about a character whose dedication to philosophy (basically equated here to "science") was considered unwomanly, ungodly, unacceptable, and unworthy of being allowed to live.

You have to twist this pretty hard to see anything but the character of Hypatia flying her atheist flag right out in the audience's faces.

CHRISTIAN: The majority of us here… have accepted Christ. Why not the rest of you? It’s only a matter of time and you know it.

HYPATIA: Really? It is just a matter of time? …As far as I am aware, your God has not yet proved himself to be more just or more merciful than his predecessors. Is it really just a matter of time before I accept your faith?

CHRISTIAN: Why should this assembly accept the council of someone who admittedly believes in absolutely nothing?

HYPATIA: I believe in philosophy.

Can't tell you how many times I or other atheists I know have had to have the "how can you not believe in anything" conversation.

Hypatia, the real woman who lived and was killed, may well have been a woman of Pagan faith. Someone better versed in the history of the woman could speak to that better than I. This character in this movie, though, is an atheist. Anybody who can ignore that is probably trying to. Is this version of her historically accurate? I wouldn't put money on it, no. But this version of her is an atheist, and it's weird to watch it after reading the reviews of Pagans who are sure it's all about them, and find myself watching a very different movie than the one they seemed to be describing.

Maybe I just wasn't watching it through their CHRISTIANS HATE US PAGANS MORE THAN ANYONE goggles. Because y'know what? They don't. They hate Pagans, all right, but not more than anyone. At least you believe in something (read: some form of deity), right? How can they trust someone who doesn't even manage that?

This is a humanist propaganda film. Say what you will about whether that's a good thing, but if you can miss that and somehow reread it as a story of Pagan persecution by the mean old monotheists, you need to watch it again and pay attention to the parts where Christians are murdered by Pagans, Pagans are murdered by Christians, Jews are murdered by Christians, Christians are murdered by Jews, more Jews are murdered by Christians, and a self-described atheist is the only one who says that they're all more like than different and have nothing to fight over so can we please talk about astronomy now kthx.

It's a humanist fantasy with a humanist martyr and Agora departs so far from history that I have to wonder how the hell all these Pagans missed its obvious agenda.

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