Robot 6

Attack of the super-atheists!

art from "S.H.O.O.T First" by Ben Bates

Over at Comics Alliance, ToyFare editor, Twisted ToyFare Theater head writer and Hero House author Justin Aclin is talking up his upcoming story for MySpace Dark Horse Presents, “S.H.O.O.T. First.” It’s a paranormal/superhero book in the vein of B.P.R.D., but with a twist: The titular team’s acronym stands for the Secular Humanist Occult Obliteration Taskforce, and their mission is to wipe out any and all supernatural entities in the name of atheism. Says Aclin:

S.H.O.O.T. are basically militant atheists, tasked with hunting down supernatural creatures, especially those of religious significance, that they don’t even believe in….every time you read a comic about someone fighting the supernatural, they’re really doing it on the supernatural’s own terms. If you’re fighting a vampire, you bring stakes and holy water – that kind of thing. I don’t think there’s ever been a team like “S.H.O.O.T.” that basically thinks it’s all bunk, and just goes after any threat with science and bullets, and scientific bullets.

Besides giving the world the phrase “scientific bullets,” a mitzvah if ever there was one, Aclin raises an interesting question. In a universe filled with magical beings, ghosts, and even deities, where people know there’s an afterlife, know there are higher beings, know there are forces of good and evil duking it out on higher and lower planes of existence — in a universe like that, what becomes of atheism and religion as we know them?

It’s always seemed to me that the presence of Thor and Hercules and Mephisto and so on in the Marvel Universe, or the Spectre and the Demon and Zauriel and so forth in the DC Universe, ought to have altered the social fabric of those worlds in far more fundamental ways — ways their respective creators really couldn’t get away with depicting, lest they lose the “real world plus superpowers” feel that fans are accustomed to. Would each different deity inspire a new religion? Would the world’s major faiths adapt to incorporate such entities, fight against them, or ignore them entirely? Would atheists write them off as simply a different form of perfectly natural life, or abandon their Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens books en masse?

Some other franchises, like Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and B.P.R.D. universe, dodged the question by keeping the knowledge of the supernatural limited to a select few; now that that’s becoming harder for those characters to do, you’re seeing some major changes in how the world at large operates. But in a story like “S.H.O.O.T First,” how do secular humanists preserve their unbelief when they’re duking it out with demons? It certainly gives that phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes” a workout, that’s for sure…

So tell us, dear readers: If Asgard was floating above your rural Oklahoma hamlet or the Wrath of God was trotting his green bikini briefs all around your hometown, would you become a believer? Or would you support a super-squad with gods in their crosshairs?

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Comments

26 Comments

How can they be atheists if they’re hunting gods? I don’t believe in unicorns but by the logic of this book I hunt unicorns on the weekends. And I hunt them only because I don’t want other people believing in them.

Kate Fitzsimons

May 17, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Well, it could be argued that it’s no more ridiculous than wanting to take down some local tyrant calling himself a god. It doesn’t mean that they think “This being right in front of me does not exist”, but rather “This being right in front of me is not actually a god / demigod / angel / demon.”

Hey! There’s Thor. He’s obviously a dude with superpowers, but then again, there are a lot of dudes with superpowers. Were I a militant atheist, I would say “What right does he have to expect me to believe he’s a god?”

So, if you take that concept to its crazy, crazy fundamentalist zealot level… Well, it could make sense whether the actual comic will or not remains to be seen.

I can’t remember exactly where this scene was, but it happened somewhere around Infinite Crisis: There is a Catholic mass packed with super-heroes praying. Mr. Terrific is observing, talking about the futility of praying, when Blue Devil comes up to him and points out to him that Terrific personally knows two or three agents of Heaven or escapees from Hell, like The Spectre or Blue Devil himself. As I recall, Terrific ultimately didn’t have much of a response. I always thought that was an interesting take.

Well I know a few Pagens who already worshop the Norse Mythology, and they would jump at the chance to worshop a real life Thor.

Once there is becomes a physical manifestation of a God (i.e. walking around, doing more then “healing”), I would turn and become a believer. And bonus points if it was Marvels Herc, especially how awesome he is/was. (spoiler)

Brian Westley

May 17, 2010 at 4:40 pm

It’ll be like Scooby-do, every supernatural being will be exposed as some kind of fraud. And they would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling humanists…

For Marvel, it’s fairly easy. It’s a universe where reality was rewritten by a woman with mental issues and a pocket dimension created by a pre-teen to save his parents from death. In the marvel universe there may be gods or a God, but I’d have a hard time believing that the guy who’s claim to fame is weather and a really big hammer is it. He’s not even close

I’m an agnostic atheist. I freely admit that a god COULD exist. I merely want a testable theory and supporting evidence for said theory.

There are several ways to handle this. The television show, Stargate revealed past gods as posers. i.e. Polytheistic religions were revealed to be worshipping space aliens.

Which brings in the question, how do you know a being is a god?

The Asgardian Gods got old, died, had weaknesses, were not omniscient, etc. They got their immortality by eating fruit from the World Tree which was regular picked by one of the goddesses. So, is Thor really a god?

Also, if you have testable proof of something’s existence… then it is not supernatural (outside of the natural world). It is natural. So, technically, if you have demons/devils proven to exist, then you have natural critters, not supernatural ones.

The chick with the space-age P90 is pretty blatantly lifted from Takehiko Ito’s character Valeria Vertone.

If you think about it, atheists are not only defined by their lack of faith in the supernatural. Instead, what makes you an atheist is your belief that everything that happens is part of the natural world, following possibly unknown, but eventually discoverable rules. As Brian says, if demons or gods actually existed, atheists would simply accept that they are part of the natural world; they would treat a demon like we treat, say, a bear: a potentially dangerous, but natural entity. They would not insist on not believing in demons.

So the premise of the comic book is kind of strange, I guess.

Doesn’t make much sense….As a card carrying atheist I investigate things I don’t understand and destroying things (other than ignorance) is one of the last things an atheist usually does. If you can see and touch them then you would believe in them….Thus invalidating the atheist label.

I’d label myself as an Atheist. This article bring’s up a quote that is slowly being used more often these days (or so I’ve noticed).

“If you make God bleed, then people will no longer believe in God.”

It’s true btw. Just because you rasie something on a pedastal and give it a name…doesn’t make it so. By fighting, wounding, killing or destroying something, you take away it’s mysticism. Much like a cleric who predicts a catastrophy that never occurs. When people are no longer blinded by the image of something they crafted for themselves, they lose faith in it. So, yes. I think the story would work for this comic. A bunch of Atheist use science and weapons (not specific) to battle figures that appear supernatural, a rudimentary test or “trial by fire” to see whether or not they are truly godly. Their victory ensures that their targets weren’t supernatural, just different in physical appearance/strength/skill….etc.

As for the angles/demons that we see in the comic book universe, who’s to say that they aren’t from alternate realities? Was the evil superman a clone of the original? No. Just a superman from a alternate universe. I fail to see how that makes him a god.

While on the topic of “the man of steel”. Why wasn’t he ever called a God? Because he looked human? Had a weakness? Could fail? There isn’t much of a difference between Superman and Thor…..or any other hero for that matter. Save Batman, the rich vigilante that he is.

“Shaggy Wrote:
May 18, 2010 at 10:10 am
I’d label myself as an Atheist. This article bring’s up a quote that is slowly being used more often these days (or so I’ve noticed).

“If you make God bleed, then people will no longer believe in God.”

Jesus bled and even died on the cross and he is the son of God. He is also the same. He is part of the the holy trinity, Father/Son/ Holy Spirit. They are all one in the same but seperate. I’m not here to preach, just pointing out the error in your statement.

@Jonathan: Actually, quite a few Christians believe Jesus and God were seperate entities, no more the same as God than Moses. So Jesus bled, God didn’t.

Of course, some Christians believe they were the same, so it’s all relative.

Sean T. Collins

May 18, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I’m glad pointed out that as cool as that line sounds coming out of Mickey Rourke’s mushmouth, it’s pretty much invalidated by the core tenets of the world’s most popular religious tradition.

Narvi, “quite a few” may believe that, but it’s a pretty unorthodox position. The vast majority believe God and Jesus are one and the same.

@Sean: it depends on which sect you belong to. I know the Catholic church believe they’re the same, but most in the Norwegian Church (of which I used to be a member) believe they’re different.

But yes, most of the sects believe they’re the same.

But God bleeding was part of God’s plan: it’s not like anyone bitch-slapped Jesus after his Glorious Ressurection. Thor, on the other hand, has had his ass handed to him by various super-villains more than once.

But that’s not really fair: concepts of “God” vary widely: many people worshipped (and worship) minor spirits, Gods, ancestral ghosts, etc. without ever considering them _omnipotent_. Indeed, in many polytheisms, the supreme creator is distant and uninvolved, while it is lesser, close-to-earth and man Gods which get the bulk of the worship. The ILLIAD was written by a Greek who worshipped great Gods, in spite of the fact that a couple of them _were_ made to bleed by Greek heroes when they unwisely made personal appearances on the battlefield.

The problem is when people want an all-powerful, all-wise God, since really, there is no such thing as a sufficient proof of omnipotence, especially in superbeing-rich environments…

“Look! I created a new universe!”
“Pfft. One, this could all be a convincing illusion. We could be in the Matrix. Those galaxies could be non-existent: you had to create the light enroute ANYWAY for them to be visible now rather than millions of years from now. Secondly, the Beyonders could do this, and they don’t claim to be God. Thirdly, we fought a supervillain just last week who planned to collapse the universe’s quantum balance and thereby replace it with a new one – and he was from New Jersey.”

This could either be really cool or really dumb. IF the question of “how long can you hunt the supernatural and still not believe it’s real?” is addressed and we actually see Ex-SHOOT team members who actually became believers as well as members who go to great lengths to find scientific explanations for the supernatural then it will be awesome. if how ever we’re expected to believe that atheists can remain so in the fact of overwhelming evidence and not even question their belief in non-belief then it’s a crap fest.

The thor angle was actually addressed several times on marvel, people used to form cults around him, with most people believing him to just be frigging insane.
When Asgard was above oklahoma, hordes of people started converting to the thorites. In Marvel “2099″ titles there is a huge church of Thor.

I don’t see why people have the need to separate science from religion. Its all just existance and its fascinating. People try to give life, god, allah, christ a name but it always seems to fall flat when trying to give the first person mystical experience credit. I can’t prove to you exactly what goes on in my head or for that matter an incredibly religiously enlightened person’s head. Language, art, religion, or any means of communication will never let you see precisely everything going on within other people. Pretty much, you go somewhere when you die even if its just into the dirt. Call it what you want. If you want dirt to be your afterlife, go for it! You need to have faith to believe a scientist or math.

Er, you don’t have to have faith to believe a scientist or mathematician: you can check out their claims or learn the math yourself. One takes scientific claims seriously without being an expert oneself because science is rooted in duplicable effort and produces definable results: scientists generally have done the work, studied the material, carried out experiments, etc. [1] This is a different sort of “taking it on faith” than believing in the Big Guy With a Beard simply because the Bible says so, or because you have a good feeling about it.

[1] Of course, one should always think for oneself – keep an eye on the money, especially in fields where there is still some room for debate.

That’ll be a short comic. They become atheists… mission accomplished. Seriously, WTF.

“every time you read a comic about someone fighting the supernatural, they’re really doing it on the supernatural’s own terms. If you’re fighting a vampire, you bring stakes and holy water – that kind of thing. I don’t think there’s ever been a team like “S.H.O.O.T.” that basically thinks it’s all bunk, and just goes after any threat with science and bullets, and scientific bullets.”

Well, if the vampires really are invulnerable to bullets, going after them with bullets gets you killed…

Really, you can’t disbelieve something that’s pulling your spinal column out through your neck. You (or rather the survivors) can only argue about interpretations.

A more logical setting for this situation is something like Melinda Snodgrass’s “The Edge of Reason”, in which, to quote a couple of reviews,

Former SF author Snodgrass (Circuit Breaker) returns to novel writing after a 20-year break with this gritty narrative of a war between light and dark. Richard Oort, upper-class concert pianist turned Albuquerque cop, adds a new career as a paladin wielding a sword that embodies reason and order. Recruited by Kenntnis, a wealthy technology entrepreneur, after rescuing a sorceress in distress, Richard learns that Kenntnis is the Serpent, and Prometheus, and Lucifer. Richard is his latest weapon in the eons-old battle against the Old Ones, who feed on emotions stirred by religious beliefs. While Richard can be overly dramatic, he is generally portrayed sympathetically as he struggles to comprehend supernatural warfare and more earthly concerns such as his mother’s suicide. Balancing a harsh critique of organized religion with touches of humor and a good-hearted priest who grounds his faith in the Golden Rule, Snodgrass just barely avoids polemic. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Review
“It’s the eve of Armageddon and the gates of hell are about to yawn open. Jesus Christ is a homeless schizophrenic living in a cardboard box, Lucifer commands the forces of light, and humanity’s best hope is a tormented young beat cop from Albuquerque, New Mexico. If H.P. Lovecraft and H. L. Mencken had ever collaborated, they might have come up with something like The Edge of Reason . This one will delight thinkers–and outrage true believers–of all stripes.” –George R. R. Martin
–This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Of course, she goes and spoils the whole thing (for me, anyway) by having the good guys fight with a Magic Sword and Human Good Magic rather than with Science. But the basic idea is there – the supernatural is a blind, and God is not who or what he claims to be: it’s not that these people disbelieve in ghosts and ghoulies, it’s that they don’t believe that they are what they claim to be: a vampire’s allergy to holy water may just be a trick (the Vampires are in on it with “Jesus”, if that’s _really_ his name), or perhaps the priests are performing some sort of black magic to make the water potent or….in any event, things must be tested, experimented on, and the truth exposed.

Is it that the believe in the supernatural and are just fighting them because they’re evil or is that they’re truly atheists and they believe the supernatural things that they’re fighting are actually explainable through natural science? I agree with the posters above who believe the premise is fundamentally flawed.

This kinds of reminds me of something I saw the other night when I was watching clips of Christopher Hitchens interviews online. Hitchens explained that he is not just an atheist but also an “anti-theist” the term referring to those who are philosophically opposed to the existence of a god, in contrast to some atheists who don’t believe in a god but would like to, if it were only logically sound. Using that terminology, you might envision a comic book where a team like SHOOT fights against the oppressive rule of gods but, in that situation, you’d have a hard time saying they don’t believe in the gods they are actively hunting.

It’s not that there’s no God, it’s that organized religion and all the fairy stories we’ve heard for the last 6000 years is nonsense. But there could be no end to advanced civilizations who think they’re gods and just want to show up here and kick some human ass. And remember, if their science is advanced enough, it could seem like magic or religious hocum-pokum (you know, the very stuff Stephen Hawking was just warning us about not doing, attracting attention to come to Earth as get some of our good stuff, like, uh, I don’t know, all the water. That’s when we’re gonna need the SHOOT team to come out guns blazing, on the assumption that there are no real supernatural beings, just some very tough mofos.

this comic really does bring up some good points, do they just disbelieve in the demons/superpowered deformed nonhumanoids or actually try to kill them through action?

As an atheist, his kind of just ticks me off since it implies that atheists are the sort of people that ignore evidence that is presented to them right in front of their face in favor of being cynical little secular people. If our world was reality where a woman forged by the gods themselves frequently fought various villains and an actual god stamped about fighting evil it would be downright silly for me to deny the exist of their being a god altogether. Implying that I would do so just because I like rocking the boat is a jerk move.

Were this comic presenting a world more like the Hellboy world that was described, okay, I understand. But as it is, this thing can go fuck itself.

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