Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Wizard of Oz, a vehicle of atheism

My last post about the Matrix has motivated me to tackle the Wizard of Oz. While it has been years since I've seen this classic movie (and I never read the children's book), I recently saw the prequel, Oz, Great and Powerful, and it reminded me that the original wasn't just a children's fantasy story, but a metaphor to endorse atheism.

Some have likened the movie to the industrial plight of America at the time (Scarecrow represented the struggles of farming, Tin Man represented factories, etc.) but given the people behind the book and movie were atheists, it certainly seems much more legitimate that this story is a veiled attempt at spreading atheism in a time when it wasn't exactly an accepted stance (not that it is today). When it's over, you'll see that Oz represents the man-made dream of heaven and nightmare of hell, that god is a fraud and you don't need a deity or religion to face your problems and be a good moral person.

Dorothy was raised by her Christian aunt and uncle, and being so innocent she never really had any doubts about religion, that is until something extremely important was on the line. When her dog Toto bites someone, it is recommended that the dog be put down, and this frightens Dorothy, so much so that she begins to question the very Christian ethic of her family and community. 

Knowing that her aunt and uncle (which represent god or any other supernatural force) isn't going to do anything, Dorothy Gale realizes she needs to leave town to save her dog. Toto serves as the catalyst for Dorothy to discover the truth, to discover what feels right, a path to agnosticism.

Some say the tornado is Dorothy's struggle with religion as thoughts of doubt and disbelief swirl in her head until she lands in Oz. "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." The symbolism is ripe here, leaving the colorless, drab, oppressive Kansas (Christianity) for the bright, colorful, happy place where people are friendly (humanism). Here she breaks out into Somewhere over the Rainbow ... Way up high, there's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby." As she starts to distance herself from god, she's reminded of the one pleasing aspect of her religion, heaven, of which this beautiful city reminds her.

The first person she meets is Glinda, the good witch, who serves as a sort of an atheistic guide for Dorothy. When Glinda sees that Dorothy is confused by her newfound feelings, she sends her on a journey to see the Wizard of Oz. It will be a trip fraught with difficulties (just like any deconversion of a believer), and Glinda knows this, but it's the only way for Dorothy to see religion and god for what they are. Further ensuring that Glinda represents rational thinking, she tells the wicked witch "You have no power here," meaning your superstitious religion can't affect my rational thought.

But before she goes on this voyage, Glinda gives Dorothy the ruby slippers to keep them safe from the Wicked Witch of the West. I like to think these slippers represent logic and reason. By the way, the wicked witches represent the religions of the eastern and western worlds, which of course are wicked. So it's also conceivable these slippers could be a metaphor for power, which explains why the western witch wants them "so badly!" as Glinda said. And since Dorothy is a product of western religion, the Wicked Witch of the West will be the most difficult to destroy, because that's the religion she followed, whereas the eastern religion has no real effect on her.

You'll notice the iconic Yellow Brick Road is made of gold bricks and leads to Emerald City and the Wizard of Oz. This symbolism is too obvious, representing the greed of religious institutions and the path of money that leads to church.

Along the way she meets three "companions" and the first is the Scarecrow. He believes he has no brain, meaning he can't think for himself (just like religion tells you to not question anything). But as her escapades progress we notice that Scarecrow is the one who comes up with all of the solutions to their problems. This shows Dorothy that you have your own mind and ideas, that you don't need some higher power to get you through life's difficult crises. He didn't need a brain, he already had one, just like you don't need religion to tell you what's right and wrong, you already know.

Next they meet the Tin Man, who thinks he doesn't have a heart, yet he's very emotional. He symbolizes another virtue Dorothy thought she needed god for: heart (compassion). The final character or virtue comes in the form of the Cowardly Lion, who says he has no courage, yet when faced with an opportunity he is willing to fight for Dorothy, proving you can have wisdom, compassion and courage without god.

Once they arrive at the Emerald Palace, we see it is a huge green church-like structure that sports massive steeples. And what do followers go to church for? To honor god by giving money and praying. And what are prayers if not wishes or requests, which is exactly why Dorothy and her troupe are there.

They encounter a doorman who says he's never seen the wizard, to wit Dorothy asks: “Well then, how do you know there is one?” if this isn't atheism then nothing is.

When they meet the wizard, he clearly is supposed to represent a god-like figure, and not just any god, but the evil one of the Old Testament decreeing orders down from the clouds. Just like Yahweh, the wizard can’t seem to get his business done and needs to “test” the mortals over which he reigns. He sends the troupe on a mission to obtain the witch's broomstick, which he never believes they will accomplish because the western religion is too manipulative and powerful for them to escape.

When Dorothy encounters the Witches Forest, it represents Dorothy's vision of hell. Why hell? Well, it's dark and scary and has a sign that reads: "I'D TURN BACK IF I WERE YOU!" This perfectly exemplifies Christianity's tactic for frightening you into believing in god and being a good person. But Dorothy kills the witch with water, which I know religious types will say is holy water to dispense evil. But I like to think of it as irony, using the substance that is supposed to cleanse you of sin to ultimately set you free from the bondage of religion.

Upon return to Emerald City, Dorothy and her companions are granted their wishes, but of course they find out the wizard is a fraud, that there is no such thing as an all-powerful being, and that they had those attributes of which they has sought all along. This is the very definition of atheism. And it's only fitting that Toto discovers the wizard, the very reason they began this journey was to save Toto, and Toto shows her the way to enlightenment. (Don't pay any attention to the man behind the curtain!)

And when Glinda returns, she has some 'splainin' to do! If she knew the wizard was a fraud, why didn't she just tell Dorothy? "Because she wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself." And just like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, she had what she most desired all along as well: the ability to go home. There was no reason to rely on a fraudulent all-powerful imaginary being because she always had those virtues and abilities.

Dorothy returns to Kansas, and we learn atheists aren't immoral people, because even though she no longer believes in god, she still loves her family and friends, and is happy to see them. And yes, the Toto problem remains unresolved, but she will do whatever she can (on her own) to keep him alive. The moral? People should face their problems rather than rely on some made-up god to solve them.

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