In a thinly veiled threat to my film, The Ledge, Bill Donohue proudly brags that his organization, the Catholic League, successfully boycotts films it considers anti-religious, then goes on to claim that it is "the Judeo-Christian ethos of America that accounts for the unprecedented levels of justice and freedom enjoyed by non-believers."
If Bill traveled a little more he'd know there are many countries where attempts to censor criticism of religion are rightly considered archaic and repulsive and where atheists have a far easier time of it than in America. As for his claim that atheists should be grateful to the "Judeo-Christian ethos" for the justice and freedom they enjoy (how special!), this is hilarious. America was founded by men of many different kinds of faith and virtually no faith using political and philosophical ideas from the French, the Greeks, etc. In spite of their best efforts to restrain religion, Catholics were persecuted by Judeo-Christians (Protestants) from the earliest days until the election of John F. Kennedy. Kennedy, as Bill must know, had to explicitly state that he would not be taking orders from Rome in order to stand a chance of winning.
What is true is that all the founding fathers were trying to escape the kind of religious menace characterized by the Bill Donohues and Pat Robertsons of our times. That these bullies, whose faiths are so dominant in this country, also whine about being persecuted makes this atheist, a member of a genuine minority (4%) want to puke. I cut some lines of dialogue from The Ledge about the devastation caused by Catholic edicts against condom use in AIDS infested Africa. Note to self: Must put this back in the DVD extras.
Then there's this idea that "Hollywood" trashes believers. This too is the opposite of the truth. When did you last hear a movie hero cry out, "You gotta have reason!" No, it's always, "You gotta have faith!" In terms of movies,The Ledge is actually unique in its overt criticism of faith. This is why, in spite of being on most levels just another entertaining thriller, it has stirred up so much debate. On CNN.com, for example, a single small article engendered 5,000 passionate comments from all over the religious map.
Bill finishes his piece by using a quote from my great-great-grandfather (out of context) chastising an overly aggressive atheist. One has only to watch Bill barking people into submission whenever he slips his leash and comes on TV to see how laughable that is. I'll debate Bill any time any place -- and let the public decide whose aggression is more reasonable.
Matthew Chapman is the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, author of two books, and writer and director of the new film The Ledge starring Liv Tyler, Charlie Hunnam, Terrence Howard, and Patrick Wilson.