Atheist Film: The Magdalene Sisters

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 5, 2009 in Atheist Film & TV

magdaleneThe Magdalene Asylums were Catholic institutions for “fallen women” (women deemed immoral by their parents), who were confined there indefinitely to work as slaves for nuns and be beaten, degraded, mentally and sexually abused.

In the Middle Ages, right? No. The last Magdalene Asylum closed in 1996, in Ireland. (A 2,600-page report on the abuses of Magdalene Asylums was released in May, 2009.)

The descriptions of abuse sound like something out of Gitmo:

Punching, flogging, assault and bodily attacks, hitting with the hand, kicking, ear pulling, hair pulling, head shaving, beating on the soles of the feet, burning, scalding, stabbing, severe beatings with or without clothes, being made to kneel and stand in fixed positions for lengthy periods, made to sleep outside overnight, being forced into cold or excessively hot baths and showers, hosed down with cold water before being beaten, beaten while hanging from hooks on the wall, being set upon by dogs, being restrained in order to be beaten, physical assaults by more than one person, and having objects thrown at them.

Actually, that was from the boys’ asylums, called “Reformatories.” The girls got it much worse. They were routinely raped and sexually molested, often by more than one person at a time, in “dormitories, schools, motor vehicles, bathrooms, staff bedrooms, churches, sacristies, fields, parlors, the residences of clergy, holiday locations and while with godparents and employers.”

More than 30,000 children were confined in these asylums.

The Vatican has given no response.

The Magdalene Sisters (2002, IMDB: 7.9, RT: 90%) is a fictional portrayal of these Magdalene Asylums, as experienced by three girls in the 1960s.

Rose sleeps with a man to whom she is not married. Bernadette flirts with some boys. Margaret is raped. And so, they are considered “fallen,” and sent to a Magdalene Asylum. Once there, they are insulted, mentally abused, humiliated, and beaten by the most arrogant, demeaning, evil nuns you’ve ever seen. The priests take part as well, sexually molesting some of the girls.

One of the few scenes that will make you feel good is when Margaret washes the priest’s clothes with some kind of itchweed, such that an unbearable rash spreads over his whole body during an outdoor ceremony, and he strips naked before the crowd and runs away, scratching himself all over. As he writhes in pain, a somewhat retarded victim of the convent screams at him with the words Margaret once whispered into her ear:

You’re not a man of God! You’re not a man of God! You are not a man of God! You’re not a man of God! You’re not a man of God! You’re not a man of God! You’re not a man of God! You are not a man of God! You’re not a man of God!

The nuns cannot silence her. She yells this 24 times. They are the sweetest 24 lines in the film.1

In my dreams, I am courageous enough to yell those 24 lines at George W. Bush after he gives a public prayer, or at Pope Ratzinger after a public address.

The film will make you feel sick and enraged. But you’ll calm down after a while. Meanwhile, the Vatican will continue to protect its priests and nuns who abuse children, because our protests are not loud enough.

After four years of agony, Margaret’s brother shows up and takes her out of the asylum. Margaret exclaims:

Can you believe that it’s that simple? That a brother can just… turn up! Can you believe that?

All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

  1. In case you ever need it, here’s an mp3 of those 24 lines. []

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Heuristics July 5, 2009 at 7:12 am

I think you are confusing atheism with anti-theism here, or perhaps anti-organized religion.

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Chuck July 5, 2009 at 8:12 am

Huh?

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lukeprog July 5, 2009 at 8:48 am

Ditto with Chuck.

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Steven Carr July 5, 2009 at 10:14 am

http://www.christianityexplored.org/downloads/ce/cxpp-chapter-sample.pdf 
The Christianity Explored course says ”In the next chapter we’ll see exactly how Jesus achieves that rescue, but for now I want to focus on the assumption Jesus makes: that we are all rebels in need of rescue, even if we believe we’re basically good people.’

The problem with Christianity is it that it teachers its practitioners that people are scum.

If you drill into people’s heads the idea that other people are wicked, evil people, they will maltreat the wicked , evil people.

Only a religion which teaches that people are good, not evil, will produce good, not evil, people.’

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William July 6, 2009 at 4:37 am

Steven Carr: The problem with Christianity is it that it teachers its practitioners that people are scum.

Steven, you are dead wrong!  In fact, you couldn’t be more wrong.  Historic, orthodox Christianity teaches that man is made in the image of God.  As such, we are to value human life above all other created things.  People are NOT scum.  Furthermore, people of all walks of life, including atheists, are guilty of evil against their fellow man.  So, the common denominator of these autrocities is not religion, it is man himself.

Luke said, “In my dreams, I am courageous enough to yell those 24 lines at George W. Bush after he gives a public prayer, or at Pope Ratzinger after a public address.”
This statement seems a bit out of place, but it did make me smile. 

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Reginald Selkirk July 6, 2009 at 5:36 am

 

William: Steven, you are dead wrong! In fact, you couldn’t be more wrong. Historic, orthodox Christianity teaches that man is made in the image of God.

You are conveniently neglecting to mention the whole “original sin” thing.
 

As such, we are to value human life above all other created things.

Um, no. Otherwise the death penalty would not be so prominent in God’s laws, as described in the Bible. And isn’t the salvation of one’s soul supposed to be valued above life?
 

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Lorkas July 6, 2009 at 6:28 am

William: People are NOT scum.

No, we’re just so depraved that we deserve eternal suffering because we’re so bad. So bad that God can’t even look at us unless there’s a bloody sacrifice in between filtering out the grossness of our evil.

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Marco July 6, 2009 at 6:31 am

Did you guys think the nun in the beginning was hot :-P Couldn’t help but notice the loss to society.

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Jeremy July 6, 2009 at 7:46 am

You are conveniently neglecting to mention the whole “original sin” thing.

That still doesn’t take away the fact that Humans are made in the image of God and special. Why do you think there’s a Pro-Life movement?

Um, no. Otherwise the death penalty would not be so prominent in God’s laws, as described in the Bible. And isn’t the salvation of one’s soul supposed to be valued above life?

Valuing life does not mean no one is deserving of death. However, if you’re talking about the OT, those laws applied only to the Jews.

No, we’re just so depraved that we deserve eternal suffering because we’re so bad. So bad that God can’t even look at us unless there’s a bloody sacrifice in between filtering out the grossness of our evil.

True, but the fact that God sent His Son to die for us should be enough evidence that the Bible does not view men as mere scum.

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Steven Carr July 6, 2009 at 8:44 am

God sent his Son to die for us.
 
And Acts of the Apostles then added ‘deicide’ to the list of humanity’s crimes.
 
What does the T in TULIP stand for?
 
Jesus said :-
 
For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’
 
This is what the Son of God thinks is in a man’s heart.

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Lorkas July 6, 2009 at 8:50 am

Jeremy: True, but the fact that God sent His Son to die for us should be enough evidence that the Bible does not view men as mere scum.

I’m not sure that you know what the word “fact” means.
 
All that aside, I recognize that Christianity has multiple personalities when it comes to the quality of humans. Sometimes he’s just a little lower than God (Ps. 8:5), and sometimes he’s a maggot or worm (Job 25:4-6). Scumminess is next to godliness, it seems.

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drj July 6, 2009 at 9:15 am

 

Jeremy: That still doesn’t take away the fact that Humans are made in the image of God and special. Why do you think there’s a Pro-Life movement? Valuing life does not mean no one is deserving of death. However, if you’re talking about the OT, those laws applied only to the Jews. True, but the fact that God sent His Son to die for us should be enough evidence that the Bible does not view men as mere scum.

Well, there’s a bit of discontinuity in the Christian worldview on this point, I think.  At least as its commonly presented.    I’ve noticed the context in which the religion is marketed, and to whom is its marketed too, will determine what is stressed more heavily:  Our “scummy-ness” or our “likeness to God”.
 
For some, the softer, more gentle sales pitch that we are all special creations in the universe, singled out for God’s love and attention is the most effective.  For others, the more self-deprecating sales pitch works better.    That we are all evil sinful beings by nature,  and every smidgen of goodness that we are capable of is external and acheived in spite of our nature, through the grace of God… or whatever.
 
It almost seems as if apologists have studied the Myers-Briggs personality profiles.. and have a custom approaches for each persnality type.  Each engineered to close the deal most effectively for that particular type.  But the messages are mixed, if viewed together.
 
Looking at the big picture, according to the Christian worldview, at best, we are evil beings who captured enough of God’s pity to earn salvation… we are scum, except for the fact that God chooses to value us… but there is nothing innate  or worldly that can give our lives, our natures, sanctity.   So its really hard to see how a Christian can truly value human life the way say… a humanist might.
 
 

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William July 6, 2009 at 10:21 am

Steven Carr: For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ This is what the Son of God thinks is in a man’s heart.

Maybe, but first I would ask you what was His point in saying this?  To whom was He speaking?  What prompted Him to say this?

These are important details that should be considered in order to understand the text.  Have you considered them?  If so, how does this quote support your position?

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Reginald Selkirk July 6, 2009 at 11:02 am

 

Jeremy: However, if you’re talking about the OT, those laws applied only to the Jews.

It seems you disagree with Jesus H. Christ on that point.
 

Matt 5:17-18 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

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Reginald Selkirk July 6, 2009 at 11:05 am

Jeremy: Why do you think there’s a Pro-Life movement?

Because stupidity is rampant.  Why do you think 20% of American adults believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth? Why do you think 34% believe in UFOs? 29% in astrology? 25% in reincarnation?
 

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Steven Carr July 6, 2009 at 12:35 pm

All William has to do to convince me is for him to say that Christianity teaches that people are by and large good, and that his God sends good people to Hell.
 
And then I might be convinced that Christianity does teach that people are good and not ‘totally depraved’

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William July 6, 2009 at 5:42 pm

@ Steven Carr:  I am not trying to convince you of anything.  I was simply engaging you in conversation.  Why not just answer my questions?  It’s not like I asked you anything difficult.

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Steven Carr July 6, 2009 at 10:08 pm

William cannot find one word where his Jesus said that people were not scum, or else he would have done so.

Jesus taught that people were unclean in themselves, rather than being unclean because of something outside themselves.

For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’
 
This is what the Son of God thinks is in a man’s heart.

Christian teaches people to repent, because they are scum who deserve to burn in Hell.

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William July 7, 2009 at 5:18 am

Steven Carr: Jesus taught that people were unclean in themselves, rather than being unclean because of something outside themselves.

You are correct, sir.  But I don’t see the problem that you are making this out to be.  Unless your intent is just to be controversial.  Christ is not saying here that everyone is guilty of all of these sins.  He is simply stating that what makes us guilty before God is not dirty hands and a dirty face.

Surely you have heard something like this before…
“Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”  Christ simply goes straight to the core issue.  That which makes us guilty comes from our hearts.  All of the issues in the laundry list of dirty deeds that you quoted begin as issues of the heart.


Steven Carr
: William cannot find one word where his Jesus said that people were not scum, or else he would have done so.
 
One word?  Have you read the bible, sir?  The entire thing is about God’s work to redeem man.  If He placed no value in man, then why would He make the effort?  Jesus Christ did what He did and said what He said directly because of the great value that He placed on those around Him.   His entire life was one of altruism.   So how can you say that He thought we were scum?  Christian or not, we should all aspire to such a life.
 
Are people capable of great evil?  Yes.
Are people scum?  No.  And I would challenge any “Christian” who is telling you this.
 
“The greatness and the wretchedness of man are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us both that there is in man some great source of greatness, and a great source of wretchedness. It must then give us a reason for these astonishing contradictions.”  –Blaise Pascal

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Lorkas July 7, 2009 at 6:19 am

We need to get our vocabulary straight. Humans are not scum in God’s eyes, they are worms, like I said before.

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Reginald Selkirk July 7, 2009 at 6:25 am

William: “William cannot find one word where his Jesus said that people were not scum, or else he would have done so.” One word? Have you read the bible, sir?

And he still hasn’t done so. I find it insulting that he thinks we are too stupid to have noticed.
 

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William July 7, 2009 at 7:47 am

Lorkas: We need to get our vocabulary straight. Humans are not scum in God’s eyes, they are worms, like I said before.
 
Lorkas,
I find it interesting that you chose a verse of poetry as your proof text instead of something more theologically substantial; such as Romans chapter 9 where Paul gives us the analogy that man is to God as clay is to man.  Much stronger language don’t you think?  And, it’s not poetry.
 
Reginald Selkirk: And he still hasn’t done so. I find it insulting that he thinks we are too stupid to have noticed.
 
Reginald,
Steven asked for one word and I offered him an entire book!  How can you possibly say that I have not addressed his request?  Maybe my answer doesn’t satisfy you, or Steven, but it is still a response.  Can you not see that?  Did I not make that clear?
 
And just for the record; stupid is certainly not how I would describe those who frequent this blog.  There are certainly moments where we all indulge in hyperbole and I have seen the occasional slanderous remark, but overall I have read some very sound and articulate critiques of arguments for both theism and atheism on this blog.  It is apparent that most people here are truly interested in engaging in a little civil discourse concerning the issues that Luke brings up; and there are those who aren’t.  And quite frankly, I doubt that there is much that I have to say that you wouldn’t find insulting, but that is certainly not my intent.

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Steven Carr July 7, 2009 at 8:58 am

William still cannot produce one word where Jesus said people were good.
 
The New Testament teaches that all are sinners, scum who need to be saved from their sins.
 
And that all evil in man comes from man, while all good in man comes from the Holy Spirit.
 
 

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lukeprog July 7, 2009 at 9:10 am

Carr,

That’s weird. Is there really nowhere that Jesus says people are good? I could page through the gospels again but I’ll let the believers do that… :)

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Lorkas July 7, 2009 at 9:13 am

William: How can you possibly say that I have not addressed his request?

Perhaps you should give a specific place where Jesus unambiguously states the value of human beings, rather than using induction from the whole book. Even granting your argument, it is possible that God sees us as worms and scum, but decides to save us anyway because he’s got nothing better to do.
 
It seems like this is a much better explanation than the one you offer, since it explains the numerous places where the Bible flatly states that we’re worms, maggots, and dirt and why he enacts such a ridiculous convoluted plan for salvation.
 
This is why I think we should accept the Bored God hypothesis rather than the proposition that he loves us or thinks we’re valuable.

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Reginald Selkirk July 7, 2009 at 9:48 am

William: Steven asked for one word and I offered him an entire book! How can you possibly say that I have not addressed his request?

Chapter and verse would suffice.
 

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Reginald Selkirk July 7, 2009 at 9:50 am

Lorkas: nd why he enacts such a ridiculous convoluted plan for salvation.

Personally, I think God should have made salvation dependent on eating cake and ice cream.
 

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William July 7, 2009 at 10:39 am

Steven Carr: William still cannot produce one word where Jesus said people were good.
 
Well . . . my apologies Steve.  I misunderstood your intent.  I thought you were seeking some confirmation from a theist that God actually values human life to some degree greater than scum, but now I see that you actually were seeking a specific quote.  Well, sir, you are correct.  I am not aware of any single statement in scripture that says, “Man is basically good at heart.”  On this point God does not agree with Anne Frank. However, to say that God places no value on human life is flat out wrong.
 
Steven Carr: The New Testament teaches that all are sinners, scum who need to be saved from their sins.
 
I think you’re partly right on this statement.  In fact the NT and the OT both teach that we are all sinners.  Can you argue with that?  Which one of us can claim that we have never willfully done wrong or never willfully violated our conscience.  To this degree then we are all guilty before God.  And scripture does not teach that we “need to be saved from [our] sins.”  It teaches that we need to be saved from God’s judgment due our sins.
 
Steven Carr: And that all evil in man comes from man, while all good in man comes from the Holy Spirit.
 
Yep.  That’s about right.  However, the “all good in man” that comes from the Holy Spirit is only good with respect to God.  Scripture is quite clear that we are capable of good with respect to one another, even as bad as we are sometimes.

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Tshepang Lekhonkhobe March 21, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Luke, thanks for the post for it led me to watch the hard-to-swallow movie.

Anyways, on your review here, you mention here that the priest molests some girls, while I only saw one girl, the retarded one, receive such treatment. Did I miss something? Also, I saw only one priest perform that abuse. Maybe I missed something in the dialogue?

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