Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Wizard of Oz: an Atheist Allegory.

The movie The Wizard of Oz, based off of L Frank Baum's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an American classic.  The story is also often used in social studies classes as an allegory to the Populist era of the late 1800s.  Baum did not write Oz as an allegorical tale, but it fits quite well.  The Wizard of Oz can also be used as an allegory to an Atheists shedding of religion and superstition, on the Atheist's road to self-discovery.  I will use the movie version here as it is most familiar to the general public, and it's easier to obtain the movie online than the book.
The Wizard of Oz centers around Dorothy, a young girl from Kansas.  In the beginning of the film, Kansas is in black and white.  Kansas is Dorothy's home, her background.  It is in black and white because in her theist culture, things are seen in black and white; there are the saved and the heathens, the word of God and that of man.  Everything is either-or, there is no middle ground.  You are either with the theists or you are evil.
Critical Thinking and the Atheist
Dorothy is, if you haven't figured it out, is the protagonist, the Atheist in the making.  In Kansas she is a trouble maker, due mainly to her dog Toto.
Toto represents Dorothy's critical thinking.  While Dorothy keeps Toto close, he has a knack of getting her both into and out of trouble.  When we are introduced to Toto, he is in trouble for getting into Miss Gulch's garden.
Preachers, Priests, and other Shaman
Miss Gulch represents the local church. When we first meet Miss Gulch, she wants to have Toto destroyed.  To the Atheist this is a familiar scene.  Critical thinking (Toto) is seen as dangerous to established religions. Or it is when it is used to question the religion. That is what Toto did in the movie, he got into Miss Gulch's garden, or he was able to destroy what Miss Gulch had planted in the mind of Dorothy.
Fortunately, the tornado whisked Dorothy and Toto away from Kansas. For many who leave religion, it is like a tornado. It is scary, confusing and you don't know what will happen next. 
Eventually, Dorothy lands in Oz.  The land of Oz is full of wonder and self discovery. Oz is Dorothy's return to innocence.  The innocence is short lived once Dorothy realizes that she has inadvertently killed the Wicked Witch of the East, by landing her Kansan house on the witch.
Religious Upbringing
The Wicked Witch of the East represents Dorothy's faith- her religious belonging.  No longer does Dorothy identify with her faith which causes a feeling of being lost, being alone.

Those who've gone before
 But soon, Glinda the Good Witch introduces herself to Dorothy.  Glinda is all the atheists that have left their faith before Dorothy.  Glinda knows Dorothy is on the road to self discovery, and does like any good teacher, Glinda does not give Dorothy the answers, but shows her the road to find them for herself.
But before Dorothy sets off, the Good Witch gives Dorothy the Ruby Slippers.  The slippers are magical in the movie, but in our allegory they are far more powerful.  The Ruby Slippers are Dorothy's self-reliance and perseverance. It is these two traits that carry Dorothy through her arduous journey through Oz.

So Dorothy sets off on the Yellow Brick Road.  This road is the path of reason.  Each brick is evidence held together with the mortar of logic.  The path is long, but the destination is well worth the trip.


Along the path, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow.  In the movie, the Scarecrow wants a brain and goes with Dorothy to meet the Wizard.  To our Atheist Dorothy, the Scarecrow is the desire for knowledge and education.  Also, the Scarecrow is the most common tactic theists use to discredit Atheists: The Strawman.  They will phrase Atheist views in the most ridiculous way possible and then attack that, but never the Atheist's actual argument.

Humanity & Ethics
Later, the pair meets the Tinman.  In the movie, the Tinman wants a heart.  In our story, the Tinman is the Atheist's discovery of ethics grounded in humanity.  No longer are Dorothy's morality fixed to the relativistic divine command, but in the rational and empathetic consideration for her fellow humans.  Despite this, the Tinman is a reflection of the theist's depiction of the Atheist as cold-hearted. 
Further along the road, the trio meets up with a lion.  The lion tries to be tough, but he is really a coward. He joins with Dorothy and company to get some courage from the Wizard. As the Atheist is a minority, they are often socially ostracized and in some places jailed or killed. The Atheist must have courage to hold true to their views.  Yet to the religious, the lion is representative of the Atheist persecuting the theists.  Theists often really believe this.  That the Super-Majority in a culture is being persecuted by a small minority.  A minority that cannot legally run for public office in 17 States of the Union.
The Church

Eventually our troupe reaches the Emerald City.  This is the whole of religion, the physical church.  Dorothy is still unsure of herself, still searching for meaning.  Yet this is where the Yellow Brick Road has led her.

Finally, Dorothy and Company meets the Wizard of Oz.  Oz is of course God.  Dorothy finds God, yet she has to prove herself worthy.  In most religions this is some sort of incantation, or declaration.  But not Oz.

Organized Religion
He commands Dorothy to destroy the Wicked Witch of the West.  The whole scene represents the social control and conflicts from it the church incites. It commands the bad that good people do to opposing views, apostates, Atheists, even other believers.
Dorothy does this.  But it is for a different reason.

Melting Organized Religion
The water washes away the what the Wicked Witch of the West represents: Organized Religion. The Flying Monkeys, the Munchkins, were all under the spell of the Wicked Witch.  But Dorothy was able to break that spell, to break the witch's control over Dorothy's life.

After Dorothy melts the witch, she returns to the Wizard.  The Wizard refuses to help her any further, after all she is to serve him, not the other way around.  But then little Toto, Dorothy's Critical Thinking, finds the man behind the curtain. The Yellow Brick Road did not lead Dorothy astray... Toto finished the journey, showing Dorothy the truth.  The Wizard of Oz is man made. Man made God, not the other way around.
Toto exposing the "Wizard"
With the curtain pulled, Dorothy discovers that she has the power to return home.  Because of Toto, she is no longer enamored with the Wizard.
Yet when she gets home, it is all black and white again.  While Dorothy has seen the myriad of colors that make the real world, she still has to live in one framed and molded by people who only think in black and white.

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