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Learning Fear

DespereauxI just saw the movie The Tale of Despereaux tonight for the first time. The movie is very cute… definately a great one to take the little ones to.

General enjoyability of the movie aside, I found that it had a story point that easily applies to atheism and religion. Watching it, I found myself feeling slightly subversive, which added an extra dollop of glee to my movie experience.

Despereaux was an unusual mouse who didn’t do the normal mouse things… like cower or scurry in fear. This was something that was very troubling to his parents and to his teachers and (I think) the school principal. They were trying to figure out how to get him to be fearful like his older brother and all the other mice.

Speaking of cowering and scurrying (in fear), the principal said something like…

Sometimes the younger ones just need to see the older ones doing it to learn it. Nobody is born with a sense of fear. It’s something that has to be taught.

That was the line that smacked me in the head. The parallel to religion is so “in your face.”

Nobody is born a Christian… or a Muslim… or a Catholic. Nobody is born fearing God or fearing Hell. Nobody is born thinking that they are sinners. Nobody is born feeling that they’re not worthy. Nobody is born thinking there is a grand magician in the sky. Nobody is born believing ancient dogma.

Nobody is born with a sense of fear.

It has to be taught.

Would that more people were like that little mouse Despereux. Then perhaps the world could have a happier story like the movie… where all the mice realized that their “taught” fears were unfounded, freeing them up to enjoy so much more of life’s joys.

Good for you, Depereaux.


  1. Steve says:

    While I agree with you about learning religion, that was one part of the movie both my wife and I really didn’t like- The learning fear thing, that is.

    And it’s a different thing than learning religion, I think. You become. well, fearful, when you do something that hurts or scares you. Bravery, I think, is doing something you know you need to, despite being afraid, and this was a point to the movie that was really lost. Depereaux, we both felt, was actually pretty stupid in that he wasn’t even blindly aware of the consequences of his actions.

    With religion, you do it because that’s what your parent do, like buying a brand of hand soap as an adult, because that’s what your mom always bought when you were a kid.

    So, yeah. I totally agree with you that religion is learned, but disagree that the movie was using a parallel idea.

  2. Dan says:

    I didn’t mean to carry the parallel through the whole movie. My bad if that seemed to be my implication. I agree with you, for the most part, about Despereaux’s actions. He was “brave” out of ignorance, not because he was facing his fears.

    However, the “fear” that religion preaches has, in my view, no basis. It’s virtual and contrived in order to manipulate people into obedience. THAT kind of fear has to be taught because there is no danger from which it can be naturally learned.

    So perhaps my final paragraph was poorly conceived because it does sort of imply a parallel throughout the movie. A better way of starting the closing paragraph would have been something like…

    “Would that more people didn’t learn religion-based fear…”


  3. Steve says:

    Gotcha! Thanks for the clarification.

    I really wish the movie had been better.

    I also really like your blog.

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