For a kids cartoon this often has some pretty funny one-liners, and I’m guessing an atheist or two is on the writing team.

The show centers around three main characters: Aang, Katara, and Sokka (Sokka is very cynical and skeptical of just about everything); getting over the whole: air, water, fire, earth bending stuff being very much beyond any physical reality (hey, its a kids cartoon after all) there are often some very atheistic/scientific comments made.

The episode played on ABC tonight (The Fortuneteller, Episode No: 14, Season No: 1, originally released in 2005) was about the group meeting a fortune teller (Aunt Wu), who specialises in reading the clouds to decide if the local volcano is going to erupt. Not surprisingly the volcano starts to erupt but none of the villagers believe our group when they try and tell them, because the fortune teller told them it wasn’t going to happen.

There are some fantastic comments in this episode that point out how people will believe in anything, or twist words to match what they already believe in. Here’s some I liked:

Sokka (To “red shoe guy”): I bet Aunt Wu told you to wear those shoes.
Red Shoe Guy: Sure did. She said I’d be wearing red shoes when I met my true love.
Sokka: Uh-huh. And how many times have you worn those shoes since you got the fortune?
Red Shoe Guy: Every day.
Sokka (furiosuly): Then of course it’s going to come true!
Red Shoe Guy: Really?! You think so?! I’m so excited!

or this:

Sokka: Can your fortune telling explain that?! (points to volcano eruption)
Villager: Can your science explain why it rains?
Sokka: Yes! Yes it can!

or this, after the group changes a cloud so that Aunt Wu now thinks the volcano is going to erupt (even though it has already started to) and warns the villagers, who now believe its erupting and help the group, through some amazing and not very scientific methods, save the village:

Calm Man: But Aunt Wu predicted the village wouldn’t be destroyed and it wasn’t. She was right after all.
Sokka: I hate you.

If you get a chance watch this episode. I believe you can download individual episodes from which is where I got the quotes from, or buy the lot on DVD. Might have to obtain a copy just for this episode.

5 Comments to “Avatar: The Last Airbender – the new Atheist Manifesto?”

  1. AV says:

    I might have to go the route: I’m in Japan at the moment.

  2. Verni says:

    It doesn’t take an athiest to make up funny jokes. Those are arguments against FORTUNE TELLING, *not* religion.

  3. RB says:

    Avatar has nothing at all to do with Atheism; in fact, it’s far, far from it. It’s mostly closely related Buddhist beliefs and it emphasizes great spirituality. It has sprinklings of other beliefs thrown in (like Hinduism and Taoism), but the foundation is very closely tied to Buddhism. The idea of “qi” (pronounced “chi”) is taken directly from martial arts concepts and Traditional Chinese Medicine. The bending forms themselves are based on 4 different kinds of kung fu, a form of martial arts that very heavily engages the concept of qi. The concept of elements is also taken directly from Buddhism, although there are Five Elements in Buddhism (wood, fire, earth, water and metal) and Avatar only has 4.

    As a previous comment pointed out, the joke about fortune telling was just about that – fortune telling. Nowhere in any of the shows have I seen anything that makes fun of what a person believes. The show emphasizes the importance of spirituality, if nothing else.

  4. ozatheist says:

    Yep, I know Avatar doesn’t really have anything to do with atheism, I was using it as an allegory. I just thought it funny that the arguments in favour of the fortune telling are similar arguments I hear and read from Christians in favour of their beliefs.

    Christian – “I prayed for suzie and she got better”
    atheist – “er, no, that was the doctors and nurses using science that fixed her”

    The episode demonstrated how some people will believe anything (in this case the fortune teller) no matter what the evidence.

    RB. nice info on the buddist and kung fu links to the show

  5. Consumatopia says:

    Sokka is definitely a stand-in for rational analysis (and sometimes creativity) in general. As such, he makes such an easy target in both comic and tragic ways. I don’t know if you’ve been watching all the eps, but that prediction about a life of pain, most of it self-inflicted…well, remember it well. There’s a general pattern in Avatar of truth hiding where you least expect it, and given that Sokka always looks in the most obvious place first then checks the most obvious place again, he doesn’t always come out right. Except that too would become a predictable obvious pattern, so it’s false as well–like in the earlier episode with Jet in which Sokka starts off acting like kind of a pathetic jerk but his assessment of Jet turns out to be sort of correct.

    “The Fortune Teller” ends up looking at faith the same way Nassim Nicholas Taleb does . The villagers are sort of aware of the faith they place in the fortune teller, but Sokka is unaware of how much faith he puts in appearances and “reason”. The villagers have a known unknown, but Sokka is constantly victimized by unknown unknowns both amusing and terrible.

    It’s interesting though how often in later seasons Aang enthusiastically goes along with Sokka’s ideas. The ideas do tend to be clever, and sometimes they work out as planned…

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