Ricky Gervais's The Invention of Lying is taking hits in some places -- and earning praise in some other places -- for sneaking an unabashedly atheistic message inside a fairly conventional rom-com structure. I agree that the movie is astonishingly gutsy in this respect: in a country where a politician cannot publicly avow a lack of belief, a movie that declares religion to be a sham to comfort the gullible got a major distributor and a 2,000+ screen release how? (The obvious counterpoint is Bill Maher's Religulous, but that was a niche documentary that preached to the choir and was honestly marketed as anti-clerical; The Invention of Lying is a mainstream comedy whose ads did not contain a hint of where it was heading.) But is Gervais's movie really as anti-religious as it seems?
Consider that Gervais's portrayal of a world without religion is hardly utopian. His Mark Bellison lives in a shallow, blatantly classist society, obsessed with material wealth and physical appearance. His quest for romantic companionship is consistently undermined by his portliness and his "snub nose" -- obstacles in most civilizations, to be sure, but here the grounds for denying him sex and companionship are downright eerie. It's not just that the beautiful, successful Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) isn't physically attracted to him. It's that, she tells him time and again, the two of them are not an optimal "genetic match." Mark's hunky colleague (Rob Lowe), on the other hand, is a far better "genetic match" -- and thus a better mate despite being, by all accounts, a huge douchebag.