The Great Courses

The Appeal to Emotion

Nov 7, 2012 at 8:23 AM
5 years ago

This morning, I posted my latest video, a difficult-to-watch piece called “Burn Victims” (Click HERE to view).

As I expected, some in the atheist community (again) allege that my use of harsh imagery and an atmospheric soundtrack is "religious" in its appeal to emotion. So (again), I'll address the allegation.

"Burn Victims" presents the facts about the nature of burn injuries and about the specific biblical reference in Matthew 25 describing Hell. The information is solid, fact-checked by many in the medical community and against the scriptures themselves. 

Now ask yourself...would the video have had as much impact if it had featured a professor reading from his notes in monotone about the nature of Hell?

Of course not.

I'll say it again. Storytelling tools (music, editing, etc) are not our enemy in the arena of ideas. It's important, imperative, critical that our facts are solid and our arguments are sound, but we shouldn't miss the opportunity to engage an audience beyond the cerebral. 

Tell a story blandly, and you'll be met with ambivalence or ignored altogether. Tell a story compellingly, and you'll connect with the viewer on multiple levels and be much, much more effective.

Anyone here think National Geographic is religious? Or The Science Channel?  Or PBS' "Nova?"  Yet those entities use crazy-good production tools - orchestral soundtracks, flash edits, 3D animation, innovative transitions and tricks - to make the information presented interesting, engaging, compelling and memorable. 

There will always be those who are quick to brand anything mainstream in the atheist community as religious. ("They're organized! They're religious!" "They attend conventions! They're religious!" "They made me feel all emotional! They're religious.")

We must decide whether we wish to be just another droll, sterile voice lost in a vast ocean of them, or whether we want to use legitimate storytelling tactics to engage the mind AND the heart. Whether it's a combination of polished production techniques or the single voice of a talented storyteller painting a picture with words, a good presentation can make all the difference. 

In this this heavily desensitized decade, we must re-examine how we can most effectively rise above the din to be heard and understood. And we, as atheists, should stop acting like heartless creatures, void of feeling and holding in disdain anything that filters past the brain and into the heart. 

Emotion shouldn't drive our content, but it can amplify it. We're all storytellers in our own circles. Let's not forget that it's OK to elicit the smile, the laugh, the tear, the ache, the awe.

From Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" to David Attenborough's "The Trials of Life" to Discovery's "Planet Earth" and so many others, we see real examples of science-based, fact-driven material brought to life with music, graphics, writing, editing and storytelling techniques that should be embraced and celebrated, not rejected because we've become convinced that religion has the copyright on the emotional layer of human existence.


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