Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Bill Maher Is Trying To Do

I watched Bill Maher on The Daily Show last night about his new movie 'Religulous', where he takes on, with satire and sarcasm, all the religions of the world, it seems. In between a lot of anti-religious venting, Maher said a few obviously true things, including this. America is split in two, with two very different visions of reality: one very religious and the other, not so much. And this is roiling our national politics and our ability to lead the world to an extraordinary extent.

I'm trying to think of another nation where this is so clearly the case. The only ones that come to mind are: Israel, India, and Iran. (I could be totally wrong about this!) Israeli politics is riven by arguments over the place of Judaism in the Zionist vision. India, because I have the sense that many Indians are only nominally Hindu. And Iran, because it has a large population of fairly secularized young people, who while nominally Muslim, really like the ways of the European West, even while it is ruled by a strict Islamic clergy.

Maher's other comments were funny but don't cause me to lose my faith. He does a good job of pointing out some of the absurdities of religious belief and behavior, which actually is not very hard to do. (I occasionally do that on Sunday myself, for example, here.) But in doing so, he seems to think that he is demolishing the case for faith in God, when he really isn't. In fact, I thought it interesting that in an interview on Fresh Air on NPR, Maher had to admit the many wonderful teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. He came across sounding like a sarcastic Thomas Jefferson using his scissors to cut out all of the parts of the New Testament that were 'supernatural', leaving only the pure ethical teachings (hence the term 'Jefferson Bible')

Maher isn't the first and he won't be the last to do this (in addition to Jefferson, think Mark Twain, Clarence Darrow, Robert Ingersoll, etc.). These playful, sarcastic, and sometimes ferocious critics of religion actually play an important role in helping Christianity and the other world religions to be a little more self-critical and humble, as well as to reform themselves from within. And believe me, as human institutions, they (we) are far from perfect.

So let's not get all upset about Bill Maher and this movie. We all need a laugh now and again. And we do need to be reminded once in a while to be a little more humble. "Blessed are the poor in spirit [humble], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3)


  1. I often wonder if guys like Maher are doing it purely for the financial gain or out of searching for their own beliefs. I hope he is just searching but it's sad that those are the people that get on the national stage to speak to our youth.

  2. My guess, Chris, is that this movie represents Maher's state of faith. He is so passionate about these things, that I really doubt he's doing it for money. He's more like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and other current unbelievers who feels these things very deeply.

  3. How can you laugh or even spend a dime on a movie that ridicules the Catholic Church?

    Are you insane?