Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Response to Bill Maher

Here's the thing about Bill Maher: I think he's hilarious! As a commentator on politics and culture, he's brutally funny. BUT the thing I've never understood about him is that he thinks every person on earth who is religious is an idiot. He doesn't allow for the idea that they could be on to something; in his mind, they are not just deluded--they are stupid! I've never understood how someone who spends so much time puncturing the arrogance of politicians and other famous people could be so arrogant when it comes to religion. I don't expect him to believe anything in particular--just allow for the possibility not all people of faith are crackpots, terrorists and war criminals.

He's got a new film out now--Religulous--that purports to be a documentary where he takes the part of an agnostic who just asks religious people questions, but based on the trailer, interviews and what I already knew about Bill Maher's thoughts on religion, I knew from the beginning this would just be a chance to show the worst religion has to offer without any indication that there could be some thinking, rational, moral and decent people of faith somewhere out there in the world.

I do have to admit that I haven't seen it yet. I live in St. Joseph, MO where nothing besides action movies ever shows up at our theatres. When I make the drive to KC, I'll make sure to catch it. So, since I can't honestly offer a critique of the film I haven't seen--here's a good one by Gareth Higgins at the God's Politics Blog. It's probably better than what I would write anyway.

I also have to admit my disappointment when I realized that Larry Charles was Maher's director and sidekick on this film. I find Charles--writer for Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and other favorite shows of mine--to be truly a comic genius. To hear him join Maher in offering such ignorant and utterly one-sided generalizations of all people of faith was disheartening.

Don't get me wrong; I can take a joke. There is much that is done in the name of religion that deserves to be made fun of mercilessly. I also think, however, that there is much offered by all world religions that is worthy of respect, admiration and even awe. I can still laugh at the comedy Maher and Charles write, but I feel frustrated to be both a fan of both men and one person among many whom they despise.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

15 comments:

relentless said...

It's not that your stupid or an idiot. I actually don't think Maher ever says that (ignorant and delusional have completely different meanings). Anyways, a lot of brilliant people are religious, that's not his point.

His point is that believing in a talking snake and that you can commune with an almighty space daddy, who will dance with the immaterial part of your internal essence in the afterlife is absurd, and deserves no respect.

Frankly, I agree with him. For too long the voices of rationality, and common sense have been muffled, and called irrational, or narrow-minded; well, atheism is on the rise everywhere in the world except the poorest parts of Africa, and South America (even the US is seeing a steady decline of religion, and that's according to Bill O'Reilly).

So, you better get used to being made fun of. And it's not just a joke. Keep your irrational beliefs to yourself, and don't invoke God to defend any political positions you may hold.

http://reaching-oblivion.blogspot.com/

lneely said...

When was the last time you told your members, "I am a Man of God and My words are Absolute, Inerrant Truth?" Perhaps you've heard some atheists say, "God is dead," or "There is no god," as if it was absolute truth. This is the nature of the religion that Bill Maher addresses. That certainly includes the more militant sects of atheism, which he considers just as arrogant as mainstream religion.

To quote the NPR article you linked to:

"The message of Jesus," on the other hand, "is not only beautiful but revolutionary," Maher stresses. "The idea that the meek shall inherit the earth, and that the poor and the powerless have just as much dignity as the powerful and the rich, that was a very new idea at the time — and it has not gone out of style."

The shame, Maher argues, is that that message gets lost amid what he describes as "the magic tricks and the bells and whistles and the nonsense" of organized religion.


Clearly, he is not against the values and the messages that have their roots in religion, and does not view people who choose to have faith as despicable or nutty. He is against the rampant fundamentalism that is plaguing our country and other parts of the world, the destructive kind. He openly mocks televangelists with private jets and billion dollar payrolls, megachurches, faith healing, racism, sexism, bigotry, intolerance, etc. which are all products of such fundamentalism, and intends to expose how ridiculous all of it is. Those, I presume, are exactly the parts of religion you yourself refer to as deserving of relentless mockery.

As a result, the movie is only going to focus on the kinds of people who buy into all of it as if it's some kind of absolute truth. Although granted, that focus can be interpreted as portraying all people of faith as wackos, watching and reading his interviews about the movie lead me to think that, that's not really the intention.

Following that, is this satire really any more arrogant and one-sided than, say, taking the hood off of a Klansman? Following that, I don't think any reasonable person who chooses to have faith should consider themselves targets of Religulous's satire.

lneely said...

@relentless: I almost thought this was going to be a productive comment; at least, until I read past the first sentence.

The thing about Maher is that he is able to tread an extremely fine line between satire of organized religion and defamation of religious people; a line which you just completely blundered across without regard for how stupid it makes you look.

By distorting Maher's message, you lend credibility to the generally negative opinions of his film held by religious people. By degrading the thoughts and opinions of Chase and other people of faith -- unsurprisingly, without posting anything of substance whatsoever -- you've shown yourself to be a pretentious, arrogant idiot who spouts garbage when the opportunity arises, hiding behind the safety of his online alias.

relentless said...

The mistake you make is to assume that both reasonable religious people and reasonable secularists are equal and both have their extreme versions, but aside from the extremes on either side, positioning yourself in the mean of either world view is both perfectly reasonable, and respectable, and lends itself equally to societal living and flourishment, as well as an individuals rich and fulfilling life.

This is simply not true. Progress cannot be made when either society or any of its individual members view the world, their life on it, and everyone else's life on it as a 'test' 'step' or 'bridge' to another, 'better' life on another 'better' world.

I agree that tolerance for religious people is the only way to conduct a civilized society, but to try and lend credibility to a philosophy or rather theology (I would like to avoid degrading philosophy to the level of religion) that degrades and bisbatters this life, the only life I will ever have, on a hope of something better... something other worldly, my tolerance for such life-hating, life-despising people and ideologies only reaches a certain point.

I don't tolerate the KKK or Nazis either. There beliefs are as irrational as those of well meaning Christians. And if the best I can hope for is an evolving Christianity, then who is to say that it won't evolve into something far more vulgar and reprehensible?

I say, we have to stop religion in its tracks. Call it out on its historicity, and more importantly value for life. It has no value to offer human life, unless this life continues into another realm of existence.

Why else is it admiralbe to have a prophet that was tortured to death?

Andrew said...

relentless:

Actually, I would dispute your placing scientists on one end, and people of faith on the other. It does not respect people like Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître. He is the Roman Catholic priest who proposed the Big Bang theory. You might be familiar with it.

I would also argue that the issue of religion in general offering no value to human life would call into question how anything has "value" at all, without a transcendent referent. How does life have a value, if it is an accident of the universe? Now, I am not at all claiming that atheists cannot value life. Of course they can. All I am saying is that the value they place on their lives is completely subjective. Granted, one could offer the same argument for religious persons, and from an atheistic perspective, one could argue that we are only symbolizing our values in story and ritual. Quite possibly, but atheism offers nothing of the sort to enable us to make sense of things.

Honestly, scientific questions are pretty small potatoes when your best friend dies on the floor of a convenience store after a random act of violence. Or when you are burying your three-year-old after an accident. You can raise the question "Why did God let this happen?" Or you can say that bad things just happen, there is no God or gods. To take the first option at least enables you to try and make some sense of the nightmares of this life in such as way that you can live with HOPE. Not optimism, but hope. And in doing so, you can live a fully human life. We are meaning-making creatures, and science is a poor tool to accomplish this; even as it is an excellent tool to understand how, it can be very poor in providing insight on the why.

Rationality is a tool to insight. So is faith. I can understand why you would reject faith for reason, but in doing so, you cannot see that you still use faith in trusting reason. Reason has become your god. Your choice. Please recognize the limitations in trying to comfort the afflicted with your reason. And in trying to celebrate life.

The image of the Son of God Crucified symbolizes, in part, the idea that the Creator of the Universe takes into Godself human suffering, and shares in our lives with us, up to and including death. The image of Resurrection is not an image meant to make us ignore this world, this life, or the lives of people with us, but to affirm this life and this world, as a place having enduring significance. Now, I do grant that not all Christians see it that way, but religious symbols are polyvalent. Such symbols have open-ended aspects to them that impact the people and community in dramatic ways, and leading to different, but often related conclusions. “Going to a better life in Heaven” is one such image, but it is not the whole story. Another way of talking about the central story of Christianity would be in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you (with thanks to Terry Eagleton).

I do have a question for you. When you say that you do not want people to invoke God in defense of their politics, to whom does that apply? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Eileen Egan? Desmond Tutu? Mohandas Gandhi? María Julia Hernández? Daniel Berrigan? Malcolm X? Dag Hammarskjöld? Florence Nightingale? Each of these people followed religious traditions that enriched and deepened their lives. In some cases, their religious faith CHALLENGED what they believed, as with Malcolm X. They would not have been the people they are without their faith. Yes, religious people have done hideous things in the name of God, just as scientists have done some hideous things in the cause of knowledge. They have also done some amazing things. Please try to keep that in mind.

lneely said...

@relentless: Secularism and anti-religion are not mutually inclusive, and secularism and religion are not mutually exclusive. To say that either is true is faulty.

My statement regarding the equal merit of secular and religious opinion is not a mistake. To say that all religious people are fundamentalists is flawed, as there are indeed religious people who digest only the underlying message and discard the strict dogma that is irrational and unacceptable. There is nothing inherently wrong with lending a certain degree of credibility to a religion, just because it is a religion.

In the end, whether your belief is in the bearded man in the sky, giant squids and spaghetti monsters, karma and dharma, or nothing at all, it comes down to whatever helps you sleep at night.

relentless said...

I don't argue that either is true of false, but only that religion has no value for life and therefore needs to be treated as if it is indeed false.

And of course it's about more than helping individual people sleep at night. Beliefs affect action, and people's actions affect all of us. I know that not all religious people are fundamentalist, dogma spewing ignoramuses, but enough are, that promolgating such belief as fair, reasonable and intellectually acceptable is irresponsible for civilized people seeking progress.

Secularism and religion aren't mutually exclusive, but progress and religion are. Religion is inherently regressive (see Rousseau "On The Origins of Inequality").

If religion doesn't stop progress, at the very least it trys to circumvent it towards its own ends (e.g. Aquinas and his affect on science supported by the catholic church) which by my standards are faulty.

Life has no meaning before we instill meaning to life, and crutches for people who can't find meaning themselves, is not worth sacrifacing the general welfare of all people. Just the spirit of religion to break both the strongest and of course the weakest among us is disgraceful and should not be tolerated.

If someone wants to say "I still think there is something out there... (e.g. some sort of God)" they can do so, but they shouldn't expect my respect and should be ready for my ridicule if such a belief gets in the way of there own otherwise frutiful life, and nevertheless my life.

relentless said...

Andrew,

Wow, there are relgious people who are smart and do great things. That I concede without further discussion. Although they could have done those same great things without religion, and could have avoiding a lot of time wasted in pues, and on prayer carpet.

That meaning (to life) is subjective is not bad, and is not inferior to the so-called 'objective meaning' religious people wish to condemn upon life.

The false dicotomy of religion as answering questions science cannot, I have already addressed. I don't wish to replace questions of our place in the universe and the meaning of life with questions of the mass of atoms and the circulation of blood through our bodies.

Philosophy, art, music, literature, humanity etc... these are ways of addressing questions of so-called transcendental significance back down to earth using earthly tools of contemplation, thought, rationlity, and even irrationality. The only thing that we need that the religious do not, is to be able to be content with less knowledge when it comes to questions of meaning and value.

I can only answer the meaning question subjectively, because I only mean to answer it for myself, and people like me. What gets me up in the morning is a sense of adventure, that tomarrow will be nothing like today, that this life is mine for the making. If my son dies, or something else tragic happens, I am left displaced for a period, but am confident that I could eventually regain my balance, and go on with my life.

I think that this life would go better for all of us, if hope for another life was replaced with hope for a better world. And if you need religion for help, so-called objective meaning, because you're afraid to face life with all of its contingencies, then fine, but don't for a minute claim that your way is superior for all. It may however, in very few cases be superior/better for the individual person, but that's only because without hope for another life, they would wish to end this one.

Andrew said...

Relentless:

I need to quote you.

Wow, there are relgious people who are smart and do great things. That I concede without further discussion. Although they could have done those same great things without religion, and could have avoiding a lot of time wasted in pues, and on prayer carpet.

I think you missed my point. The religious faith of these people was a core aspect of their being that led them and shaped them in their actions. It is not an optional set-aside. They also would not have seen their time in the "pues" as wasted.

You also did not answer my question. Where would you draw the line on invoking religion or faith in God to defend or set forth a political position? For the people I cited, their religious faith fortified their politics.

Just out of curiosity, can you define a "religion" for me?

relentless said...

How did there faith fortify their politics. I don't honestly believe that without Christianity MLK would not have fought for civil rights, and by the way, there were many atheists along side MLK.

As far as all the rest go, they all had secular counterparts. There are no political movements except those of intolerance, which are not fronted by both secular and religious peoples. My argument is that the religious people are as good, if not suseptible to intolerance, war, martyrdom, extremism, etc... and yet they do nothing secular people couldn't or haven't done.

My grandfather knew Ghandi. He had secular people along side him, and I would also aruge that his message would have been just as well received, if not better, without the religious connotations.

Andrew said...

How did there faith fortify their politics.

You don't know a lot about the civil rights movement, do you?

Faith both shaped how MLK, among the other people I have mentioned, went about their work, and how they communicated their messages. MLK may have been an impressive speaker if he was a secular or atheistic person, but his speeches would not have had their rhetorical power without the tradition he came from. Also, by framing his actions in the context of his religious tradition, particularly the way Exodus was employed by the movement, he was able to expand the resonance of what he was doing.

Again, I would really like to know your definition of a religion. You don't seem to understand what you are arguing against. You cited "Philosophy, art, music, literature, humanity, etc." as a substitute (I think) for religious faith and tradition. Religious traditions both consiste of all of those elements, provide the grounding of those things, and unify them.

I don't honestly believe that without Christianity MLK would not have fought for civil rights, and by the way, there were many atheists along side MLK.

I don't honestly know who or what MLK would have been without his faith, as it was a core driving aspect of who and what he was, and the impact he had, on the culture and on the civil rights movement.

Can you tell me some of the atheists that worked with Dr. King?

As far as all the rest go, they all had secular counterparts. There are no political movements except those of intolerance, which are not fronted by both secular and religious peoples. My argument is that the religious people are as good, if not suseptible to intolerance, war, martyrdom, extremism, etc... and yet they do nothing secular people couldn't or haven't done.

Your right. No one would ever think secularists would display intolerance, warlike activity, willingness to die in a cause, and be accused of extremism. I think you are absolutely right. Secularists clearly have only done good things without any of the dangerous extremism that marks religious folks. Now, if you can tell me what religious faith motivated Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong to their extremism, your case will be airtight.

My grandfather knew Ghandi. He had secular people along side him, and I would also aruge that his message would have been just as well received, if not better, without the religious connotations.

Can you name the secularists that worked along side Gandhi?

relentless said...

Stalin and Mao weren't motivated by atheism. Bin Laden was, the crusades were... etc.

I don't know of the names of the secularists who worked hard along side King and Ghandi, but I think it's absurd to think that it was a 100% religious movement.

Religion is something for another world. It doesn't provide a footing for the humanities and the arts, it takes them from this world to another 'better' world and therefore robs them of their earthly dignity. That's why religion is always toxic, even at its best.

Is it anything but a way of transcending all the 'horrible' realities of life? "The Christian resolve to find the world evil and ugly, has made the world evil and ugly."

Andrew said...

Stalin and Mao weren't motivated by atheism. Bin Laden was, the crusades were... etc.

Okay, now your just confused.

I don't know of the names of the secularists who worked hard along side King and Ghandi, but I think it's absurd to think that it was a 100% religious movement.

I never said it was a 100% religious movement.

Religion is something for another world. It doesn't provide a footing for the humanities and the arts, it takes them from this world to another 'better' world and therefore robs them of their earthly dignity. That's why religion is always toxic, even at its best.

Now you are not even making sense. You really do not know what you are talking about. Pathetic.

Is it anything but a way of transcending all the 'horrible' realities of life?

Answer: no, it is far more than simple escapism. This has been short answers to stupid questions.

"The Christian resolve to find the world evil and ugly, has made the world evil and ugly."

Nietzsche quotes cut no ice with me. Peddle that crap to some rube who would buy it.

relentless said...

You don't have to buy it, but the transcendental element of all religion is inherently life denying. Earth denying. How do you deny that?

And how am I confused about Bin Laden and the Crusades, they weren't religiously motivated? And Stalin was motivated by atheism? What's the confusion. Just writing that something is pathetic is not an argument, it's a statement, with no backing in argument.

Andrew said...

You don't have to buy it, but the transcendental element of all religion is inherently life denying. Earth denying. How do you deny that?

I don't have to deny it, because it is a manifestly wrong statement, not worthy of “denial.” However, based on your responses, I cannot prove it to you in a way that would satisfy you, so there is no point in continuing this discussion. The foolishness of your statement is evident to anyone familiar with the practice of various traditions throughout the ages, especially with anyone familiar with the various ways the Christian faith has been practiced. If anything, Nietzsche's bizarre fantasies are more "world-denying" than the teachings of Christ.

And how am I confused about Bin Laden and the Crusades, they weren't religiously motivated? And Stalin was motivated by atheism? What's the confusion. Just writing that something is pathetic is not an argument, it's a statement, with no backing in argument.

I was attacking your choice of words. The sentence you wrote seemed to suggest that Bin Laden was an atheist. Stalin and Mao may not have been "motivated" by atheism, but they were committed secularists who acted in extreme ways, thus they were extremists committed to a cause. Finally, regarding my “Pathetic” comment, I am not arguing with you. We are not actually having an argument or a discussion. You have not offered points worthy of discussion, so I commented on your lack of understanding.

I want to tell you something, and I will try to use small words that you can understand.

You came to this blog, and basically told the blogger that who he is and what he stands for are subject to ridicule, and he better get used to it.

Then, when others, like myself, attempt to engage you, you continue to repeat your talking points, without really responding to the points made to you. I attempted to speak directly to several of your points, not in an effort to convince you or convert you, but merely to point out that religious faith is a vital part of people’s lives, and for good reason, even if you did not see the value in it. I tried to do this with respect, and by avoiding the copious quoting of Scripture.

You, on the other hand, are utterly convinced that you are correct about religion being toxic, and you justified your comment by quoting Nietzsche.

As far as I can tell, you are probably in your twenties. You have read a little Nietzsche, and you think you have life all figured out. You insult those who, in your mind “cling to their religion” because they are afraid or weak. And I freely acknowledge I am weak. I am finite. I am small and mortal. I am also a wonder, unique, and joyously alive. We are, all of us, paradoxical, something ol' Freddy realized, but ultimately did not fully grasp.

Yet you have entered comments with all your arrogance and bravado, pasting your silly little quote as if that answers all questions, quiets all objections. I could have papered my comments in Scripture quotes, but out of respect to you, who would obviously not consider them valid or authoritative, I tried to engage you as a person with genuine opinions and a different point of view. Instead, you come back quoting Nietzsche, as if I would consider him an authority on anything.

I thought you actually wanted a discussion. I now see you do not. I will no longer engage or discuss this topic with you, as I have put considerably more effort into my posts than you have with yours. Despite what you may think of Christians, I do value my time, and I do not want to waste it talking to you.

You will probably think this will mean that you "won" or that it confirms your beliefs, etc. Your good opinion of yourself does not concern me.