Posts Tagged ‘Bill Maher

08
Oct
08

Religulous Reviews

So, not having had a chance to see Religulous yet, and not sure if I will see it until it comes out on DVD (since it isn’t that easy to get to in my area and my time is tight), I have been limiting my comments to Bill Maher’s recent appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (here and here). But I want to revisit this documentary from a different angle that I found interesting.

The first real review I read about Religulous was at a blog called Vintage Faith, which is attached to the Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California. In this review by Dan Kimball, we see a fairly complimentary and accepting view of the film and Maher’s motives, even though the blog author is clear that the film is skewed and could have been much more a real documentary had Maher bothered to look up even one or two deep thinkers in the theological realm; people who could have answered many of the questions he posed.

So, the bottom line with this review is that the film is worth watching, if flawed, and Maher poses useful questions.

OK, I’m sure there are plenty of reviews out there on blogs and elsewhere by other Christians that probably hate what Maher did, but I don’t have to look them up. Know why? Because I found a scathing review of Religulous at Pajiba.com. Now, for those of you not familiar, Pajiba is a place where lots of things (often films, but also other media offerings) get reviewed, often with loads of attitude. This is a place where I think I can safely say the authors and audience are largely of liberal leaning. In other words, people who should, theoretically, be on board for Bill Maher to skewer religion.

Not so here. The reviewer is highly critical of Bill Maher’s attitude in the film, which he finds largely condescending, dismissive, shallow and self-serving. I can’t do justice to how much this guy hammers Maher and the film. Just go read the review using the link above, and please make sure you read the other one from Vintage Faith, too.

In the end, I will see this film at some point, whether soon or after it hits the shelves at the video store. I expect that it will be at times funny, at times thought-provoking and at times gut-wrenchingly painful and annoying.

But I just find it really interesting when I see a Christian saying you should probably see the thing and someone at Pajiba.com saying it takes nasty potshots and isn’t a worthy film.

Can you say, “irony?”

06
Oct
08

Necessity of Faith

We’ll consider this post a sort of follow-on to the previous one I posted in the wee hours of this morning.

Because, frankly, there were some other things from the Bill Maher-Jon Stewart interview on the on The Daily Show a few days back that have been rolling around in my mind.

And we’ll start with the question I posed at the end of the previous post, “Necessary Dogma?

That question was: Why do we insist on looking to (and for) a higher power now that we no longer need to explain why the sun rises and sets, why the seasons change, why people get sick and die, etc.?

Bill Maher brought this up in his interview when he noted that it was understandable and forgivable for ancient cultures to create gods (or a single God) because they had no other way to explain what was happening in nature and in their bodies and so many other things. He also mentioned that when someone is hopeless and without any real resources like, say, a guy in prison, that he understands why a person like that might say “All I have is my faith”—and Maher was uncharacteristically sympathetic with that kind of plight, noting that he wouldn’t want to take that away from someone in that kind of situation.

But I think this misses the point a bit, and still paints religion in a bad and—in my opinion—highly inaccurate way.

It seems to me that critics of religion want to make like faith is a crutch for the weak-willed or hopeless. I agree that it is often used as such, but not to the extent they would like to think. I myself am far from a weak-willed follower. I’m not an easily lead automaton who is looking for someone else to tell me what to do. Also, while my life is crappy in a lot of ways right now, I don’t feel hopeless, and besides, I became born again at a time when life seemed pretty damn good, really.

I think it is a mistake to discount people like me, whom I am pretty sure represent a decent sized chunk of the faith populace (maybe not anywhere near a majority or even half, but a significant slice nonetheless). I am one of a number of people who are reasonably intelligent, educated, well-read and didn’t have some gaping void needing to be filled. And yet we came to Christ anyway (or to other faiths). What does this say? To me it says that religion and faith speak to something deeper than just need. They speak to something separate from the intellect.

I was raised Catholic and grew to loathe going to church. I didn’t, in fact, for most of my college years and several years thereafter. I was happy to sidestep the people handing out religious tracts on the street and preaching from soapboxes outside storefronts. I didn’t have any problem ignoring the Bible and I didn’t much think about God. And yet there came a point at which I was exposed to the Word, in going to church once again (for the sake of the woman I was dating, who was a churchgoer, and not for my own), and it finally clicked for me. It made sense. Now, if I wasn’t experiencing a void or loss of some sort, and I wasn’t seeking God, then why would it click? The only explanation I have is that the spirit does exist, the soul is real, and I connected with my spiritual side for probably the first time. And I still didn’t jump into things blindly. I read the Bible, I thought as well as prayed, and I considered things. And I didn’t find any good reasons to disbelieve. And when I had my born-again moment where I really knew, it wasn’t even in church. In fact, I was driving down the street, thinking about where I was going to go shop.

So, getting back to Maher. What about the need to explain things, which is no longer necessary thanks to science?

I would argue that most major religions don’t try to explain anything about nature. Not anymore. They try to explain matters of spiritual connection. I mean, really, outside of a few stories in Genesis, does the Bible try to explain nature? The vast majority of the Bible is about the power of faith and the problems of disconnecting ourselves from God. That’s complex shit. We’re not talking about trying to explain why it rains or who moves the sun. The Bible simply tells us that God created it. It doesn’t even really make out like God has to do much to keep things moving. And considering that Judaism and Islam spring from the same Abrahamic and pre-Abrahamic origins as Christianity, I figure the same much be true of them. And are the Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto or any other major faiths trying to explain base reality much? I don’t think so. So to knock religions as mythology by comparing them to ancient faiths that were trying to explain nature instead of spirituality, is to already be starting off on the wrong foot.

One final thing about Maher’s comments. Jon Stewart was trying to swing things around to a “well, aren’t there valid issues about religion as a legitimate source of comfort” kind of tack. Maher shot back with a lines that went kind of like, “sure, aside from all that stuff like slavery and wars and oppression of woman and everything else.”

I know I’ve said before that it is unfair to knock religion as being the source of so much trouble when in fact religion was simply used as an excuse, and in the absence of religion folks wanting to do nasty things would have found some other way to justify their actions.

But more than that, something hit me when I heard Maher make that comment.

It’s a cop-out.

It’s just as bad as when someone says “The Devil made me do it.” We ridicule someone for saying such a thing, and it is, in fact, ridiculous because I don’t believe Satan can make anyone do anything that the person isn’t already quite willing to be convinced to do or already rip-roaring ready to do. But it’s equally silly to blame religion for crap that people do. Just like it would be silly to blame politics or economics in and of themselves for the world’s problems.

Because, when you get right down to it, what’s the difference between “the Devil made them do it” or “Religion makes them do it,” huh? Not much.

16
Jun
08

Opinions are like assholes…

OK, let me finish that thought:

Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one.

I’m sure you’ve heard that before. On the one hand, it is incredibly condescending because without opinions and without sharing said opinions, the world is a worse place, both in terms of becoming boring as hell as well as crippling intellectual discourse. On the other hand, as I watch things like FOX News and read comments on various blogs I visit, I cannot help but realize that some opinions (many of them in fact) are best left unshared because they are so freaking inaccurate or plain loony.

So, the companion to the “Opinions are like assholes…” insight might be that “Documentaries are like conception. It generally requires a dick to make it happen.”

OK, cheap shot, I know. Actually, the are a great number of documentaries that have great things to say and you can’t even tell if the director, writer and/or producer are dicks. My snarky comment above has more to do with a couple of the more prominent religion-oriented documentaries that are making the rounds in the news.

Back in April, it was conservative Ben Stein and his Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed feature and now it’s the upcoming Religulous that has Bill Maher at the helm. I fully admit, I haven’t seen Expelled yet. And I don’t know if I’ll watch Religulous, if for no other reason that what I said at a Deus Ex Malcontent post here, which I will reproduce below:

I used to have a love-hate thing with Bill Maher, but it’s gone closer and closer to the hate side…not so much because he says some (OK, many) things I disagree with, but the vehemence with which I’ve seen him strike out at groups and beliefs he doesn’t hold dear. George Carlin can go off on a rant like the one Chez posted here. …and I think it’s funny as hell even though it lambasts beliefs that I hold dear. But when Bill Maher attacks a similar (or same) topic, even with jokes, he seems to just be mean-spiritedly telling folks “You’re a bunch of delusional idiots that should never breed or share your thoughts with anyone else and you are less to me than dogshit on the soles of my shoes.” So, while I think Maher has some insights and I think he has a sharp and burning wit, he also seems to be filled with more desire to rip people down than to actually spur some kind of understanding. I see him as a funnier version of Bill O’Reilly, frankly. But you know, I’ve judged people wrong before, and maybe I DO just dislike Maher because he says things with which I disagree. I just think he’s gotten full of himself more and more with every passing year and thinks he’s more important and more relevant than he really is, even more so than folks like Al Franken and Ben Stein…who suffer from similar tendencies.

To be fair and equal and all that, here is what I said in response to Chez’s post about Expelled, a post you can view in its entirety here:

You know, I’m a Christian who believes in an intelligence behind the design of the universe, but I’m not all that jazzed by having it taught in the classroom. Because there isn’t a solid foundation on which to teach it that is respectful of all the students and the wide range of beliefs. Evolution has plenty of holes too, as a comprehensive and unifying theory that is, but evolution does exist as the foundation for the way animals and humans move forward. What troubles me more about the schools is the way that curricula leave out things that are much more critical…such as the dark side of colonialism (Native Americans, slavery, etc.) that get glossed over, and the focus on standardized testing and slashing of arts education, just to name a few. Also, I get a little ticked off when schools try to undermine parents who are raising kids with a religious foundation or cherished cultural traditions. I don’t think that religion should be taught in public schools but neither do I want to see schools virtually endorsing some things that parents are, at home, telling their children is not appropriate. Schools are not an appropriate place to talk about intelligent design, and they are ALSO not the place where children should be given their moral compass.

As I’ve noted, I cannot comment as to the content of either documentary. But I can discern from the personalities involved and what has been said by others what the intent is. Bill Maher is going to hate on religion as the source of almost all evil in the world and Ben Stein was trying to push the teaching of a theory that has no actual scientific backing in an effort to promote a God-centered policy in public schools.

Neither of these things is useful. Say what you will about someone like Michael Moore, but at least he’s trying to get some change on things that affect the economy and political landscape of this nation. I don’t always agree with him, but Moore is trying to encourage change in a positive direction, even if it is a particular ideological direction that he espouses (liberal politics, of course). Stein wants to put religion in the classroom (and not in an educational, comparative religion manner) and Maher would browbeat anyone who believes in any god and classify them as somehow already intellectually damaged if they can even believe in religious faith. How does this help us?

Schools already have to deal with the crap-trap known as the No Child Left Behind Act and watch things like physical education and arts funding fall by the wayside and watch standardized tests take center stage while actual hours for real learning are cut back…and we discourage our kids from critical thinking while force-feeding them history that is not only cursory but often paints inappropriately rosy pictures of the United States despite all the sins of the past…and Stein wants to add curricula about intelligent design to the mix? What a friggin’ waste!

And Bill Maher every time I’ve ever seen him comment on religious stuff lumps all believers into the same pot as the true wackos with his smarmy and pompous attitude. Make no mistake, Bill Maher thinks that if you have any real belief in a faith—any faith—you are an idiot. He immediately dismisses the value of anything you have to say after it is established that you believe in any god of any sort. Way to build bridges, Bill!

There is much to like and much to hate when it comes to religion, and there are intellectually valid reasons for questioning issues of faith. There are also plenty of reasons to defend religion against the creeping secularism that attempts to purge it from every public aspect of our lives.

But that doesn’t mean we need to be assholes about it.

Even if all of us have one.




Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley

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