Religulous: Bill, a Seeker?

April 13, 2009

Yes, I watched Religulous. No, I’m not going to write a lot. No, I don’t think it was at all helpful.

Bill Maher, the comedian, plays the role of seeker and intellectual? Maybe of an intellectual seeker? Asking intelligent questions to people from the monotheistic religions?

  • His mother and sister
  • A number of Truckers from the Truckers chapel who meet in the back of a trailer. I really liked these guys, no the answers wasn’t theologically sound, but the Jesus narrative changed their lives, and they seem to know something about love (which even Bill admits).
  • Dr Francis Collins, Head of Human Genome Project, to whom he talk about the origin of Biblical texts, especially the synoptic gospels, not about intelligent design, genetics, or anything related to the science-theology conversation which it Collins’ field of expertise.
  • Dr Jeremiah Cummings, The Amazing World Outreach. I’ve never heard of the guy, but he seems to be come sort of tele-evangelist, definitely into prosperity gospel.
  • A Franciscan monk who gets ridiculed for proposing that we might wanna read the Bible a bit differently on homosexuality.
  • Pastor John Wescott of Exchange Ministries. A gay ministry somewhere.
  • Dr Dean Hamer, author or The Gay Gene. But only for a few seconds, and only to say: “yes, there is a gay gene”. You can read on his theories, and that is what they remained.
  • Steve Burg, an ex-Jew. Talks about miracles a lot, and Burg is criticized for seeing the miraculous in the ordinary.
  • Ray Suarez, a journalist and author.
  • Mark Pryor, a US Senator.
  • Ken Ham, from the Creation Museum.
  • Father George Coyne from the Vatican Observatory. One of the only academic theologians interviewed. Coyne gives Maher a very intro on Biblical interpretation, but still Maherridicules those who read the Bible, but doesn’t stick with literalism. Maher use him to prove the young earth creationists to be wrong.
  • Father Reginald Foster. The other academic theologian interviewed. Maher uses him to prove the Catholics wrong.
  • Tourists at the Holy Land Experience in Florida.
  • Two former Mormons.
  • Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda. You’ll find him at allaboutcult, enough said. 

Have you noticed what’s missing? No theologian connected to any university whatsoever. No senior leaders of any mainline Protestant church. Well, no minister of any mainline Protestant church at all actually. There is absolutely no interaction with critical and academic theological scholarship. Is this what they call intellectual? And even though he use the input of two Catholic academics, which I liked, he didn’t interact with their work, and still concludes that religion must die by the end of the documentary.

Maybe just a few last thoughts. Maher refers to three myths which supposedly is the origin of the Jesus story. Only problem is, he need to lie to make his point. I read some thoughts on the Horus myth a few days ago, so I’ll skip that one.

What about the Krishna myth? Bill states that Krishna was:

  • Born of a virgin
  • Carpenter
  • Baptized in a river

All three of these is false. According to the Krishna myth Krishna was:

  • The 8th child of Vasudeva and Devaki. Born in a prison where both was kept.
  • A prince, the son of a statesman.
  • Well, Hindu’s seem to have no idea where Maher got onto the Baptism idea: see here and here.

Point is: With no serious engagement of critical theology, and serious mistakes in Mahers arguments, why should this be taken as a serious intellectual threat to Christianity?

Although I have sympathy with Maher’sconcern with violence cause by fundamentalism, and have done my fair share in trying to point out that fundamentalism is dangerous, Maher’s approach isn’t helping peace along. Making a mockery out of fundamentalism while making obvious mistakes in your argument just have a way of further polarizing the Fundamentalists and New Atheists. Much has been said about the correlation between these two groups, following the twitter feeds on religulous again affirms this, it’s the exact same rhetoric, the kind of totalizing “all religion is bad”, “religion is responsible for all wars”, “religion will cause the end of mankind”, that you find with religious fundamentalists. Does Maher ever notice that his rhetoric equates to something very similar than that which he is opposing? Just on the other extreme of the spectrum.

In the end, I wonder whether it’s Bill the intellectual seeker speaking, of Bill the comedian. Seems more like the latter to me. But I fear that Maher’s comedy won’t be helping us to solve religious violence.

So here’s my advice to Bill Maher:

  1. If you wanna be an intellectual, go talk to the experts in the fields you are studying. If you wanna present yourself as academic, open yourself up to academic debate.
  2. If you wanna make something public, check the facts! If a simple google search can point to the flaws in your argument (talking about your seemingly wise comments on Krishna, Horus and Mithra), chances are, that the DVD won’t make a lasting impact.
  3. If you wanna be a comedian, try and help the world along. Comedians can have a very important influence on the world, but if it means ridiculing the masses and polarizing the world into two extremes, your probably not helping.

Anyone saw the film? What was your thoughts?


2 Responses to “Religulous: Bill, a Seeker?”

  1. Gert Marincowitz Says:

    I commented on Religulous yesterday on Matt Stone’s blogsite, in response to Cobus’ reference to this film. These comments are reproduced in a slightly edited fashion below.

    I have seen Religulous at Cinema Nouveau in Brooklyn, Pretoria in December 2007. Yes, the Dawkins/Hitchens-type “new atheism” reflected here (and the SA newspaper Mail & Guardian review of this film by Shaun de Waal) can get one all worked up, and (as is the case with Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion) may even end up alienating atheist scholars that are embarrased by its lack of careful, well-thought-through analysis.

    More recently, I have read a New York Times article about Bill Mahler, engaging in a debate – I suppose in his capacity as a “liberal”/”secularist”/”sceptic” – against the equally outspoken and controversial Ann Coulther – supposedly representing the “other side” of the coin as ultra-conservative-American-patriot from the “Religious” Right. She has alienated and embarrassed some conservative Republicans such as John McCain’s daughter in the same way that some atheists have disowned Richard Dawkins as their apologist. With her heated “religulous” rhetoric (something like “Americans should invade Muslim countries, kill their leaders and make them Christian”), she seems to represent everything that Mahler warns against as he concludes the film Religulous. So one would expect him to say, in response to Coulther, “see, I’ve told you, religious people stoke warfare!” But actually, they get along very well. As hard-core fundamentalists from their respective traditions, they like heated debates and confrontations with their adversaries and are certainly not interested in a thoughtful, “enlightened” conversation.

    The atheist-theist conversation between Kevin and Roger Saner held last year (at Brooklyn Seattle TGIF) set a good example of how to engage somebody from the “opposite side”.

    But, although I largely agree with Cobus’ comments above, I believe one can even engage “new atheist” media like The God Delusion and Religulous constructively – they do raise good points about the perils of religious fundamentalism, and questions about Bible interpretation, religion and science, etc, that is worth discussing. An example of such constructive discussion is a review by South African theologian Sakkie Spangenberg of The God Delusion – even though I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions reached by Spangenberg (and don’t support his and the South African New Reformation Network’s “liberal” theology), I appreciates Spangenberg’s concern for a thoughtful discussion about Dawkins’ book. Even though I may be theologically closer to conservative evangelicals, I certainly don’t appreciate the way some of them try to retaliate and ridicule Dawkins by selectively quoting controversial parts of this book (e.g. that infamous paragraph about the “mysoginistic, genocidal”, etc Old Testament God – it DOES in my view raise important questions worthy of discussion) and by quoting an atheist scholar’s humorous reference to Dawkins’ lack of theological knowledge.

  2. […] to do with the New Atheist movement. But the little I’ve noticed from them (see for example Bill Maher’s documentary) is that alsi they need to ignore reality to make their theological ideas fit. They need to ignore […]

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