Bill Maher Is Wrong

Crossposted fromMY LEFT WING

Bill Maher is wrong about religious people when he says they are all either deluded, crazy, intellectually lazy or just plain stupid...

... and I say that as an atheist who thinks religion is responsible for more evil than anything else in human history, that all religions are plain fucking crazy and that most religious people are either deluded, crazy, intellectually lazy or just plain stupid.

Important distinction.

Of course, I believe that the vast majority of HUMANS, irrespective of their religious beliefs or lack thereof, are either deluded, crazy, intellectually lazy or just plain stupid. That, in fact, these qualities might be causally related TO many people's religious beliefs.

But trust me -- I've known enough atheists to confirm for anyone who hasn't that the vast majority of ATHEISTS are ALSO either deluded, crazy, intellectually lazy or just plain stupid. These qualities are not in special reserve for the religiously inclined.

Full disclosure: I agree with virtually everything Bill Maher says about religion. I'll be among the first in line to see Religulous, and while my laughter will likely be raucous, I'll probably also be weeping on the inside for the travesty that is America the Religious.

But Maher, astute and intellectually sound as his arguments against religion are, always takes his position and his arguments to the point of ignorant bigotry himself, and so loses the case.

Look, I stipulate to the insanity of magical thinking, of believing in an invisible being who cares about your every thought, feeling and action. I think it's fucking crazy and stupid, too.

But allow me to quote William Shakespeare:

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

That one sentence has been my guiding philosophy when it comes to precisely such things as religion and religious faith; I think it's crazy to believe such things, but if you believe such things, I will do my damndest to respect the POSSIBILITY that you have an insight or a spiritual connection to the universe that I do not.

As long as you keep your religion out of MY life -- and that includes my government and its laws, we can co-exist as peacefully as man and fish.

The sort of arrogance Maher exhibits in pronouncing himself the arbiter of ultimate truth and denouncing all religious faith as hysterical, nonsensical insanity (without EVER making ANY room for the possibility that there MIGHT be something in the universe to which he is not personally privy) is exactly what divides not only people like him and me from, uh, MOST people on the planet, but also divides him from me.

When Maher takes the stage and excoriates the intrusion of religion into government, the evils perpetrated upon humanity by religion and its adherents, I applaud wildly. But then he veers off into territory utterly lacking in appropriate humility -- exactly the same mentality he deplores in religious people -- when he declares, definitively and brooking no dissent, that they are wrong and he is right, period... And I cringe.

Well, Bill, excuse me, but... HOW THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW THAT?

I have long argued that "atheist" is as much a misnomer as any declarative noun that assumes the existence of a god, because the non-existence of a god is equally unprovable as its existence. The very closest we can come to accuracy in describing ourselves is as "agnostics" -- literally, "not knowing." But laying aside semantics, perhaps we can agree that calling oneself an atheist is no less intellectually dishonest than claiming to "know" that there IS a god.

It's ALL a matter of faith. Maher can pooh-pooh this argument as much as he likes, but the fact remains that since he CANNOT know if there is or is not something larger than us out there in the universe, be it an omniscient, omnipotent single deity or a cabal of prickly, capricious gods who resemble the Justice League or merely an arrangement of energy and matter comprised of the collective unconscious of all humanity from the beginnings of its existence... Maher's atheism is a matter of faith.

Which means that his bold, declarative denunciations of religion as mass insanity and idiocy, while for the most part an opinion I share, are MERE OPINION. And that he could be wrong.

Now, Bill Maher's reflections and observations as to the evils of religion and its application in human society remain valid and righteous, and confirmed by the opinion of many others. He would do well, however, to stick to the facts and relegate his belief system (insofar as it relates to verifiable facts versus unverifiable faith and how subscribing to the latter automatically qualifies one for membership in the Society of Insane Buffoonery) to private conversation, lest he lose all credibility in this arena by becoming exactly the thing he professes to despise: dogmatic and rigid in demanding the rest of the world see things his way and no other.

Tags: Arrogance, atheism, religion (all tags)



It's easy to recognise this sort of arrogance

 in others when so frequently guilty of it oneself.
by Maryscott OConnor 2008-09-20 06:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Bill Maher Is Wrong

It is just as wrong to stereotype religious people as any other group of people.  Let's not forget that many of the greatest advances in this country were supported by religious leaders.  The labor movement was filled with religious leaders.  The Civil Rights movement was organized out of the black churches.  There is good and bad in everything.

by Marylander 2008-09-20 07:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Bill Maher Is Wrong

I saw Religulous at the Toronto film festival and I'd point out that Bill is pretty clear that he's an agnostic.

by bottl4 2008-09-20 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: Bill Maher Is Wrong

Yes he is.

by ReillyDiefenbach 2008-09-20 08:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Bill Maher Is Wrong

I agree with the diary. I am pretty contemptuous of religion though I find it interesting as a philosophy. I do question how intelligent people can follow organized religion and some brilliant people even take a lot of it literally.

Having said that, I think Bill Maher's rants on religion are getting tired and predictable lately. With all the problems going on, he spent too much time on a non productive debate on religion in last night's show. It's one thing if the discussion was covering new ground. But it was getting really boring.

by Pravin 2008-09-20 07:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Bill Maher Is Wrong

nice diary overall, but a couple of things:

1.  While I agree with your view on atheism being as equally 'wrong' as religiosity because of both's lack of provability (in fact, this has been argued for a lot longer than you have been doing so), from an empiricist's standpoint, there is no tangible evidence for a god's existence, and so the atheist's position is valid.

2.  I think Mahr is technically right.  By definition, anyone who believes in the existence of something for which there is no sensory evidence is delusional. In any other context, we would say the person is experiencing delusions.

by slynch 2008-09-20 08:10AM | 0 recs

 But how often has it turned out o be not so at all?

They called scientists delusional -- and worse, hell, possessed by demons -- when they first saw what others did not.

Look, I'm not assuming the mantle of Defender of the Faith, here -- I think it's delusion, too. But that's my opinion, and NOT verifiable fact. I cannot PROVE they are delusional -- they may very well be privy to information I simply cannot access.

I just don't know.

I SUSPECT. I reason. I draw my conclusions based on, you know, stuff I can see and touch and examine and verify...

But ask a quantum physicist and she'll give you a WHOLE other set of arguments.

by Maryscott OConnor 2008-09-20 08:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Delusions

scientists were maybe called delusional before the enlightenment, but the modern definition of a delusion is an experience in which one claims something exists for which there is no tangible evidence.

Quantum physics--and mathematics more generally--would take a rationalist view and argue that "truth" can be proven deductively from some basic, agreed-upon principles for which there is usually some empirical evidence (like gravity).  I have no problem with that.  I do have a problem with inductive reasoning claiming there's a god of some sort when there's no empirical evidence to hang any underlying assumptions on.

Overall, I think Mahr's claim is his real belief, but he's posed it in the extreme for shock value.  But, strictly speaking, if one believes in the existence of things for which there is no empirical evidence, s/he is, by definition, delusional by modern, psychological definition.

by slynch 2008-09-20 02:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Delusions

by the way, personally, I am an agnostic for the very reason you stated (I've held that view for about 14 years after reading a book on American religions by Leo Rosten, I think, which included a section on agnosticism)--I don't believe one can definitively claim there is no God any more than one can claim there is one.  But, I do think the burden of proof rests with the theists, not the atheists.

by slynch 2008-09-20 02:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Bill Maher Is Wrong

I have long argued that "atheist" is as much a misnomer as any declarative noun that assumes the existence of a god, because the non-existence of a god is equally unprovable as its existence.

The non-existence of Zeus is equally unprovable as his existence.

The non-existence of 40 pounds of heroin in your luggage is equally unprovable as its existence.

The non-existence of an invisible bridge across the river is equally unprovable as its existence.

The inability of prayer to cure your cancer is equally unprovable as its ability.

See the problem?

by HEAP 2008-09-20 08:23AM | 0 recs
Well, I see a fallacy

 The non-existence of the 40 pounds of heroin in your luggage and the existence of it are equally provable.

Examining the luggage will do the trick.

by Maryscott OConnor 2008-09-20 08:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Well, I see a fallacy

And I can examine trees too, and conclude with relative confidence that they were not created the day before the sun.  But, of course, the definition of "god" in European culture has shifted to something that doesn't include Genesis.

In which case, my definition of heroin is non-interactive with respect to electroweak forces.

by HEAP 2008-09-20 08:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Well, I see a fallacy

HEAP, HEAP, HEAP, all those tree rings and bits of deceiving carbon half-life were put there by Satan to tempt you to deny the infallible truth in Genesis that the earth is 6K years old.

Apostate! Maybe we can get Palin's pastor to kill your pet and run you out of town.

by rhetoricus 2008-09-20 10:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Bill Maher Is Wrong

i consider the burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) to be upon those who would like me to donate 10% (or more) of my life's earnings to their cause.

by citizendave 2008-09-20 10:22AM | 0 recs
Let's not get carried away

with the scientific method here. It's a powerful tool, but it's not sufficient to fully describe reality.

For example, good luck proving you have an agonizing pain in your neck. It certainly exists, yet you can't show it to anyone else.

Picture a playing card, say the ace of clubs. Now, prove you were thinking of THAT card, and not another.

Both of those are very obvious illustrations of true things that cannot be scientifically proven. If you love your kids, but can't prove it, does that make you either insane or a liar? Of course not.

Nor do you have to restrict ourselves to mental phenomena. It it widely accepted that nothing can travel faster than light. However, for most of human history, that fact was unprovable. Surely we don't believe the light speed barrier sprung into existence in the 1930's?

The scientific method illuminates a slice of reality, not the entirety. There are true things that can't be scientifically proven.

by Neef 2008-09-21 12:41AM | 0 recs
From "evangelical" to not so

It is not an easy road - having been raised to believe that there is a God in heaven, having attended an established church, having attended a non-denominational Bible school and church for years, having lived a life surrounded by loving and giving Christian people, AND having been exposed and having KNOWN people who do bad things.

It is very difficult to listen to others talk about their religious beliefs in the context that if you don't believe as they do, you are doomed now and forever.  I hear me years ago and I remember my concern for people's lives in the now and for their lives for all eternity.

It was very difficult to be married to a person who was living a life contrary to my religious beliefs and ..... trying to convert that person with such feigned concern for his welfare only to come to the place where my "concern" was sliced open, layed bare as a self-centered desire to have a better life.  It was difficult and yet freeing to realize that his journey was HIS, that if I truly believed that there is a God - despite the fact that I can't see or hear or touch or taste or smell - then He is a God who cares equally for my husband as He does for me, that He cares about his autonomy - and that bottom line, I should just butt out.

I still believe that there is a higher power, a God in the heavens - because I WANT TO BELIEVE.  It think this is called hope.  

I've had many wonderful experiences that said to me that a God had a hand in what was happening to me.  Some would say that I lulled myself into a peaceful state.  Some would say that some occasions were coincidences.  Many would say - ah, but do you believe X Y Z and if not, then you're wrong.  And if "wrong", then somehow someway that person is "freed" to act as they will on my person.

The people who insist that I believe as they do or be in danger of being punished forever - I can no longer listen to.

I loved the words of Chief Red Jacket in his speech to white missionaries, in part saying

"Brother: We are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while, and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, and makes them honest, and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again what you have said."

As for Bill Maher, I will not listen to him at all.  I personally had a big problem with his remark about Jon Benet Ramsey "pracing around like a little whore."  I posted my disagreement and many agreed with his position.  My position is:  I have a problem with any man who looks at a little girl, dressed in any fashion, and sees a whore, a sexual object.  He could disagree with the little girl beauty pageants all he wants - as I do personally - but I watch those little girls dressed up and made up and I don't see anything  sexual.  I DO SEE that there are others roaming around who DO see little children as sexual objects and for that reason I don't like to see children dressed in a manner that could serve to heighten the desires of those who find children sexually attractive.

by Southern Mouth 2008-09-20 09:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Bill Maher

is as entitled to his strongly held opinions as anyone, and expresses them in an entertaining and provocative manner, that's why he has such a cool job.

He pokes fun at some seriously demented religious whackos, which is something we need MORE of - not less.

by QTG 2008-09-20 09:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Bill Maher Is Wrong
I have long been a fan of Bill Maher and would consider myself an agnostic. I also totally agree with you here. He is entertaining and funny, but he does sometimes go too far and comes off as smarmy and know-it-all.

I still love his show and loved Politically Incorrect (especially the early days on Comedy Central) and I agree with him on a great number of things.
by C 1 2008-09-20 10:09AM | 0 recs


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