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Miscellaneous meanderings and philosophical ramblings. The title from a spiral notebook I used to jot down my thoughts on religion and other matters some years ago. I like to write, think and express my views on various issues. Robust discussion is welcome.

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"Lan astaslem."
I will not submit. I will not surrender.
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Monday, May 09, 2005

Bill Maher - being a petulant ass

The following was posted in a forum I frequent and includes my reply, with some edits. It is unfortunate that Bill Maher descends into a less than rational attack on religion. He clearly does not understand anything other than a NY Times caricature of relgious faith. That's too bad, as he has some worthwhile things to say.

By: Bill Maher

The poster and essay reprinted here are from my forthcoming book, When
You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden, and a little explanation is
in order.

The American government has been telling American citizens for over a year now that we're in a war, a war we can win so easily that the homefront is asked to do little more than remain gluttonous and consumptatory.

In earlier wars the government wasn't afraid to ask its citizens-often through the medium of the wartime propaganda poster-to sacrifice: to curb travel, plant a victory garden, save tin, not let loose lips sink ships, etc. Our pandering government of today wouldn't dare create posters informing Americans of what they actually could do to help, so I decided I would.

My title is inspired by a World War II-era government poster that reads "When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Hitler." It exhorts Americans to conserve oil by carpooling, which is as relevant today as it was in 1943.

Not all the actions we can take today are. This is a very different kind of war, but there's lots of things we can do, and lots we can rethink. Taking a long, hard look at traditions-including religion-is one of them.

He starts off with some promise, criticizing political correctness and our inability to sacrafice for worthy causes. Unfortunately, he quickly veers off to a less than rational screed against religious faith and Christiainity in particular.

Having always defined political correctness as the elevation of sensitivity over truth, and being an optimist, I guessed that after 9-11, Americans would judge all matters "PC" to be an indulgence herewith unaffordable. Boy, was I wrong. Which is bad, because political correctness is much more dangerous now than it was before 9-11. What were once the kind of lies we told to spare anyone's "feelings" from ever getting bruised are now revealed as blind spots in our rationale, inhibiting our ability to fully grasp our predicament.

And there's nothing more politically correct than pretending religion is always a good thing. Saying someone is religious is heard in most of America as a compliment, a reassuring affirmation that someone will be moral, ethical, and, after a few glasses of wine, a freak in the bedroom.

He would have had a point here but apparently he cannot resist his negative Pavlovian response to religion. That's unfortunate because being PC is definitely a problem.

People say "I'm a Christian" the way certain politicians say "I have integrity," like we're all supposed to be impressed and back off and kneel down to that almighty testament to naïveté and hypocrisy. When people brag that they have religious faith, I hear "stupidity." Faith is saying, "I will ignore my God-given gifts for discerning reality and instead throw my lot in with blind belief in something that was forced into my head before I could even think." Isn't that how we get adults in this world who fight wars based on which contrived fairy tale they were brought up on? Which desert mirage they were programmed to see-the magic apple and the talking bush, or the flying horse and circling the black rock?

He destroys the good point that saying “I’m Christian” must be backed up with proper action in one’s life, by immediately slamming religious faith, in general, as stupidity. If this is his version of reasoned discourse, he shouldn't be surprised when people reject his version of "rationalism".

But hey, "You have to respect peoples' religion!" Why? I don't. I don't respect thinking that is dangerous, prejudicial, childish, and could get me killed. And to pretend, as we are apparently supposed to, that the terrorism we face today is not about religion is like saying AIDS in America has no relation to homosexuality. It'll get you applause on Oprah, but it's not true.

Also an applause line but complete bullshit is "This is not a clash of civilizations." Of course it is, as every major war is. The Civil War was a clash of civilizations, and we didn't even leave the country.

He has some good points here but unfortunately, he is losing them in an unnecessary and inaccurate slam on religion in general throughout this rant of his.

To hear people the week after 9-11 constantly talking up the need for more faith and the importuning of our God was, to me, the very definition of being "part of the problem." Of course, we in the West like to pat ourselves on the back and say we're more tolerant, and we are-but tolerance is not the same thing as acceptance. It just means "We think you're crazy and going to hell, but we won't kill you for it-we'll tolerate you. But you don't know who the Man in the Sky is, and we do."

I would agree that tolerance does not mean we must accept something.

Our own president said during the 2000 campaign that he didn't believe one could get into heaven if not a Christian. He had to backpedal on it because non-Christians vote, but millions of Christians who aren't running for anything would endorse that view wholeheartedly.

And why wouldn't they, since they treat the Bible like it's some kind of . . . bible, and in it there are the words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: and no man cometh unto the Father but by me." Not a lot of wiggle room there. Put that next to "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet," and it's pretty much "Pick a side." One lane open on the highway to heaven.

He is kind of missing the relevant point that only extremists in any religion are going to say we must therefore kill the infidels. I guess he missed Pope John Paul II and his outreach to other religions.

Of course, when you shut off your brain from rational analysis, any book is dangerous. Taking literally ancient parables from thousands of years ago is much more dangerous than playing with a loaded gun. Ancient scrawls, written by different authors in different centuries with different agendas-yeah, let's get mad-literal about that.

This is just the same old blah blah blah about religion being antithetical to rational thought. I am not impressed. Even in the fundamental Baptist circles I grew up in, there was recognition that the Bible contains allegory, poetry, parables etc. Perhaps Maher should take the time to review the relevant literature that has arisen with Christendom over the centuries. Even he might be impressed with the breadth and scholarly depth that exists.

The literalness problem is compounded in religion by the circular logic of not being allowed to question anything, or else you're lacking faith. Christianity and Islam both have strict bans on any sort of questioning of the religion itself-or, as the Wizard once put it, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" In the Bible, it's "Don't eat from the Tree of Knowledge," but the meaning is the same: "The stuff we're telling you is going to seem crazy, but just buy it."

Circular logic most certainly applies to the ideology of evolution. Be careful if you are a scientist and point out the flaws in evolution by materialism only. You are not supposed to question that.

I have questioned my beliefs often and know many who do the same. Sorry, but many of us have maintained a belief in salvation by Christ's sacrifice because of rational inquiry. But apparently, that doesn’t stop the typical criticism, which is based on an assumption that you are correct anyway. Again, I am not impressed.

Imagine being able to sell any other product like that-by insisting the customer swallow every word you spoke about it as gospel or else he'd burn in hell. Where you, as the customer, having been brainwashed from birth about the superiority of the product, upon reaching thinking age, forfeit the benefits of the product if you doubt it in any way, and the claims of the product cannot be tested until after you're dead.

Christianity, properly taught, welcomes testing of the doctrines and results thereof. Any preacher, who says otherwise, has quickly lost me as a member of that church. Questions that really seek answers rather than opportunities to merely display one's preening skepticism are not a problem either.

Maybe that's why religion is a magic word that allows priesthoods to do anything they want to people. The Taliban kept their women in beekeeper suits. The Catholics got away with fucking kids!

Yeah, because f'ing kids is an official tenet of Catholic doctrine and a good number of lay people and church officials are trying to show how the Bible supports it.

Maher is being a petulant ass. He has some good and necessary points but they get lost in this unfortunate knee-jerk caterwauling against religion in general and specifically against Christianity.
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