Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

‘Religulous': Maher’s Mockery Misses the Point

By David Wolpe
There are three problems with Bill Maher’s new movie mocking faith: It misunderstands religion, misconceives God and gets human nature all wrong.
I have a fantasy of a counter-movie. I would travel around the world and interview every scientist with a crackpot theory or a quack cure. I’d find researchers who were venal, eccentric, foolish or cruel, throwing in a few responsible scientists for credibility. Call it, say, “Scientifictious.”
Of course, that would be no more convincing than “Religulous.” Religion is not univocal; there are lots of varieties and personalities. There is no shortage of strange beliefs and practices. There is ample opportunity for derision. Think of the movie he could have made about people’s eating habits.
What Maher seems not to know, or to understand, is that religion is not a fantasy flung upward but an intuition of something far greater than ourselves. Everyone who lives with open eyes has reason to question. In the search there will be missteps, even cruelties and division, but also sublimity, kindness, beauty, wonder and faith.


Perhaps Maher’s greatest misunderstanding of religion is his central indictment: that religion is responsible for the world’s violence. It is not. Violence is a product of human nature. Before monotheism, the Assyrians were not kind; the Romans were bloodthirsty beyond the imagination of religious regimes. When religion became less potent in people’s lives after the French Revolution, instead of making the world less violent, it became far more violent: World War I and WWII, communism, Nazism — all shed blood on an unprecedented scale. None were religious regimes or religious wars.
Maher’s dislike of religion is not reasoned, however, but visceral. He told Mother Jones magazine about the Jews praying on his plane to Israel: “Even on the plane over, they were, at a certain point, they all stood up in the aisle of the plane davening [praying] … they just looked like crazy people, always bowing their head. It’s disconcerting.” No doubt had they worn Armani suits and been tapping at a keyboard, Mr. Maher would have found them rational; but seeking transcendence in coach — crazy.
If faith is, in part, the summit of our hopes, a guide and an aspiration, then what does Maher’s creed leave him with? Again, as he tells Mother Jones: “I’m telling you. I’ve got nothing.” It should not be hard to understand why someone might choose ancient wisdom over modern nihilism. It is not heroic to believe we are accidents of chemistry.
Maher’s view of human nature as essentially animalistic (he repeatedly wonders why anyone would curb their sexual appetites) is dispiriting and plain wrong. Animals we are, but we are much more than animals.
Maher misunderstands God as a projection of human need. This is a common atheistic trope — your belief is based on psychological deficiencies, while mine is reasoned. In truth, the existence of God is not an antidote to fear but a consequence of wonder. God does not come about through faulty reasoning but through a worshipful and humble orientation of the soul.
“Religulous” repeatedly calls faith irrational. True, it is not a product of pure reason, but then what is, apart from mathematics? Reason does not get us out of bed, or move us to love or kindness. Religion is supported by reason, however. The marvel of values, ideas and consciousness — nonphysical but powerful phenomena — can reasonably be thought to have an origin in a nonphysical entity: that is, God. Centuries of people emboldened by, and ennobled by, faith can reasonably be thought to have something more than foolish illusions in their minds and hearts. Nevertheless, Maher calls religion a “neurological disorder.”
In study after study, religion proves to make people not just happier but more likely to give to charity and have stable marriages, to reduce drug and alcohol dependence and improve mental health. That does not make it true, but it is worthy of thought: Why should something so “irrational,” a mere “neurological disorder,” be so helpful to society?
Many of us suspect — or yes, believe — that there is more to the world than we know, that there is a mystery at its heart. That mystery may evoke some unworthy speculation, attract some charlatans, occasion some cruelties. Faith is also the spur for everything from the poetry of Psalms to the Cathedral at Chartres to relief missions. “Religulous” is one-dimensional. Religion is as varied and colorful as God’s blessed world.
David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and the author of “Why Faith Matters.” This article first appeared in the LA Times.

  • gene

    Amen brother, and how does Bill Maher find happiness,,what is good in his life, is he living he best life possible, without god, I think not.

  • jean

    i believe in GOD. i look around me and am amazed at all the things GOD created.i think whats-his-name is just jealous,because christians have their faith,and have something they believe in that makes them truly happy.i don’t think he is a very happy person.i really feel sorry for him,and all these atheists.

  • Hamilton

    Far more blood has been shed in the name of secularism than all religions combined, yet the canard that “religions cause wars” is so persistant yet so lacking in support as to boggle the mind. The only fairly good example of this is Islam, and that is not without serious qualification.
    The marred one is simply a bigot, not unlike another man with a similar name who coined the term “anti-Semitism” for having a more respectable word for “Jew-Hating.”

  • S H Ziegler

    come to the Paul Baynan for God convention

  • Clare

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  • Al Eastman

    To be blunt, Bill Maher is a shmuck! I can think of no better word to describe this “secular regressive” individual. His presence is one reason I refuse to subscribe to HBO.

  • Farakh Malik

    Bill Maher is lost in the wilderness – He’ll find his way home….eventually….

  • manny rodriguez

    there is noe reason to debate the ignorance of religiousness. the truth of the matter is that during the days of abraham, there was the first form of government and laws. it was called judaism. what transpired with his flock and that of the religion called judaism in his brethren are now hotly debated and scientifically proven to have existed. maybe maher never had a reason to beleive in a god who loves and protects him. but although maher may not beleive in god, god beleives in his distrust. however, the movie is a gag that maher seems to play on himself. he has not higher power. i wonder wht his take is on biblical prophesy and archeology. too bad for him come judgement day. nevertheless, he is not alone, and the movie just makes suggestions of gods absence, and does not prove its demise. sorry for his poor soul, but there is a greater force beyond human capacity that fills the earth and the heavens above. and i mean all the heavens and all that is in it. why does a higher power have greater sense? it has no limit and can not be contained. and that is the reason ffor mahers position. truly, manny

  • Lee

    Bill Maher is deficient, in brains, in heart and in soul. It’s a shame, I’m sure his life would be much more fulfilled and enjoyable if he had these deficiencies sated. But, he has gone down the wrong path and until he sees the error of his way, he will continue that direction. What is really sad is that he is so misguided as to think he needs to lead others down his path to doom. We can only pray the public will see his faults and know to humor him rather than to take him seriously.

  • JIM


  • Benny Harris

    Every ‘mature’ Christian by the guidence of the Holy Spirit has been given the revelation of the differances between those who ponder God’s existance and those who challenge and/or rebel against His existance and/or Authority. One is ignorant and/or spiritually blind and decieved and the other is foolish and/or of a evil heart. Thier is hope for those who seek after answers but for those who with a clear mind and can see the glory of God in this profound universe and claim thier is no God is a fool. God’s mercy allows us to contemplate with questions such as ‘God, are you thier?’ or ‘If you really are God, show me’ but to proclaim that God dose not exist or to say that God is only a figment of our imagination and can not exist is simply foolish. God does want worship but religon is man made and in our attempt to seek God, if we are sincere in heart, we will know the Truth regardless of the imperfections of religous institutions. It requires more faith to trust science as a explination for all things rather than a intelligent and loving God. The scriptures are quite clear on this. The Word of God says that even us ‘saved folk’ were at one time foolish but saved by grace(Titus 3:3-5). Jesus Christ wept as He rode into Jeruselem (John 11:35) showing pity for those who were about to crucify the only One who could save them but they could not ‘see’ it after seeing him do incredable miracles. So it’s no great mystery that some people can witness all God’s glory and still believe we evolved from monkeys and/or that life is all one accident that can be explained with our puny minds. God’s commentary on fools is so important He repeats the message in Psalm chapter 14 and chapter 53. Bill seems to follow the character of Proverbs 18:2 but we must keep in mind Ecclesiates 5:1-7 and Romans 1:18-32. We have a lot of work to do and God never said it would be easy.

  • Mark

    Yeah. But you have to admit, he has a point.

  • Jill

    He does have a point. This article seems to imply that without God we have no reason to get up in the morning. I’m very happy in my secular life.
    The article even admits that religion is not a product of real reason. How can you be so sure that you don’t just believe it because it has “always been there?”

  • Jill

    Also, your are completely missing the point. You quote scripture left and right, but in truth the Bible was written by MEN in a time where there was no logical explanation for many of earth’s events, so people had to make assumptions. That’s how the Greeks got Poseidon–to explain sea storms. Think about. Scientific research didn’t really exist.

  • Jeff

    WOW! I was very impressed by this. I recently watched this movie and wanted to obtain the view points of both religious and non-religious people about it and found no good arguments against its message from a faithful point of view, but I have to say that this would stand up as a valid argument. I am not a religious person by any means and don’t entirely agree with you on everything you said, but this still article has a lot of incite and points out many legitimate flaws in Maher’s methods.

  • Austin

    “In study after study, religion proves to make people not just happier but more likely to give to charity and have stable marriages, to reduce drug and alcohol dependence and improve mental health.” I just don’t buy that line, just as the same could be said for blowing up buildings or molesting boys, but that shouldn’t be told as true either.
    Also the contradiction of “Violence is a product of human nature.” and “Animals we are, but we are much more than animals.” I find it a lot easier to curb my violence appetite than my sexual appetite.
    When a group on a plane or in any public setting does something in unison, they are drawing attention and eyebrows raise. You know if I paid $800 dollars for my plane ticket and had some guy stand up next to me in such a tight space…yeah I would probably sit and accept it but I would remember that I respected him while being disrespected.

  • Your Name

    i was born muslim but haven’t practiced my religion since 7th grade but never questioned it. maybe because i’ve learned it all my life growing up and all my families are devoted muslim. i went to islamic elementary school and was forced to take koran study for the longest time. recently i’ve been questioning my faith because i feel that it has a lot of non sense in it. however after watching bill maher’s “Religulous” i found what i’m looking for! i hope everyone will see this movie. even if they’re “happily religous” or moderately religious.. i agree that we don’t need religions to know what’s right and what’s wrong.. as far as i know religions killed more people that anything else combine in this world.

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