Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman


Religulous – Bill Maher Ignores Inconvenient Parts of History

posted by swaldman

The most obvious flaw in Maher’s documentary is that it’s one sided. He offers many examples of religion that’s extreme, dishonest, hypocritical, or anti-freedom. It’s an often-funny visual tour of bombs exploding and charlatans peddling faith-based snake-oil. In fact, most believers would agree with many of Maher’s attacks. The problem is his conclusion that flim-flam artists and jihadists represent the totality of religion.
It’s hard to know where to begin in rebutting that. For this post, let me just start with a few obvious points about American history. Most major American social reform movements that improved the status of the disenfranchised or maltreated were fueled by religious faith:
Abolitionism
The civil rights movement
The drive to end child labor
Environmentalism
The creation of public schools
Suffrage and women’s rights
The progressive era move to create a social safety net
Creation of the eight hour day.
In addition, much of our charitable sector arose out of religious impulse. Among the institutions of civil society dedicated to social progress that have religious origins:
YMCA
Salvation Army
The Red Cross
Catholic Charities
Habitat for Humanity
Boy Scouts
Goodwill
Alcoholics Anonymous
What have I left out?



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Joe

posted October 7, 2008 at 10:45 am


It is true that much can be accomplished by groups that ban together. There is strength in numbers. These same common goals could have been accomplished by atheist and humanitarians banding together. But the fact is that they have not had reason, need or dictatorial direction to congregate on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. There is no need to routinely meet to avow your sceptism. On the other hand, Christians originally did not meet regularly simply as a measure of neighborly do-gooding. They met to pray, worship and become further indoctrinated. Humanitarian efforts sprang forth as a by-product of interaction before or after gathering. It seems obvious that many people found this to be even more purposeful than religion (or at least beneficial their prostheletising) and have formed permanent organizations as such. They do good and necessary work. But just try to get involved in one and maintain your antithetical view and you will only be tolerated as a necessary convert for a short while. Christians organizations may not kill their infadels, but they will demonize them.



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Turmarion

posted October 7, 2008 at 10:48 am


I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m assuming that it also glosses over bad things done in the name of opposing religion. Communist states were and (for the ones still around, like China and North Korea) still are officially atheist. It was these very atheist states that caused some of the worst massacres of the 20th Century: e.g. the purges in Russia which may have claimed as many as 20 million, the barbarous acts of Spanish Republican forces in the Spanish Civil war (Franco’s people were thugs, too, but the Republicans tend to get a sentimental historical whitewash), the Cultural Revolution in China, and on and on. On a lesser scale, Dawkins has compared raising a child in a particular religion to child abuse, and Sam Harris said something to the effect that some beliefs (by which he presumably meant certain religious beliefs) are so dangerous that they should be eradicated by force, if necessary (though he backed off from that later after being questioned on it). Barbarity, evil, and thuggery have certaily been committed in the name of religion; anyone who knows human nature should not for a second believe that barbarity, evil, and thuggery would cease if religion were eliminated, as Mahr would like.



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Joe

posted October 7, 2008 at 11:35 am


It’s also true that barbarity would not cease even if religion were eliminated. Brutatily is one terrible factor of human nature that occurs when any organized power is given free reign. But why keep in place a power that requires delusion as the basis for its being? That very delusional quality, that requires followers to obey with blind faith, opens the door for endless unscrupulous behavior.



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Timbo

posted October 7, 2008 at 3:22 pm


This non-believer will gladly concede that religious groups do more charitable work than anybody, and thank goodness.
But on the issue of religious people leading social reform, it’s a much more complicated story. Yes, the abolitionist and civil rights movements were led by mostly by religious people, but so were the groups opposed to abolition and in favor of Jim Crow. Clearly, religious faith wasn’t the decisive factor.
The Bible and the Koran haven’t changed in many centuries, yet our moral sense has improved dramatically over that time. And this is due to the philosophical and moral contributions of people from both within and outside religious traditions.
Human morality has (for the most part) improved over time and religious people played their part, to be sure. But they can’t be given all the credit. You might argue, for example, that slavery would have been abolished much earlier were it not for biblical approval of the institution. Same for women’s rights — and by the way, it’s no coincidence that the world’s most religiously observant countries are those in which women have the fewest rights.



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Steven Waldman

posted October 7, 2008 at 5:46 pm


Timbo,
“You might argue, for example, that slavery would have been abolished much earlier were it not for biblical approval of the institution.”
This is an excellent point. I concede the argument — i.e. I’m not arguing that religious societies are necessarily more moral than non-religious. Rather, I’m merely rebutting Maher’s argument taht religious societies are inherently LESS moral than non-religious.



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Jason

posted October 8, 2008 at 3:35 am


“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”–Genesis 3:16
and in the New Testament
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”–1 Tim. 2:11-14
(http://www.ffrf.org/nontracts/women.php)
Yeah, I think you can go ahead and take Suffrage and woman’s rights down from your list.
And for the civil rights movement, how dare you. the leaders of that movement; Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King Jr. crusaded for equality. That is a moral issue. Just because its most influential (at least publicly) speaker carried a bible doesn’t mean it was religiously lead.
I think before you make any future posts here on this site you need to slap some references on your posts cause your drowning in your sea of lies.



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Maplewood

posted October 8, 2008 at 10:49 am


Steve: what did you leave out? Well, not criticism intended; just a suggestion….
I would add that most of Greece and Rome’s civilization would have been lost had it not been for the conscious effort of Christendom to save and preserve it.
Christendom incorporated many of the ideas and thought-models of the ancient world into it’s theology and world-view.
Christendom encouraged printing and literacy in order to read the Bible. (This is a bit more problematic, but I still think it’s a good point.)
I think many agnostics and atheists have very good points to make in their critique of religion generally, and Christianity specifically, but from what I hear about Maher’s movie, it is one-sided and mocking. Funny, but unfair. But no one ever claimed humor had to be fair. :)



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Howard Mandel

posted October 8, 2008 at 3:22 pm


Religion’s benefits throughout history cannot be discussed, since no control group where religion did not exist can be identified. We have to assume that in a world dominated by religion all good and evil was be done in it’s name. Here, in the 21st century we have to ask where does human morality really come from. Most religions have similar codes of conduct. If we can prove that morality has its foundations in human truth and not religious philosphies, we can project a world without religion that that would be still be more or less as moral as it is now.
To argue religion on it’s benefits, as opposed to its plausibility, is acceptance that no rational discussion is possible. Bill and many like him are just really pissed at those who hide behind religion to claim moral superiority.



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Anonymous

posted October 8, 2008 at 6:33 pm


Christendom did not encourage printing and literacy. Quite the opposite. The Church was dragged kicking and screaming into the age of easy reproduction. The printing press took away much of the church’s power and control over people once the Bible could be read by all. Hence, the Reformation.



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anthony coleman

posted October 13, 2008 at 11:00 am


“And for the civil rights movement, how dare you. the leaders of that movement; Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King Jr. crusaded for equality. That is a moral issue. Just because its most influential (at least publicly) speaker carried a bible doesn’t mean it was religiously lead.”
This is one of the most dishonest posts I’ve ever read. The fact of the matter is that the civil rights movement was in fact a moral issue, that encompassed all types of people and one of the elements was religious. No matter how you want to switch it, Martin Luther King was a member of the clergy and made it a goal to use religion as a way to bring about peace (something that he was upset that it always had not been used as). The fact is that religion was a driving force in the civil rights movement and used for peace, no matter how you want to change history.
From your post I think that you’re no better than those “holier than thou” Christians I’ve come across in my life. You claim moral superiority, change the rules, and pick and choose to fit your own ulterior, bigoted and selfish agendas. You’re willing to criticize religion when it is a cause for something heinous (which you should because god knows that it has been responsible for alot of it), but when it is used for good you choose to ignore it, or disregard it as not a cause for good. You should be ashamed of yourself.



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Peter H. Fogtdal

posted October 15, 2008 at 3:54 pm


I’m a Danish novelist who is suspicious of organized religion and loves Bill Maher, but I find Religiously to be one cheap shot after another. Sometimes it’s very funny (how can Maher NOT be funny?), but it bothers me that all the people who are interviewed come across as bumbling idiots. Great editing, right? So faith and wisdom are definitely left on the cutting room fly. The only thing left is Bill Maher’s punch lines. Bill has indeed become God himself! Through bad editing.
Read my review on http://fogtdal.blogspot.com I’ll post it tomorrow October 16



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Steve Hansmann

posted October 16, 2008 at 4:32 am


The criticism of atheism as responsible for some of the worst genocide, cruelty etc. is interesting, (primarily because it states that Christianity, for instance, is no worse than state atheism, damning with faint praise), but wrong. The religious instinct or drive, is subverted, hijacked, transformed, adopted by horrible, brutal, genocidal regimes. You have only to look at the faces of the people at one of Hitler’s torchlight rallies, the adoration and love, the joy, the oneness, and compare it with the faces of the faithful adoring Pope John Paul outside the vatican on Christmas Eve when the pontiff blesses the faithful; they are exactly the same. These brutal governments would not be successful without utilizing the religious beliefs that most, not all, but most people have to a large degree. Religiousity, a belief in a god, spirituality will eventually be found to have a genetic basis, forged in the midst of evolutionary struggles.



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Luis

posted October 18, 2008 at 7:59 pm


To suggest that religion was the catalyst behind the abolition movement is insulting. Yes, some religious groups found the idea of slavery repulsing, as should every human being, regardless of their religious affiliation (or lack thereof). However, it was religion, and more specifically passages from the bible, that help justify the institution of slavery.
Maher is not claiming moral superiority over anyone in this film. In fact, he states several times throughout the documentary that when it comes to religion or the idea of a higher power, he simply “does not know,” as opposed to all the religious fanatics in this country who claim that the only way to achieve moral salvation is through their own twisted beliefs. Bill, unlike the fanatics that dominate this country, presents his case through FACTS. How can it be that 93% of all scientists in the world believe in evolution, yet religious idiots believe in talking snakes and mythical whales that rent out hotel rooms inside their stomachs?



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Damn Cynical

posted October 20, 2008 at 12:37 am


Born Agains endorse racism.
Always have. Always will.
Born Agains are nothing more than the American Taliban.



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jonmarck

posted October 21, 2008 at 1:16 pm


“Maher is not claiming moral superiority over anyone in this film. In fact, he states several times throughout the documentary that when it comes to religion or the idea of a higher power, he simply “does not know,”
Uh…yeah… and he claims anyone who DOES know is morally inferior (or at least intellectually inferior, and there doesn’t seem to be any distinction drawn).
By the way, the reason that Maher says 93% of scientists believe in evolution is because he doesn’t mind lying outright. The study he refers to did not say 93% of scientists believe in evolution! It said 93% of NAS MEMBERS do not believe in a personal God! 60% of American scientists do not believe in a personal God (and 40% do), and the same study showed that has more to do with the way they were raised rather than what science has revealed to them.
“To suggest that religion was the catalyst behind the abolition movement is insulting. Yes, some religious groups found the idea of slavery repulsing, as should every human being, regardless of their religious affiliation (or lack thereof). However, it was religion, and more specifically passages from the bible, that help justify the institution of slavery.”
This is wrong on so many levels. Learn your history!
“Hence, the Reformation.”
In other words, Christendom embraced printing and literacy!
“You have only to look at the faces of the people at one of Hitler’s torchlight rallies, the adoration and love, the joy, the oneness, and compare it with the faces of the faithful adoring Pope John Paul outside the vatican on Christmas Eve when the pontiff blesses the faithful; they are exactly the same. ”
This is just a bad argument. Why would you judge philosophies by the facial expressions of people who claim to follow them?!
“These brutal governments would not be successful without utilizing the religious beliefs that most, not all, but most people have to a large degree.”
Marxists seem to get by without it just fine.



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Belief belongs to everyone not just the religious or scientists

posted November 3, 2008 at 4:04 am


Many thanks for the original posting… i had heard of Bill Maher’s latest movie but didn’t know the spelling.. thanks to your decision to chose criticism over brotherly love and tolerance towards his views I now know the spelling and so can locate, download and send it to all my friends worldwide who are neither christian (77% of the world’s population) nor scientists… anyone got a figure on them?



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Your Name

posted November 14, 2008 at 1:53 pm


I’d have to say (getting back to the subject of Religulous) that the main focus of the movie WASN’T the just the crazy people in a religion but all the people who practice that faith no matter the faith or “faith level.” People give legitimacy to the acts of any and all others of that faith simply by practicing it themselves. If a person were part of an organization that has in the past and is still party to and causing as much pain, suffering, bigotry, racism, and death in the world as religion there would be no way a decent rational person would have anything to do with it at all. And yet Christians Muslims and Jews can sit in their respective halls of WARship and continue to lend support and legitimacy to their faiths regardless of what’s done in its name. They say things like, “Oh, that’s not my faith,” or “But i don’t believe what they believe and i don’t support them,” sorry but that’s as naive as a mafia wife of 30 years saying, “I had no idea my husband was a mobster.” and then looking incensed (not upset) when it’s proven that he is. If you do believe and go to that place of warship and lend support to those institutions, you are party to the acts of everyone practicing that faith.____The movie in my mind was a call to ALL people to use their ability to THINK and realize that religion is evil, there is more good in the world without it than with it, and it must be demystified and removed from humanity’s soul in order for mankind to survive it’s own nature. Faith is not a good thing: Faith (in the improvable, i.e. God, religion, etc.) is the surrender of the only thing that separates human beings from animals. The only way for religion to survive is to try (and it is desperately trying) to pull a bag over humanity’s head and say “it’s for your own protection.” Religion cannot, and will never be able to, endure in the light of a world governed by reason and logic.



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Anonymous

posted April 4, 2009 at 12:23 am


Not trying to agner anybody here, but I do believe that religion has brought us more negative things than it has good. Yes I understand the charities and Boy Scouting and the YMCA and all that good stuff, but that doesn’t come anywhere close to how much harm it has brought.
The Crusades, Witch-hunts, the Taiping Rebellion (cost 20 million lives), Holocaust, extremism, murder, genocide, rape, etc. How can you look at the good and just say “whatever” to the thousands of years or intolerance and millions of lost lives and say that religion is good?



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Charles

posted February 14, 2010 at 2:04 am


Bill Maher is a good comedian, but he oversteps the bounds even constitutionally. Christians have the Freedom of Religion. Maher wants us to bow down to him. Ironically he believes himself to be the God he does not believe in.



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