Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

The Case Against Religulous — Taking Quotes Out of Context

I’m looking forward to hearing from those interviewed in the movie about whether they felt Maher depicted their views fairly. Given that one of Maher’s criticisms of religion is that people proof-text – i.e. find in Scripture a quote to prove whatever they want – it’s incumbent on him to be honorable in his use of interviews.
As it happens, I know about one statement he cites. In the beginning of the movie, he offers this quote from our second president, John Adams: “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”
Wow. That certainly provides stunning support for Maher’s thesis. Did Adams really mean that? Well, no. Here’s the full quote from Adams, which came in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, April 19, 1817:

“Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, ‘this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.’!!! But in this exclamation I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly [two clergy from his childhood]. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite society, I mean hell.”

Slightly different meaning when you see the rest of the quote, eh? Sort of makes one wonder how scrupulous Maher was with the rest of the editing. Perhaps this is an anomaly.

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Andrew Strawcutter

posted October 1, 2008 at 8:29 pm

Why do people claim to be fair and balanced as in laying claim to making a documentary when that is the furtherest thing from what they are doing? Why not be honest? Why not be up-front about your point of view, your bias, why not say the point being argued is this…? There is another side, but you will have to look elsewhere to find it. I am making a point here, and anything that undermines that point has simply been omitted. OK?

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posted October 2, 2008 at 10:12 am

I doubt if I will see “Religulous”, so I won’t comment on the film itself in any discussions. I think, though, that anyone who has ever seen anything from Maher–whether it was on his old show (from which he was fired for saying what he really thought) “Politically Incorrect”, his current HBO show “Real Time”, any of his HBO specials, or even any of his guest appearances on other people’s shows, and I have seen all that I just mentioned–should already know very well what his point of view is, which is that he hates all religion and sees it, all of it, as a bad thing for the world. Heck, just one look at the poster for the film, which we can actually see on b’net’s home page (I don’t quite get that) will tell you what the film is about! And that’s why I probably won’t see the movie because, hey, Bill, I get it, you hate religion, you’ve been saying that for years; I don’t need to spend $10 to hear you say it again. Actually, I like Maher’s HBO show, and I miss it now that I’ve moved and don’t get HBO anymore. He gets people talking with each other, and he does try to bring in divergent political and social viewpoints. But when it comes to his religion-bashing, to me it’s a little like living near a busy airport; after awhile, you don’t hear the planes flying overhead. I don’t really hear Maher’s religion-bashing anymore because I’ve heard it so much.
I do agree with you Andrew, though, that it probably isn’t quite accurate to call Maher’s film a “documentary”. Perhaps one can better call it a satire, a time-honored form of literature and social commentary, but different from a documentary.

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Steve K.

posted October 2, 2008 at 1:04 pm

“Why not be honest? Why not be up-front about your point of view, your bias, why not say the point being argued is this…? ”
Because Maher wishes to deceive because he believes the end justifies it?

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posted October 3, 2008 at 12:37 am

“Why not be honest? Why not be up-front about your point of view, your bias, why not say the point being argued is this…? ”
Because Maher presumes his audience of doubters will also doubt him.

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Karen Brown

posted October 3, 2008 at 12:17 pm

Maybe because it is figured that the kind of person who would watch a funny documentary is the kind who would already know who Maher is, and therefore know his position in the first place?
Does he even market this as some kind of unbiased treatise on the current state of religion in the US?
I mean, he’s a comedian. It’d be like going to going to ‘Borat’ expecting some serious treatment of diplomacy and foreign relations.

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Nell Minow

posted October 3, 2008 at 1:55 pm

I am sure that Maher, like Michael Moore, would say that this is not so much journalism as advocacy. But Moore thoroughly documents his films, provides back-up materials, and responds to those who challenge his facts. Maher has no pretense of being “fair and balanced.” A character in the movie wears a sign that says, “Don’t believe anyone. Even me.”
Maher comes down on the side of doubt. While I don’t think his movie is effective in its advocacy of abandoning religion entirely, I think doubt is an essential element of faith, burnishing and refining it.
“I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education.”
Wilson Mizner

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posted October 4, 2008 at 12:09 am

this quote shows that even great minds can be brainwashed

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posted October 4, 2008 at 12:52 am

@Rob The perfect response. Thanks.

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posted October 4, 2008 at 1:25 am

While it’s important to make sure that quotes aren’t taken out of context, isn’t this a red herring, the type often used by the religious right and Fox News. Even if every single founding father believed that Jesus really was God, it doesn’t make Christianity any more rational (the notion of only 5000 years of human history beginning with the Adam and Eve story etc). Many founding “fathers” believed in other irrational, even immoral, practices. Let’s not treat them like Gods either. Maher only brings this into the movie to debate those who wish this was a nation established on Christianity. Even if it were, we need not accept fairy tales as our truth or moral code, especially if it teaches us to think less critically.

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posted October 4, 2008 at 9:19 am

Why are you afraid of doubt? Why do the questions people have bother you? The full quote does not change the meaning. People need religion to stay “good” or to do “bad” and then be forgiven. Weak minds follow this idea. Jefferson did not trust in the intelligence of the common man. What would he think of “Joe Six-Pack”?

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posted October 5, 2008 at 4:09 pm

I liked the one message that Bill delivered: Anyone who thinks they know (one way or the other) is flat-out wrong. The ultimate truth is that we don’t know. And if there is a God out there, he is so immense and superior that we could not possibly understand his will, his science or his undertakings. If he is there and able to see our bastardization of “his will” and “his” religion, he has got to be laughing himself silly.
So to say that Bill Maher is deceptive, to say he was not ‘up-front’ or ‘fair and balance’ after claiming to be — is not factual. When he says he doesn’t know if he believes one way or the other, he is speaking the truth. He does NOT believe in God, but he does not NOT believe in God. He just doesn’t believe in the institution of religion.

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posted October 5, 2008 at 7:13 pm

I absolutely loved the film and everyone in the packed audience where I live in Orlando Florida laughed throughout and applauded at the end.
THe quotation, if you look at the rest of it STILL says that the clergy from his childhood were FANATICS! Doesn’t that still then say what he’s trying to convey: that these people CAN be fanatics and make the world a terrible place! Yes, I think either way the quotation says the same thing.
Why does it always seem that religious fanatics and in this country those Palin supporters have cut out part of their brains in order to not use any logic or fact in any of their arguments EVER!
In case you should believe me to be an agnostic or atheist, I am not. I believe religions do a lot of good in the world. And I believe in a higher power. I meditate regularly and have even prayed many times in my life. The problem is that many religous people start trying to push their religious beliefs onto others and dictate to others based on their personal religious views… well guess what, my God is not your God and it’s a very personal thing.
AND when people start all that nonsense, the violence–at abortion clincs, the killing of Milk, all the horrible wars based on religious extremism. YES, CHRISTIANS THAT MEANS YOU ALL TOO!!!! READ YOUR HISTORY!!!
SO YES, the world would be better off without organized religions and replaced with a spiritualism that includes us all–a belief system that unites rather than divides!

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posted October 5, 2008 at 10:01 pm

I think that it is interesting that he employs the same tactic that he says discredits the religious when they use it. Maher’s claims on intellectual honesty shows to hold no water. It’s kinda like when Biden votes to tax us to death for social programs and only personally gives less than 1% of his income to them. Do what I say and not what I do. Only when it’s your actions underscrutiny, not mine.

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posted October 6, 2008 at 8:45 am

You mean like McCain planning to make permanent the tax breaks to the ultra-rich when he himself owns a dozen cars and houses? Yes, that does seem to be hypocritical to his fellow Americans.

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Fran Evanisko

posted October 6, 2008 at 9:12 pm

I guess adults can accept to believe any kind of sillyness they like, but to teach children that they are born condemned, and will suffer eternal damnation unless they accept, as truth, a story that is patently absurd, is abusive; all be it a constitutionally-protected form of abuse.

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posted October 7, 2008 at 5:00 am

Great film. Someone needed to say it. He makes reference to his beliefs in his TV stuff, but to give it such extensive, objective treatment is a breath of fresh air. Expect more and more logical, rational people to admit their disgust with the absurd fallacy that is religion.
Christ-like is not a bad way to try to live, but it’s ok to refer to “knowing right from wrong”, “helping your fellow man”, etc. in the terms of whichever work of fiction you prefer. Argue with this if you will, but there are many perspectives and many myths, fairy-tales, parables, etc. that make good points.
BTW, Maher was pretty clear about where his bias falls. He made no attempt to deny it. He also never called it a documentary. He makes a lot of good points. The bible is flawed because the men who wrote it and translated were biased, albeit well-intentioned. The “righteous” are often (almost always) hypocritical and judgmental, and “faith” creates divisiveness and elite-ism. Say what you want, but you can’t make any of it make sense without blind faith, which is another way of saying “ignorance of logic and reason.” Ignore logic and reason if you want to, but you’ll use it when it’s convenient and you won’t always recognize it as the delicious fruit from the “tree of knowledge” and you won’t realize that you’re supposed to ask forgiveness and try to never use logic and reason again to avoid burning for eternity, but since the idea of hell is utter nonsense, you have nothing to worry about. Every argument between a religious person and any intelligent person of objective logic and rationalism always ends without the thinkers points being proven wrong and with the religious person becoming obstinate and attacking the thinker’s motives or his verbage or his mental ability, usually behind his back, but never addressing the actual logical points and never proving that they can’t be true even though the thinker proved the religious points to be nonsense. And, yes, the thinker always proves the believer’s beliefs to be nonsense if he intelligently pursues proof. That’s why the believer needs faith, so he doesn’t have to deny the nonsensical. But I digress. God bless Bill Maher!! (Shut up!! It’s a figure of speech. We can use it if we want to. Rational people know what we mean.)

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posted October 7, 2008 at 10:55 am

Did you eve notice that in the middle of the word beLIEve is the word LIE?

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posted October 9, 2008 at 10:48 pm

Bummer about the full John Adams quote being as it is. I thought more highly of Adams than that.

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posted October 11, 2008 at 10:11 pm

Did you ever notice that the beginning of the word lori is lo?

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Scott in TX

posted October 13, 2008 at 11:39 pm

I saw the movie, it was good. Maher takes the religions to task which claim to be REVELATORY (which is probably why he left out Hinduism and African animism religions). “Revealed” religion in the form of Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and, yes, Mormonism and Scientology (to some extent). The idea that the God of Creation would only “reveal” himself to a single individual (who the REST of humanity is supposed to believe) is the ultimate insanity. It is anti-thetical to rational thought and if we were to run our businesses, governments or lives on this unilateral capitulation to someone else’s world view – we would be in the same state of conformity as Nazi Germany to Hitler, Russians to Lenin or Iranian Shiites to the Council of Clerics in that country.
It’s absolutely stupid not to question authority!
And THAT is why our founding fathers were so suspicious of Church/Government alignments to the point that they wanted to create a firewall between the two. Government would not control religion and there would be NO state sanctioned (official) religion in this country. Democracy REQUIRES questioning the states authority to exercise power over the people. Religion DEMANDS acceptance of dogma and creed and subordination to a hierarchy of “more learned men”. The two are MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE in the successful working of a modern democracy !!!

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posted October 14, 2008 at 10:59 pm

I don’t really think that by quoting Adams, Maher meant to suggest that Adams felt a world without Religion was feasible or realistic in any way. Maher assumes the viewer will be mature enough to sit down and bring with him/her a general understanding of the world. Maher, similarly to Adams, is not suggesting that we abolish religion; because that would be impossible and a far too revolutionary concept for the masses. However, idealistically, a world without religion (from the perspectives of people who may look back on history and see how many times leaders have justified shameful acts of injustice based on singular interpretations of religious passages). I think that baring this in mind, Adams’ quote, the one borrowed by Maher, does not change when taken into this particular context. I don’t think that someone like Maher, who is trying to prove his thesis would simply google anti-religious quotes by top influential persons and post them in a film that will be reviewed under the microscopes of leading religious personas, world wide.
Obviously Maher’s documentary will be biased. It is HIS perspective. He may claim that he is just posing questions (which he is), but the truth of the matter is, his documentary is shaped to prove his thesis, it’s bent in ways that his perspective is proven and everyone elses’ is made to look foolish. However, it is scary that a relatively common man can out smart the senator of Arkansas. Maher needs not expose his bias because it is up to the critical minds of viewers to discover where our opinions may differ and why. He is simply exposing the bias of the religious perspective; one which goes unquestioned the majority of the time.

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posted October 16, 2008 at 2:27 pm

So instead of Jefferson saying that the world would be better off without religion, he’s saying that the world would be better off without religion but that people are too stupid to get along without it.
I’d say that’s even more damning than the portion of the quote that Maher included in his film.

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posted October 18, 2008 at 4:39 am

It’s kind of unfortunate that Maher takes Adams’ quote out of context. Like Paul said, I thought that Adams was indeed that clear-minded about religion, but maybe not.
That being said, it is correct to say that religion is all about selective scripture interpretation in order to control of the masses. The religious elite and rulers use that to their advantage, while steering people away from real problems, problems that truly affect their life (eg. get people angry at the gays, not at the rich).
I believe our founding fathers were smart enough to fully grasp that fact. That’s why they carefully crafted the constitution to prevent religion from having any concrete power in this country. Whatever religion-friendly BS they might have peddled in their writings, such as that full Adams’ quote, these were just words. Judging the founding fathers purely on their actions, in the way they devised this country’s power structure, they were no friends of religion. I do thank them for that.

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posted November 10, 2008 at 2:41 am

All the criticisms of this movie are against Bill Maher himself and never provide a counter-argument of the real content and point of this film.

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Your Name

posted February 20, 2009 at 11:03 am

Even if people saw the movie they are so brainwashed and closed minded they would just disagree. I don’t know of a peaceful religion that hasn’t killed or forced others to become it. They start brainwashing you as soon as you can talk. Only show you one point of view and encourage you to only worship their way of thinking. Most people that are religious are uneducated or were brainwashed at a young age.Its sad that people have not evolved and refuse to use their brains.I guess its easier to let somone think for you. They just recite memorized scriptures and belive you should too.The world has chaned substantially since the creation of religion by man. Yet they are holding on to a prehistoric way of thinking.

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posted March 1, 2009 at 4:54 am

SO, you post the entire quote, which essentially says that people couldn’t survive in this world without religion after the portion Maher used in the film. This seems more of a sarcastic remark made against people and their codependency rather than a quote supporting religion. No one has offered one shred of what can be considered a compelling or rational argument opposing the message in the movie. Maher is also very well founded in saying that religious people will always pull one part of the bible, or one coincidence throughout all of history that think is the end all be all of this subject. The Bible contradicts ITSELF at so many points it’s ridiculous. The Bible promotes some of the most terrible and immoral things a person can do. This is the basis for your morality? Please, tell me you have something else. You have selected one quote from the movie to try and discredit the message. Really? Tell me you have more. Your point about this quote doesn’t even make sense. You are simply taking it to mean what you want it to, not what it so obviously says.
Here’s a quote for you.
“Contrary to what your church may have told you, atheists do not automatically turn to hedonism and anarchy. In fact, those who suggest that a man must be ethically restrained by a religion reveal, quite frankly, just how deep-seated their own morals are. ”
-Jason Curry
And another…
“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
-Stephen Roberts
The problem is you do not understand why you dismiss all other gods. You know only that you think you are right and therefore all else is wrong. Tell me why all gods outside of Christianity or invalid and I will think about maybe considering you have a valid point in any of this. Offer me one rational argument as to why Christianity is more valid and true than any others. You won’t find anything, so I guess we are done here.
If you could only be a bit more open minded you might see how you alienate all the people of the world with propaganda. How frustrating your unfounded and ignorant arguments are to people that believe in something as deeply as you do.

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posted March 10, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Isn’t it just a matter of logic? If I believe that X is God, then I don’t believe that Y…Z are gods.

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posted March 25, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Religion aside… Life & Death, cycle of life, Earth, sun, stars, the human body, gravity, rain, trees, fire, pregnancy, lightning, clouds, the engineering and the marvel in nature’s design, insects, wings, motherhood… and the list goes on… who is this amazing engineer, inventor, creator… Why arent we, the intelligent species able to create or even re-create? Religions aside, why isnt Bill Maher and all the other Mahers in this world able to create or re-create.

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posted May 4, 2009 at 6:03 am

Doesnt really matter who is wrong and who isnt. People will always believe what makes them comfortable believing BUT (and this is quite important) should respect each others beliefs. What makes me comfortable with being an atheist now is that even extreme atheism isnt destructive to others but simply rejects the idea of god. Extreme religious people though…. i dont even want to go there. The pain and suffering cause by extreme religious people goes against ANY good feelings i ever had about religion. How can something that teaches about an all loving all forgiving god (what i grew up in) be anything BUT!? Be so excluding and punishing and cruel and rigid!?!?!
Who created us??? Well, who created GOD? Did he do it himself? What makes us believe that in ALL this VAST universe, that we know NOTHING about, that we even matter? We might be to other life forms like what ants are to us. Ants will never understand us, what makes us sure that we are not the equivalent in some other life forms eyes? Doubt, humble doubt never killed anyone!

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posted May 13, 2009 at 6:49 pm

how does the planet earth break the 2nd law of thermodynamics? whether you believe in evolution or not, we still exist with a level of understanding that is higher than anything else in this world – a world over flowing with life (carl sagan anyone? from cosmos series intro). we have been looking for a very long time to find life on other planets, and waiting to hear from one of them for nearly as long (SETI… yawn).
fact: earth is special
fact: we break a scientific law by existing
“science and reasoning can explain why we have matter, but they cannot explain why we have science and reasoning”

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posted May 28, 2009 at 12:04 am

As an atheist who enjoyed Religulous, it would be hypocritical to believe that Mayer’s portrayal is without bias. His aim is to point out the excesses and flaws in religion, even mock it, at the price of allowing fair judgement. By deliberately picking unsuspecting targets liable to embarrass themselves (and picking and choosing what the viewer sees) he awards himself an enormous upper hand. I would like to see Lionsgate release full interviews online in order to spark a more accurate intellectual discussion. Not likely to happen, but it would be pretty cool.
My two cents.

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posted June 27, 2009 at 10:34 am

Maggie, im pretty sure Bill Maher is not comparing himself to god or the great creator. hes mostly wondering why you think you have all the complexities of life figured out with some belief system created and tweaked at the discretions of men. also, i have created millions of independent thoughts and original ideas in my lifetime…is that not creating.

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posted July 14, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Looks to me like you haven’t got much of a case against Religulous, so you quickly wrote down the quotes used in the film, scrambled to the nearest source of historiographical material, and scoured and scoured until you found something you could use. What an argument!

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posted July 31, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Let’s see … a great number of comments by atheists on this article seem to fall into a few patterns:
#1. “Aww, John Adams wasn’t an anti-religious atheist after all? Shucks, I was hoping he was as intolerant–I mean, ‘clear-minded’–as me!”
#2. “Some ‘case’ you have! All you did was post the full quote, and it’s even worse than what Maher used! Haw haw!”
I shake my head sadly at those in camp #1. For those in camp #2, I say: “Take a look at the other articles written about Religulous. There’s more to Maher’s deception than a single quote taken out of context.”
Though, I don’t expect people who agree with Bill Maher to admit his intellectual dishonesty.

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posted August 13, 2009 at 1:11 pm

I’m kind of seeing a parallel with the atheist movement. Its becoming a religion! lol! Now dont misunderstand me, i’m agnostic, or atheist..or…whatever..i generally dont believe in a god so call it what you want.
But do we really have to be right?! Really? Does it matter at all? As long as one persons beliefs are not infringing on someone elses rights, (be it state given, god given, humanity given), then what is the issue?
I liked religulous …a lot. But i feel this part of the message was lost. Not all religious people are violent and not all religious functions lead to violence either directly or indirectly.

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posted September 7, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Fred I belong to a Church that spends thousands of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours in doing good for mankind the world over. What does Maher and his followers do along these areas of life??

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posted October 16, 2009 at 12:14 pm

You pick one of the quotes Adams goes back on when he has tons that are against religion….
The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?
— John Adams
As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?
— John Adams
Cabalistic Christianity, which is Catholic Christianity, and which has prevailed for 1,500 years, has received a mortal wound, of which the monster must finally die. Yet so strong is his constitution, that he may endure for centuries before he expires.
— John Adams
I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits…. Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gipsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and schoolmasters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola’s. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum.
— John Adams

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posted October 16, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Oh and hey Anonymous I’m atheist and do those things with out an invisible man in the sky telling me if I don’t I go to hell. Be good cause its the right thing to do not because of fear of the invisible man!

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Your Name

posted October 30, 2009 at 6:51 pm

you want to talk about unfair editing, huh. well, lets see, this book that you all hold so dearly and put up on a pedastool(i’m refering to the bible)was edited in what i would call and unfair way. any parts where it mentioned a female deciple was wanked out, because oh, no, we can’t have that. women might acctually think they’re equal then. i laugh at those who can in good concience follow one of the most violent and intollerant religions in the world(christianity). GAY MARRIAGE IS A RIGHT, IT’S NOT OPIONAL. YOU’RE ALL PATHETIC!!

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posted February 7, 2010 at 9:23 pm

That’s nice and all about you’re church doing good for humanity, “anonymous”, but you are subjecting yourself to a very old argument against religious belief: that the believer thinks all good deeds performed by him and his peers are acts of god or inspired by religious teachings. The Red Cross and Unicef do great things as well without going around and spreading superstitious nonsense that, whether you like to believe it or not, does a lot of harm to the world considering how many people fall for it. Fiction is(should be) harmless until it is widely accepted. Look at scientology. It’s based on science fiction novels made within the last century, yet how fantastic is it really compared to the bible? Most modern religious individuals fail to really see how the intellectual/scientific/atheist community views them: The same way you view Thor, Zeus, and Harry Potter. Just fiction, some people adamantly believe it, but in hindsight it is always a joke.

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posted February 18, 2010 at 12:07 am

I agree wholeheartedly that secular people (even atheists) are capable of giving to charities in large amounts. Bill Gates is a fine example of someone willing to give a ton of money, despite being agnostic. At the same time, one must wonder why it is that secular people give such a lower percentage on the whole. Take the research of Arthur C. Brooks on charity in America:
“People who pray every day (whether or not they go to church) are 30 percentage points more likely to give money to charity than people who never pray (83 to 53 percent). And people saying they devote a ‘great deal of effort’ to their spiritual lives are 42 points more likely to give than those devoting ‘no effort’ (88 to 46 percent). Even a belief in beliefs themselves is associated with charity. People who say that ‘beliefs don’t matter as long as you’re a good person’ are dramatically less likely to give charitably (69 to 86 percent) and to volunteer (32 to 51 percent) than people who think that beliefs do matter”
This is not a one-time trend, but consistent over a period of decades and has been published in all sorts of journals. Of course, this says nothing about whether or not either religious or non-religious can give to charity, but shows the empirical data about who does give in actuality. The trend is similar in the more secularized parts of Europe. Although they rate higher on the overall “happiness” index, they almost unanimously give less of both time and money to those in need outside of their immediate communities.
Clearly, this says nothing about the truth value of any religious statement. What it does say is that if organized religion dies out of society (something I see as a virtual impossibility), then some great “myth” (in the sociological sense) needs to arise or else the data suggests we will become less giving (of both time and money) on the whole.
By the way, your comment ended with some cheap shots against religion that are not supported empirically (something esteemed in your worldview, no?). Here are a few corrections.
Data continues to give mixed results over who are more intelligent in Western society (some surveys say religious, some say non-religious and they have given mixed results for over fifty years of research on the topic), so please do not suggest that the secularist is more intellectual when the data shows no such thing to be true. In fact, a recent survey (late 2009) by Nick Spencer in England suggests some varying trends from your assertions. England makes a better field of study than the US since there are many more lifelong atheists, and atheists are much more accepted culturally. According to the survey, lifelong atheists and theists are largely more influenced by their socio-economic status than education, with lifelong atheists coming from more wealthy sectors of society. Thus, lifelong atheists are more likely to have a better education due to having more wealth.
What’s much more telling about the intellectual merits of the positions are converts. Those who convert from theism to atheism are disproportionally made up of those with no academic qualifications or a bachelors degree, whereas converts from atheism to theism are disproportionally made up of those “with a masters degree or higher.” The researchers conclude that British society is trending so that “new theists [are] coming from a higher social grade and being better educated than new atheists.”
Your comment about secularists seeing all religions in the same way (and including a fictional character – Harry Potter) only shows that you are either simply making a tired, rhetorical move, or that you are uninformed on religious teachings in general. Nobody would claim that the arguments in support of the reality of Harry Potter, Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster are even remotely similar to those for classical theism/deism, etc. If they did, they only betray their ignorance.
Maybe you are ignorant of these arguments, or find them unconvincing. That’s perfectly okay, but your personal views don’t support the argument. When the recent Philosophy Papers 2009 survey reported that over 70% of philosophers (at America’s top 100 philosophy departments), whose specialize is in theistic/atheistic arguments (Phil. of Rel.), believe that there is a god(s), then it’s not as simplistic or cliched as you make it out to be.

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William Jackson

posted July 20, 2010 at 6:37 pm

All the polls and surveys in the world are completely beside the point of which god or religion is “supreme.” Did Jesus minister by survey? No, he talked about what he felt to be true even though the whole world was ignorant to it. After all, there were no Christians when Jesus lived. And if the Son of God was so intent on converting everyone to his belief, then why didn’t he teach them practical means to run the world a better way…basic physics like plumbing, weather, chemistry, mechanics; or simple physical laws, even thermo-dynamics so they could harness steam — they already had the water and the metals; or the facts of astronomy — that the world is round and revolves around the sun? If Jesus and his Father God were really as consciously all-loving, omniscient and hands-on as we are told, why didn’t they teach the basics of medicine that every child learns today by the 6th grade? Who can really convince the world that pain and suffering is the way God wants to “teach” us? Can you imagine how quickly Christianity would have become the most influential and powerful religion in the world with this most basic knowledge? Christianity would have covered the planet like Sherwin-Williams paint, and there would have been no religious wars from then on! Every boy on Earth would want to be a Christian, because you can really impress the girls with a basic knowledge of electricity! And every girl would want to be Christian too, because she could nurse all the innocent children and keep them from wasted lives of pain, strife and misery…which is always at the root of every violent person. No, it had to be in “stories” about kings and thrones, and all the monarchical claptrap that it took another 2 centuries and countless lives to move beyond. God is not a “king”, but the impulse to do what fits life most cogenially and happily — the impulse that dwells within all of us and every thing.

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posted July 27, 2010 at 9:06 pm

But the quote doesn’t have that different a meaning. Surely its taken from the full quote and surely the extra context provides more information but what Jefferson is essentially saying is this:
“I could say that we don’t need religion in the world, but if I were to say that I would be just as irrational (fanatical) as the priests of my childhood in their belief of religion. The truth is, without religion we can’t trust everyone (especially the uneducated) to govern themselves to the appropriate moral standards.”
or to shorten the above further, than simply…
“I wish we didn’t need religion, but sadly, without religion we can’t expect to trust the uneducated to govern themselves appropriately. So it serves a function.”
This does not mean that Thomas Jefferson believes in religion, in fact it holds to the true value of that quote used by Maher. Jefferson doesn’t believe in religion, but he understands that most people aren’t intelligent enough to govern themselves without the help of religion to keep them in line. Just because he thinks religion is nonsense doesn’t mean he believes it doesn’t serve an important function for the ignorant. But for those who are reasonable enough and those who are educated enough, there seems to be no real reason why they SHOULD need religion to be used to govern them… but that’s just my feeling on this, but I’m biased. You can believe what you want to believe, I could care less.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 6:06 pm

@Kyle: You definitely failed to grasp Aaron’s point about Harry Potter and Zeus. He’s essentially saying that many of the bible’s tales are just as fantastic (if not moreso) than something you’d hear in fictional tales. Some religious people ACTUALLY believe that Jonah lived in a whale (or great fish/sea monster) for 3 days and nights. People believe that the whole world rained for 40 days and 40 nights. People lived for close to 1000 years.
The point is that religious cults have sprung up over the last hundred years based on nonsense. Scientology being the most recent, based on science fiction. Only about 100 years prior to Scientology we had Mormonism spring up based on ridiculous claims. The point being that the longer time goes on and the more and more people start to believe in things like Scientology and Mormonism, and the more time passes… these COULD become the dominant religions 2000 years from now. Not only that, but as they merge and integrate with the culture more and more converts will begin to make logical sense of the arguments within their structures and therefore strengthening the arguments of claims that CURRENTLY we now KNOW to be completely false. But while religious people are so quick to state how ridiculous Scientology and Mormonism both are and how obviously wrong they both are and how wrong the Greek gods are… you guys refuse to look into the mirror.
I’m by no means stating that religion doesn’t serve a function for society, I believe the poor need hope and religion can sometimes offer them that, but it can also turn them into mindless ignoramus that fly plains into buildings or blow themselves up in public places for the cause of their “cult”… and all religions have extremism and even the more subdued religions have had great extremism in the past. Religions are only subdued by being the majority, not by living to the best moral standards possible. While religion may aid civilized society, it also serves to damage it. It’s a double edged sword.

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posted March 25, 2011 at 12:35 pm


you make absolute sense. what I have been trying to say for so long, you put into simple words.

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Edmund Raines

posted January 12, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I started out reading this with the knowledge that I’d be reading a piece from a position ideologicaly very different than my own and ended up deciding that ideology is not the problem here. It’s anti-intellectualism. To the author I would say that if you can’t summon or invoke the observable presence of a higher power at any time or in any way, why take the time to write such a flimsy, petulant and uninformed acrticle as this. You may not understand but this isn’t the same topic it was even 10-20 years ago. Atheism is growing like wild fire…right now. People like myself aren’t straining over the possible hidden meanings or mistranslations of your sacred text or whoevers. The only relevent question now is this: where is your god? Who, what where is he? If you can’t answer these questions with real answers, not the lies you tell yourself, then you can keep talking but you’ll be talking by yourself. I wish there had been an atheist community when I was growing up afraid, ashamed and depressed because of religion. And don’t say ‘I’m not into religion!’ You have a theistic spiritual practice, based on sacred writings and requiring faith. It’s exACtly religion. Words have actual meanings. I bet you’re a decent guy with some awesome qualities. I hope you wake up.

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posted May 14, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Are you people serious?! Are you not at least slightly familiar with the term, ‘tongue-in-cheek’. Or how about, ‘satire’? One of the many criticisms of religion is it’s incapability of self-criticism. Led by Steven Waldman that point, here, is well illustrated.

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