October 6, 2008

Bill Maher's "Religulous"

The series "Liken With Care" with Book of Mormon scholar Brant Gardner will conclude on Wednesday. Meanwhile, enjoy some ruminations on a new film by Bill Maher. I note here that I have not yet seen the film, but I have read apx. 25 reviews whose opinions range from praise to disgust, and I've recently read a handful of articles and watched several interviews with Maher himself on the movie. These comments, then, represent an outsider's analysis and not a review of the film proper.

Comedian-turned political pundit Bill Maher’s new film “Religulous” (combining the words “religion” and “ridiculous”) appears to be another product of the so-called “New Atheism” movement. CNN’s Simon Hooper noted this movement is composed of various “thinkers and writers...[who share] a belief that religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”1

Maher and the other spokesmen believe that developments in technology, including weapons of mass destruction, have made humanity so powerful that religion’s basis in faith is likely to destroy the world through irrational conflict. Further, religious belief in general is seen as foolish and out of date compared to the enlightenment of current scientific thought. Maher’s film, then, is designed to entertainingly demonstrate that religion is both dangerous and irrational.

Reviewers have described it as an in-your-face piece of pop culture “that doesn’t pretend to be a serious cultural or scientific exploration of the roots of faith.” With an attitude of “glib condescension” Maher travels the world interviewing various people of faith, excluding all eastern religions. His “main strategy is to coax most of those subjects who are true believers to appear foolish as they offer stumbling, inarticulate responses to his friendly interrogations. The majority of his subjects are easy targets.”2

Another reviewer noted “Instead of doing serious and thoughtful research, instead of presenting us with (admittedly less entertaining) data about the influence of particular religious beliefs or institutions, instead of investigating the good works of people inspired by religion or the benefits of faith-based programs, instead of trying to understand the appeal of religious faith he seeks out the people on the fringes and pretty much makes fun of them.”3

The Salt Lake Tribune provided a synopsis of the film’s brief treatment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
Just less than an hour into Religulous, Bill Maher is shown doing his stand-up act, talking about religions that believe in really crazy stuff - even by the standards of the major religions.

Thus begins four minutes of criticism of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Maher then is shown talking in front of the Salt Lake Temple. But not for long, as a couple of burly guys in Mr. Mac suits - labeled Mormon Fuzz - quickly shoo Maher and his camera crew off church property.

The rest of the movie's Mormon segment is Maher's interview with two well-known ex-Mormons: singer Tal Bachman (son of Randy Bachman of Bachman-Turner Overdrive) and former LDS bishop Bill Gardiner, who's now a prominent member of the Ex-Mormon Foundation.

Maher goes over some of the tenets of Mormonism, with mocking illustrations. The mention of temple garments includes a photo of a man and a woman in their magic underwear. Talk of the belief that American Indians are a lost tribe of Judaism brings up a brief clip from Blazing Saddles, of Mel Brooks wearing Indian regalia and muttering in Yiddish.4
Given the brief time devoted and the fact that Maher’s two main sources on Mormonism are former members of the Church, Latter-day Saints should not expect a well-rounded treatment of their faith. Why were these two selected? Mormons were mentioned again in the film when Maher interviews an astronomer from the Vatican. When asked why the Vatican would be interested in science the priest says that "Well, I can tell you that we are not here trying to find other planets just so we can get to them and convert everyone-- and beat the Mormons to it." That's one I can definitely have a good laugh about.5

Some of Maher's explanations of how the film was created exhibit his less-than-forthright approach. He explained to the Los Angeles Times: "It was simple: We never, ever, used my name. We never told anybody it was me who was going to do the interviews. We even had a fake title for the film. We called it `A Spiritual Journey.' ... At the last second, when the cameras were already rolling, I would show up. So either they'd be seen on camera leaving the interview and lose face or they'd have to talk to me."6

Maher’s film is intended to be a comedy, not a reliable exploration of faith, but rather a polemical and purposefully irreverent method of ridicule geared more to entertain than educate; more commercial product than scholarly endeavor. It sounds the call of the “new atheist” movement toward what its proponents see as a more rational and enlightened worldview, but does so without responsibly or fairly engaging its target. Even if Maher’s position was correct, the brash, confrontational style interferes with the message and will likely resonate most with those already committed to viewing religion as merely silly.

Reviewer Shawn P. Means described the close of the film: “...the laughs are shut off in the final reel, when [Maher] unloads on the violence done in the name of religion (complete with images of 9/11, suicide bombings and George W. Bush's invocations of God) and urges humanity to "grow up or die."7 But what does Maher suggest people “grow up” to be? Perhaps the weakest point of the film is its failure to offer any viable replacement for faith. The faithful can certainly join with Maher in abhorring the excesses and evils perpetrated in the name of religion, but in calling the religious to abandon their faith, hope and charity, perhaps all Maher offers in return is the consolation that “every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature,” and that “when a man was dead, that was the end thereof” (Alma 30:17-18). If Maher is serious in thinking religion is going to lead to a nuclear disaster or worse in the near future and this film is the best he can do to help prevent it, he's not an extremely responsible or caring person, or he's not that convinced about the impending doom.Otherwise, he could have made efforts to actually reach out to the ones he believes should be feared rather than simply mocking.

FOOTNOTES
[1]
Simon Hooper, “The rise of the 'New Atheists'” CNN Briefingroom, posted November 9, 2006. It should be noted on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show with John Stewart” Maher described himself as agnostic (one who does not know if God exists) rather than atheistic, a position he views as the mirror image of any dogmatic and blind faith-based religion. He does not examine the potential of his own views being dogmatic or “religious.” On this topic, see Louis C. Midgley, “Atheists and Cultural Mormons Promote a Naturalistic Humanism: Review of Religion, Femminism, and Freedom of Conscience: A Mormon/Humanist Dialogue by George D. Smith," FARMS Review of Books 7:1 (1995), 229–297. Other participants in the unofficial “New Atheism” are not as shy as Maher in proclaiming there is no god. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens have each recently published books as part of the unofficial New Atheism movement. For more on this movement and on science and religion generally, see the following reviews: Allen R. Buskirk, “Science, Pseudoscience, and Religious Belief (A review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan),” FARMS Review 17:1 (2005), 273-309; Daniel C. Peterson, “Editor’s Introduction: God and Mr. Hitchens,” FARMS Review 19:2 (2007), xi-xlvi; David Grandy, “Ideology in the Guise of Science (A review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins),” FARMS Review 19:2 (2007), 239-243.

[2]
Stephen Holden, “Believers, Skeptics and a Pool of Sitting Ducks,” New York Times, October 1, 2008.

[3]
Nell Minow, “Religulous,” Beliefnet.com, October 2, 2008.

[4]
Sean P. Means, “Review: Maher takes on religion but sounds like he's preaching to the agnostic choir,Salt Lake Tribune, October 2, 2008.

[5]
Spoiler for Religulous, by "kevin," Themoviespoiler.com.

[6]
Patrick Goldstein, "Maher documentary jabs at religion," Los Angeles Times, Aug 16, 2008. 

[7]
Ibid.

48 comments:

Brandonio! said...

You should really go see this movie.A friend and I went last friday,and walked away educated on the obsurdity of religions as a whole.Common sense plays a huge role in life as we know it.I strongly urge you to see this movie.Actually it should be mandatory for all humans as far as i'm concerned.It will open up enough people's eyes to the actual harm religion has on the world.Really go see it!

BHodges said...

I appreciate you stopping by, brandonio. Do you have any remarks on what I've written here?

Ian said...

It's truly sad that Maher expects people to take him seriously when it appears that the intent of this movie is to mock and ridicule. I see no reason, as brandonio suggests, for any religious person to actually go see this movie. If Maher had taken a scientific approach to the matter it might be a different story. The whole "documentary" is based on a fallacy, possibly multiple fallacies. The one that comes to mind is "Hasty Generalization." according to the website logicalfallacies.info a Hasty generalization fallacy "draws a general rule from a single, perhaps atypical, case."

Being a person of science and reason, you'd think that Bill would be versed in fallacies. Or perhaps that is a fallacy.

Hiatt's said...

I love how the "very educated and enlightening Bill Maher" decided it was okay to prance onto private property with his camera crew. If there is one thing I have learned over the years about those who persecute anyones religious beliefs it is this. Their "proven truth" is laced with lies and deceit. Bill Maher speaking on the subject of religion is about as trustworthy and factual as msnbc news.

BHodges said...

Whoa, Hiatt, how did you find my blog?

Anonymous said...

Loap you are an idiot.

BHodges said...

Any particular reason, anonymous?

Jason said...

Blair,

I reassert that you are dead wrong to say that "the weakest part of the movie"--a problematic beginning, considering you haven't seen the movie, so you can hardly be considered the best source for its "weakest point"--is that Maher does not offer any "viable alternative for faith." If you've seen the movie, it's pretty clear that his alternative to faith is doubt, as it is one of the central points of the film (along with his discussion of a self-fulfilling "end times" prophecy, which you have adequately summarized).

That said, I can't much assail you without giving my take of the biggest flaw in the movie's argument. I agree with you that this movie isn't likely to do much to help Maher's cause. It's a sort of call to arms to the small subset of the population that would be animated by an anti-religion movie. The missed opportunity here is a chance to make the case that atheists/agnostics/skeptics/doubters/etc. should consider liberal and moderate people of faith to be their potential allies in spirit if not in letter. Religion is not going away, no matter how ridiculous Bill Maher or I think that it is, and emboldening these liberal and moderate elements--particularly in the Islamic world, but also in some of the more intolerant faith traditions (a category in which I unfortunately must include your extremely anti-gay church)--is our greatest hope. (That, and forcefully making the case for separation of church and state, including the pro-religion case for such separation.)

In short, more Bonos (a liberal Christian that has cited religion as the enemy of God), less Bushes (a cocksure Christian that divides the world into neat, Manichean Good/Evil categories), and no nukes (I'll get to that later). I'm not sure what is the best way to go about this, or even if we can. I'm certainly not an optimist; it seems to me largely to be an intractable problem, with the burden resting more on religious liberals and moderates than anyone else. It cannot be a reasonable proposition in ANY serious church that the story of Jonah and the whale or the Genesis account of creation is literally true -- otherwise, what isn't a reasonable proposition?

Religion, by itself, is not dangerous. It is just a collection of ideas -- we run no risks by thinking thoughts, however silly they may be. Men, however, are very dangerous. We are in many ways still just really advanced primates, after all, and religious hard-liners and reactionaries can, have, and will take advantage of this fact. The connection between thought and action is what is really of concern -- in many cases, what we believe about the afterlife really really affects what we do in this life, which can be good or bad. And what it really comes down to -- in a much broader sense -- is that we men, imperfect creatures that we are, have perfected the science of our own potential annihilation. This fact by itself takes from us the luxury of relying on the "or" in "good or bad."

This problem, of course, is way bigger than religion, and would not go away even if religion did. But, as unlikely as that is to occur, it wouldn't be a bad start. (In an even broader sense, the real problem here is any form of dogmatism -- including religion, nationalism, tribal loyalties, etc.) Anyway, this could get me going on loose nukes and non-proliferation frameworks and verification regimes--as getting rid of our nuclear weapons will be easier than getting rid of religion--but that's way afield of what you've written, and I've said enough, so I'll leave it here.

Nametag Museum said...

You can sum up Bill Maher and those like him quite easily, with some verses from 1 Nephi:

"And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.

And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.

And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb."

And to reply to Jason;s points, the LDS Church stands against the degradation of the traditional Christian foundation of the United States. It supports traditional values, such as marriage being between a man and woman. It condemns homosexuality as a sin, and that God has declared such activity to be contrary to His laws. The Church seeks to reclaim those in homosexuality with love, to show them the redemption that can come through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately a growing number of people today follow a hedonistic way of life, led by the popular persons in the media and their secular humanism. Nephi neatly summed those people up as well:

"And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God -- he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.

Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts."

BHodges said...

Hi, Jason.

I reassert that you are dead wrong to say that "the weakest part of the movie"--a problematic beginning, considering you haven't seen the movie, so you can hardly be considered the best source for its "weakest point"--

As I noted out the outset, I haven't seen the film, and I am not attempting a "movie review," but a general commentary given what I am familiar with- namely: the interviews with Maher, his previous work, and reviews of the film themselves.

is that Maher does not offer any "viable alternative for faith." If you've seen the movie, it's pretty clear that his alternative to faith is doubt, as it is one of the central points of the film (along with his discussion of a self-fulfilling "end times" prophecy, which you have adequately summarized).

Are you arguing that Maher is not placing his faith in doubt? I would disagree there. Maher is replacing one religion for another, both requiring decisions based on what the individual finds to be the most adequate evidence. Since, as a believer, I can already entertain doubt, and often do, Maher's message of doubt certainly doesn't speak to me as effectively as to you, it seems.

That said, I can't much assail you without giving my take of the biggest flaw in the movie's argument. I agree with you that this movie isn't likely to do much to help Maher's cause. It's a sort of call to arms to the small subset of the population that would be animated by an anti-religion movie. The missed opportunity here is a chance to make the case that atheists/agnostics/skeptics/doubters/etc. should consider liberal and moderate people of faith to be their potential allies in spirit if not in letter. Religion is not going away, no matter how ridiculous Bill Maher or I think that it is,

From my perspective, Maher isn't even broaching my faith. He's swinging fists in the dark, actually.

and emboldening these liberal and moderate elements--particularly in the Islamic world, but also in some of the more intolerant faith traditions (a category in which I unfortunately must include your extremely anti-gay church)--is our greatest hope. (That, and forcefully making the case for separation of church and state, including the pro-religion case for such separation.)

Actually, the church would more accurately be "anti-gay marriage."

"Forcefully making a case for separation of Church and state" will prove difficult, seeing as how the term is commonly employed incorrectly. For example, it isn't found in the constitution. People of faith trying to affect public policy is typically well within their rights. Be careful; the "oppressed" may be the "oppressors."

In short, more Bonos (a liberal Christian that has cited religion as the enemy of God), less Bushes (a cocksure Christian that divides the world into neat, Manichean Good/Evil categories), and no nukes (I'll get to that later).

Sounds like Bono, if that is what he said, is himself an enemy to God, as he is not free of religion in any sense. Nor, I add, are you.

I'm not sure what is the best way to go about this, or even if we can. I'm certainly not an optimist; it seems to me largely to be an intractable problem, with the burden resting more on religious liberals and moderates than anyone else. It cannot be a reasonable proposition in ANY serious church that the story of Jonah and the whale or the Genesis account of creation is literally true -- otherwise, what isn't a reasonable proposition?

But we can also find those in the realm of science who misunderstand their approach and can be cited to make all secularists look bad. "Atheists must be stopped; look at what Marx caused!"

Religion, by itself, is not dangerous. It is just a collection of ideas -- we run no risks by thinking thoughts, however silly they may be.

To the contrary, I think we can run very great risks through thinking thoughts. I suspect you feel the same, as you cite belief in the "Jonah" story as potentially insidious. You make my point below, by talking about the connect between thought and action.

Men, however, are very dangerous.

Yes, as one might say, religion doesn't kill people; people kill people.

We are in many ways still just really advanced primates, after all, and religious hard-liners and reactionaries can, have, and will take advantage of this fact. The connection between thought and action is what is really of concern -- in many cases, what we believe about the afterlife really really affects what we do in this life, which can be good or bad. And what it really comes down to -- in a much broader sense -- is that we men, imperfect creatures that we are, have perfected the science of our own potential annihilation. This fact by itself takes from us the luxury of relying on the "or" in "good or bad." This problem, of course, is way bigger than religion, and would not go away even if religion did. But, as unlikely as that is to occur, it wouldn't be a bad start.

Wouldn't be a bad start mostly, I presume, because you consider religion to be the "other guys" and it's usually easier to look there first. All of this talk about humans being capable of destroying themselves, thus we need to eliminate religion is poor logic. I join you in condemning violence and irrational radical groups who seek to coerce through force.

(In an even broader sense, the real problem here is any form of dogmatism -- including religion, nationalism, tribal loyalties, etc.)

Or, say, atheism and agnosticism?

Thanks for stopping by, Jason.

BHodges said...

By the way, take a look at the movie poster there, where it says at the bottom "the Truth is near." I guess it should say "the truth [of doubt] is here"?

Hiatt's said...

Hey Blair, I found your wonderful blog using Steve and Jenni's blog. I have one simple word best describing Bill Maher, "MORON"!

BHodges said...

haha yes hiatt.

Jason said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BHodges said...

Jason, I appreciate your response, but we don't use that kind of language on this site.

BHodges said...

if you need me to send you your response so you can edit it and repost, email me.

Jason said...

Sorry about that.

It fwded a copy to my gmail so I'll just edit and repost it.

Maher is replacing one religion for another, both requiring decisions based on what the individual finds to be the most adequate evidence.

But where is Bill Maher accepting ANY proposition on "faith"? Are you suggesting that it requires as much faith to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin as it does to believe that he was NOT born of a virgin? And if so, in what sense is "faith" a meaningful word anymore? To put it plainly: Maher's making a decision based on inadequate evidence.

Or, say, atheism and agnosticism?

You know, I've been very critical on my LiveJournal of the religiosity of the "new atheism" movement. I'm uncomfortable with a lot of it.

But--putting aside the televangelist-like antics of someone like Richard Dawkins--the actual claims that atheism and, for instance, Mormonism make just cannot credibly be compared as equally religious. Atheism entails one negative belief. The religions we are discussing entail many positive beliefs.

That said, there's nothing dogmatic about agnosticism. You need not take anything on insufficient evidence to decide that we can never know if there is a god or not. In at least one sense (and I say this as someone that does not believe in any god), I find it to be the only principled position.

Sounds like Bono, if that is what he said, is himself an enemy to God...

I was paraphrasing, and may have screwed it up. As I think about it, he may have said that "the [Catholic] Church oftentimes is the enemy of god." I'm not here to referee who is and who isn't "an enemy to God."

That said, I don't know what definition of "religion" you are operating under--and I would like to know, as you keep teasing it!--but my definition takes into account not just the ideas we think, but our actions. Church-going, ceremonial rites, so on and so forth. I think I am tripping us up on a somewhat insignificant semantic dispute (where you say "religion," I would say "dogma." Please flesh this out if I've misinterpreted you.)

At any rate, there is a part of you that intuitively understands Bill Maher. This is the same part of you that is not swayed to Islam by the evidence of the Quran, and it is the same part of you that does not believe in the divinity of Thor, or Zeus, or Rah. Or Bertrand Russell's celestial tea pot, for that matter.

But we can also find those in the realm of science who misunderstand their approach and can be cited to make all secularists look bad. "Atheists must be stopped; look at what Marx caused!"

It's hard to feel like you are engaging anything that I've written. This isn't a religion versus science tit-for-tat. That said, do you disagree with the portion that you were responding to? It seems that you do, just that in addition to agreeing you are checking my supposed blind spots. Again, recalibrate me if I'm misreading you.

What's more, it is not a tiny subset of religious folks that believe some of these claims literally, and I think it does us no favors to pretend that it is.

"Forcefully making a case for separation of Church and state" will prove difficult, seeing as how the term is commonly employed incorrectly. For example, it isn't found in the constitution. People of faith trying to affect public policy is typically well within their rights. Be careful; the "oppressed" may be the "oppressors."

I don't at all disagree with any of this, but I'm not sure who I should be led to believe is being "oppressed." As I said, the pro-religion case is among the best--and most obvious--cases to make for secularism.

To the contrary, I think we can run very great risks through thinking thoughts. I suspect you feel the same, as you cite belief in the "Jonah" story as potentially insidious. You make my point below, by talking about the connect between thought and action.

I guess in a technical sense this is right, in the sense that the risk we run thinking thoughts is that we may act on those thoughts. I agree. What I meant to express is that no thought that is not acted upon is by itself dangerous. The literal reading of Jonah and the whale is not, by itself, a dangerous or "insidious" thought. It's merely silly. Were that thought to manifest itself in some sort of insidious way is another matter. The thought/action nexus is what can be dangerous (or, alternately, beneficial). The thoughts by themselves are not.

All of this talk about humans being capable of destroying themselves, thus we need to eliminate religion is poor logic.

I was more trying to make the point that "...thus we need to eliminate nuclear weapons." I was apparently not as clear in this as I thought.

Thanks again,

BHodges said...

But where is Bill Maher accepting ANY proposition on "faith"?

I often employ a view of religion similar to that of Paul Tillich who basically said religion represents the deepest concerns and desires of the individual. For Maher, his faith seems to be in the limited ability of man, and as you point out, the lack of something else, a belief in God. Maher accepts a lot of things on faith, we all do. We have to.

Atheism entails one negative belief. The religions we are discussing entail many positive beliefs.

To me, atheism still entails a lot of faith. For example, the faith that all of this is really even happening. It may seem silly, but let's try to prove that solipsism is false. Can we do it? Let's try to prove there is no God. Can we do it? I don't think an effective way of doing so is simply picking whatever seems silliest and then lampooning it, or whatever seems most dangerous and threatening with it. It doesn't take "religion" as Maher employs it to believe dumb things, or to do violent things.


As far as agnosticism being the only principled position, I believe there is still a certain agnosticism in many faith traditions. For Mormons it could include, for example, the mechanics or metaphysics of the atonement. There are many things about my own faith which I am agnostic about. This agnosticism need not make one stop thinking about things or trying to work through them, as you know.

That said, I don't know what definition of "religion" you are operating under--and I would like to know, as you keep teasing it!--but my definition takes into account not just the ideas we think, but our actions.

Sorry I haven't been clearer here, for some reason I thought I had already fleshed that out. (I've had several discussions on this with people recently, so they all tend to blend together.) I define it above as following Tillich. In this regard, I don't believe there is one person who is capable of thought who is not religious. Now, I also recognize your smaller definition which includes things like churches, authority, rites, but even then there are such things in "irreligious" communities as well. Still, I do realize how the term is typically employed, and without much thought, I think. Words tend to become meaningless semi-easily in my opinion.

At any rate, there is a part of you that intuitively understands Bill Maher. This is the same part of you that is not swayed to Islam by the evidence of the Quran, and it is the same part of you that does not believe in the divinity of Thor, or Zeus, or Rah. Or Bertrand Russell's celestial tea pot, for that matter.

This is an excellent point, as you show, there is a skeptic bone in my body. Still, Mormonism gives me the opportunity of recognizing any and all good those things contain as well. This is one reason I read the Qur'an on my mission. Let's see what there is to this, I thought.

It seems that you do, just that in addition to agreeing you are checking my supposed blind spots. Again, recalibrate me if I'm misreading you.

What's more, it is not a tiny subset of religious folks that believe some of these claims literally, and I think it does us no favors to pretend that it is.


You understood correctly, I freely acknowledge dangers in religious faith, undoubtedly. I believe it was J Smith who noted that some of the greatest evils have been perpetrated under the guise of faith in God.

What I meant to express is that no thought that is not acted upon is by itself dangerous. The literal reading of Jonah and the whale is not, by itself, a dangerous or "insidious" thought. It's merely silly. Were that thought to manifest itself in some sort of insidious way is another matter. The thought/action nexus is what can be dangerous (or, alternately, beneficial). The thoughts by themselves are not.

Ah, I see what you are saying.

I was more trying to make the point that "...thus we need to eliminate nuclear weapons." I was apparently not as clear in this as I thought.

Can't argue with that!

Thanks for the thoughts.

Nametag Museum said...

Here is my review of the film. It's essentially a Fox News remake of "Borat". Same fake documentary style,
same malicious editing, same misquoting and paraphrasing. Bill has scoured the
face of the earth for the most outrageous crackpots and freaks ever paraded
across a movie screen, that he baits with loaded questions that he knows there
is no valid response to. All the while comparing Mormons to Scientologists
(again with extensive video clips from The God Makers), and proclaiming all
religions to be the cause of all mankind's evils. Top it all off with a ten
minute marathon of Bill Maher graphically smoking marijuana in Amsterdam, with
the proprieter of a hash bar who hallucinates during the interview. I did find
it interesting that they would visit the Holy Land Experience theme park in
Florida. That's a new one. All in all, Maher's diatribes in the movie are
almost word for word repeats of what Korihor said in Alma 30. It's almost
spooky.

Jason said...

I don't disagree with a lot of that. You have some valid points, particularly with regard to the editing, which oftentimes felt too underhanded. And I can imagine that Mormons chafe at "The God Makers," although it's used in the film more for its campiness than anything else. Plus, from a purely movie-going experience, the use of oddly-placed sound effects was really distracting.

All the while comparing Mormons to Scientologists...

What's wrong with the comparison? The common theme uniting them (which is why they are grouped together in the middle of the movie, although the actual comparison I would say is made in passing, and not "all the while") is that they are two relatively new faith traditions that adherents of older religions--the main target of the film--regard with suspicion.

It's curious that you take issue with that fleeting comparison, though. I mean, I understand that most religious folks believe their religion to be true, but it's a bit much to accept some of the tenets of one religion and draw a line at another and say "that's crazy!" At the very least, you should have an "agree to disagree" attitude about it. If you want to make faith-based claims about what happens after we die or the creation of the universe or the coming End of Days, for instance, and then want to be treated as a Serious and Thoughtful Person, then it is odd to begrudge Tom Cruise for saying something just as implausible. On the other side of the same coin, it's a bit hard to believe that, say, evangelical Protestant Christians treat the beliefs and practices of Mormons with such suspicion. (Alas, ask Mitt Romney about it...)

And one last point: some of the people are DEFINITELY major crackpots, but by no means all. Many are just "regular" people that believe things that the majority of Americans believe, for instance the 64% of Americans that "believe the story of Moses parting the Red Sea is 'literally true, meaning it happened that way word-for-word.'" Or the 60% that believe the same for Noah and his ark. (From this ABC News poll from February 2004.) Think about that--a commanding majority of Americans believe that events that are literally impossible are, in fact, literally true.

All of that aside though, I'm curious if you found it to be at all funny. It is, after all, firstly a comedy. Bill Maher is certainly not everyone's cup of (caffeine free) tea, but my initial feeling after seeing it was that if you don't take it too seriously it'd be hard not to laugh at least once. For instance, Maher teasing the "ex-gay therapist," or freaking the cannabis priest out, or the Imam and his ringtone (and fake text message), or the Vatican astronomist's joke.

BHodges said...

When I saw the astronomer's joke about the Mormons I thought that was very funny.

Joe said...

Like many sensible humans I didn’t want to support or throw money to this sort of subverted hater, for ridiculing most of us lowly billions of believers. So, having not seen the movie, but wanting to be educated about the ridiculous, I’m curious, during Phil’s mocking trial of the rest of the world (excluding the East, allegedly), did he mention the estimated fifty million, or so, humans murdered by liberals as his religion and dogma of doubt gained favor and marched through Russia, China, Vietnam (after we abandoned them for “peace,” for ourselves), and the other places where faith was mocked and torn from humanity because of this same ideological fear of Religion? Again, just curious. It seems odd that we only hear about the same old, ‘look at Ireland’ (where the conflict is really about the English, who happen to be Protestant, occupying their Island, but it’s never portrayed that way by our media), or look at Hitler (whose unnatural selection ideology was actually influenced by Darwin), or look at the Crusaders (who did some very bad things, but, again, were also trying to regain lands taken and occupied by Arabs, Persians, etc, who also did some very bad things), or look at the Muslim fanatics, etc, etc. But we never hear about the abounding good being done by many faiths and peoples, Eat and West, ancient and in these Latter Days, nor does anyone call Hollywood, or atheists on their mocking, hating, oppression, vandalizing, terrorizing, window shooting, threatening to ‘eliminate,’ and killing.

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Of course, none of those things would really fit into Bill's reconstruction of the world, though, Joe. You make good points but as you suspected, Bill wasn't quite interested in nuance.

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