Over the next week or so I will discussing Bill Maher’s new movie Religulous, which just hit the theaters this week. One of my hopes is that people who are also skeptical about religions will speak up on this blog and engage in open dialogue on this religious and philosophical topic.
Today’s Camera Angle: Bills Maher’s Ridiculous Religion
Bill Maher, in his own words, argues that to take a posture of skepticism toward religious questions about God and life after death is a more “humble” posture than religious dogmatism.
But on what grounds does Bill Maher believe that skepticism is automatically more humble? Well …
From the film it’s easy to see that Bill thinks skepticism is more humble because we don’t really have certain answers to life’s religious questions. Therefore, to pretend we do, or think we do, is prideful, arrogant–ignorance of ignorance. Making up answers as though they were certain and beginning religions based on such made up answers is the epitome (to Maher) of this kind of morally outrageous audacity. To go even a step further and press these religions on the minds of the people and bound their consciences to them, to start wars to propagate these religions, to tax the poor (with tithes) in order to fund the propagation, to preach in the street and tell people they are going to hell if they don’t believe a particular religion’s answers to these questions, is of course (to Maher) the uttermost moral atrocity.
Get the idea? Religion is a very bad thing. It’s like a mental disease.
Well … to the critical thinker, there’s something apparent about Bill Maher’s skepticism that he doesn’t want you to notice.
The truth is … the kind of skepticism Maher embraces is actually a form of close minded dogmatic skepticism.
In one of the beginning scenes of the movie, Maher is riding in a car talking about why he hates religion. In the process of explaining himself, he proposes that religion comes from fear of death. He says that the question of death and what happens when you die just gets some people so worked up with fear that they must have answers to the question to make them feel better. This is his theory of the origin of religion stated very simply.
… NOTICE …Notice so far Bill has a few beliefs of his own which do not fall into a “scientifically proven” category: 1) skepticism is more humble than dogmatism, 2) in fact religious dogmatism is ethically unacceptable, 3) because there are no answers to life’s religious questions.
Throughout the documentary, he literally preaches his own alternative view of skepticism. At one point, after standing up in a small church and “asking questions” (i.e. mocking the poor Christians who were in no way prepared for skeptical challenges), one of the Christians finally turns one of his questions around on him. Up to this point Maher had been asking all the questions. This time, he’s the one being asked. As he answers the question with a resounding, “I don’t know!” he literally bangs the pulpit with his hand while raising his voice to say something like, “That’s my religion, I don’t know! I don’t have to have all the answers!”
But his skepticism isn’t merely an “I don’t know,” or “It’s okay to not know all the answers.” The movie makes clear that he believes that true knowledge about religious questions is impossible to attain. At one point he makes the argument that no so called prophet could understand or know religious truth any better than him because no human being has any special powers/capabilities that he doesn’t have. In other words, “If I don’t have access to religious truth then neither do you.”
To say, “Well … I’m not sure who’s right and who’s wrong or whether anyone is right or wrong,” is one thing. But Bill Maher is a dogmatic skeptic. He doesn’t believe answers to religious questions are capable of being known. We could distinguish these two positions by calling one Open Minded Skepticism (I don’t know but I’m open to the possibility that there are answers) and Close Minded Skepticism (I don’t know, and it’s impossible to know). Bill Maher, then, is a Close Minded Skeptic.
… THINK with me …
Not only is he a close minded skeptic, but his motive is made explicit in the film–he intends the whole documentary to serve as propaganda that will promote his belief system of dogmatic skepticism as far as it will go. All other beliefs are wrong; his position on religious questions is the only right one. He is religiously passionate about his skepticism and wants everyone to be “saved” from bondage to religious dogmatism.
Is anyone else seeing the irony here?
Discouragingly, my gut tells me that not many people are seeing the irony in this film. If you still don’t see it, here; let me spell it out for you.
While railing against preachers, Bill Maher has become a passionate preacher of his own unscientifically proven belief system that includes dogmatic assertions and ethical absolutes. While on his crusade against religious dogmatism, Bill dogmatically preaches the gospel of skepticism, not allowing for any possible answers to religious questions to be knowable. While preaching against religion, Maher has founded his own religion.
In disallowing any possible answers to life’s ultimate questions, has not Maher not provided the authoritative answer to all religious questions? (i.e. “We can’t possible know, and if you think you do, you’re an idiot and blind?”)