Bill Maher is Christian, or might as well be

The perils of religism

I love Bill Maher for two reasons. First, he understands Christianity better than most Christians. Seriously. Unlike many Christians, he seems to have read the same passages in the Bible that I remember and many Christians ignore.

But he was raised by Catholic and Jewish parents so maybe he had the support of two religious traditions to enlighten him. Being raised as a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK), I only had one, the one that glossed over the verses he remembers and I only discovered—to my shock and horror (and maybe even a little embarrassment)—as an adult.

But I like Bill Maher even more because, in spite of his insistence that he doesn’t care for Christianity in the least, he thinks just like them. It’s amazing, really. He thinks Christians are evil, irredeemable, a threat to our Constitutional rights and the cause of most of the evils in the world.

Wait a minute, less perceptive readers may say, that’s the opposite of Christianity. Readers might believe that because they pay attention to words and overlook what are known as isomorphic (or structural) correspondences. Both Maher and Christians hold the same basic beliefs, they just attribute them to opposing causes. This create a series of parallel beliefs as illustrated by the following table:

Problem Maher Christians
Taking away our Constitutional rights Christian Right Maher Left
Determined to ruin America Christian Right Atheists and Liberals
Ignorant and narrow-minded Believers Atheists and Liberals
Represent everything bad in Society Believers and Tea Party Atheists and Secular Humanists
Want to control our children’s minds Religious Zealots Scientists, Atheists and Homosexuals
Force their values on Americans Christian Right Democrats and Permissive Liberals
The antiChrist controls the Oval Office George Bush Obama

You may find yourself skeptical, but just as the children of alcoholics can recognize addiction and addictive behavior—even when alcohol itself isn’t involved—so can BPKs recognize religion and religious behavior (even when a religion itself isn’t involved).

You see, when I was a kid, members of my family would have attributed the cause of the problems in my chart to Catholics and John F. Kennedy. We may have been raised in the Bible Belt, but if we had to choose between our sisters marrying a Black person or a Catholic, we would have disinherited our sisters.

But Catholics were worse than Black people (aka Negroes) because Negroes could be saved. Unless they were Negro Catholics.1 When I was a kid, mixed marriages didn’t involve Black people and White people (aka Negroes and people), but Baptists and Catholics.

This changed, of course, with the Great Crisis of Faith (GCOF). The GCOF occurred sometime in the 1980s, and is best summed up by a conversation between my Baptist Preacher Father, whose Christian credentials were somewhat suspect to his own Baptist Preacher Father and uncles because he was a more liberal Southern Baptist (yes, it’s possible) and not a true Bible Believing Baptist, and one of my uncles. The conversation went like this:

Uncle2: How can you have leadership meetings with Catholics? They worship the Pope and the Pope is Satan’s puppet.

Father: You know, I discovered that Catholics actually accept Christ too. They have the same Bible except for a few extra books that got thrown in by mistake.

Uncle: Exactly. That wasn’t a mistake. The Pope included those books because Satan told him to. Everything the Pope does or says is from Satan.3

Father: So anything the Pope says is inspired by Satan and we shouldn’t believe it.

Uncle: Exactly.

Father: But the Pope says abortion is evil.

At this point my mother broke in and changed the conversation, but dinner was pretty much over, and my uncle’s family left us to enjoy our after dinner liqueur, cigars and pornography.

But this pretty much summarizes the GCOF. Catholics maybe believed everything Christians (Baptists) found appalling, and they may have taken their marching orders from the Pope, but they were Pro-Life. Suddenly, the heavens opened and Catholics were Christian again.

It also illustrates what I mean when I compare religious behavior to alcoholism.

Now I’m not saying that my father wasn’t guilty of religism himself. He was, as am I, as are all BPKs and is Bill Maher whether he wants to believe it or not.

What are some of the signs of religism?

  • Insisting that you’re right, and anyone who disagrees with you is wrong.
  • Not just wrong, but wrong for America.
  • Insisting there are no conditions under which they could possibly be right.
  • Insisting there are no conditions under which they could possibly have something good to say or good to offer.
  • Mocking unbelievers (e.g., with names like “Religulous”).
  • Lumping all unbelievers into a single category.
  • The absolute total faith that you’re right and they’re dangerous.

As for me, like it or not, I’ve come to accept that it’s perfectly reasonable to believe God doesn’t exist and that God doesn’t hate you if you do. And God is much more tolerant of stupidity than I am.

In fact, the only guy I know of who never, for a moment, exhibited religism was Jesus. And we had to go build an entire religion with thousands of mutually exclusive versions around him.

Including Bill Maher’s religion that Jesus is good and all those who follow him are ignorant morons (which, by definition, would include me).

It’s all in the wiring

Modern neurobiology suggests religism (aka irreligulosity) may not be Bill’s fault. Belief is very much formed by neural connections. The more you accept one conclusion as true, the more you reinforce the neurons in your brain that shape belief.

As a consequence, the brain tends to ignore information that doesn’t reinforce that connection. Unless, of course, you consciously and deliberately make yourself consider that information as a possibility, and start to build a parallel connection.

The more you refuse to consider additional information, the more you erode the possibility of making that new connection. Soon the brain simply refuses to process that conflicting information at all.

Christians may call this faith (and Bill may call this enlightenment), but this is the opposite of faith or enlightenment. This process is literally the process of narrowing your mind.

Nothing I said is contradicted by the Bible, by the way, although I’m sure someone can spin a verse out of context to prove me wrong. Paul understood why other apostles interpreted the faith differently, and he never doubted their faith. Or his.

You don’t have to believe an idea to open your mind to it. Opening your mind to conflicting information doesn’t mean you will lose your faith. Accepting the fact that others may believe differently and still not threaten your world or conscience requires a true act of faith.

Jesus was constantly pointing out how reality contradicted religious tradition and faith. These contradictions never threatened his faith; they shaped his belief and made him stronger and wiser. If people didn’t follow him, he didn’t condemn them or berate them. He simply went on his way and let them go on theirs.

To be like Elisabeth

If I have to acknowledge a TV personality I’ve come to admire, it’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the View. I don’t agree with her most of the time, but more than anyone else she seems open to the possibility she could be wrong.

For many years she would come to the View armed with pages printed from the Web to prove that all things Bush and Republican were good and all things Rosie O’Donnell were bad. She would become flustered and petulant and completely defensive. When you see Kristin Wiig do Elisabeth on SNL, that’s the Elisabeth you’re seeing.

Something changed during the 2008 elections. I don’t know what happened. Maybe one of her children showed signs of early onset Democrat and she had to learn to love him anyway. Maybe she caught her husband Tim looking sideways at Maria Shriver and decided to become more rounded to win him back. Maybe the uber-liberal producers at ABC (as if) threatened her job.

But now she seems more open to a wider view of faith and politics. Ironically, now Joy Baher is looking more narrow-minded. More like Bill. The print-outs are gone, the red-faced rants are gone. And, most of all, she seems happier with herself and more confident in her beliefs.

So, Bill, I admire you and watch your show religiously. But please, be more like Jesus (and Elisabeth) and less like Sara Palin. As you have noticed with others (without, perhaps, being aware of the cause), too many neurons on one side of the brain can be unbalancing.


1Don’t judge them too harshly. Most good Christian racists didn’t really believe they were racists any more than Bill Maher believes he’s religiously irreligious. (Except maybe for that passage in the Bible that condemns Black people because they were the descendants of Noah who shamefully looked on his nakedness, which is why they will always be inferior.)

Baptists are tempted to believe that Negroes came from Africa, which makes them closer to monkeys than more advanced white people, but that would mean evolution is true, which, of course, is ridiculous and completely against the Bible.

So this leaves them to suggest that Negroes do funny things, as is proved by all those wonderful jokes they are no longer allowed to tell. But the jokes also prove they don’t really hate Black people because we laugh about them lovingly. On the other hand, there isn’t a single Catholic joke because there’s nothing funny about a false religion that put the antiChrist in the oval office.back

2Not named because he is still alive and I have to talk to him at family reunion, even though he will probably never read this blog.back
3Which, to be honest, I sometimes feel when I listen to Pope Benedict and his hints that maybe it’s time to repeal Vatican II, the way Republicans want to repeal the entire Obama administration.back


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The beginning of this blog and end of the world

Read this post now because we won’t be here tomorrow, at least that’s what Harold Camping of Family Radio Worldwide has persuaded a good many Christians. Jesus will return sometime before midnight, and faithful Christians will join him in the air. Everyone else is in for six months of hard times (we’re talking an apocalypse of Ghostbusters proportions) and then God will wrap it all up in October.

This tattoo expresses the bearer’s faith that he or she will be lifted into the skies to be with Jesus, maybe even sometime today.

Photo and tattoo by Veracious Rey (courtesy of Wikipedia)

It’s tempting to make fun of May 21 predictions. It’s not only tempting, I already have,1 as have David Letterman, Joy Behar and Bill Maher (although I should point out I was making jokes first).

A number of Christians have called Campbell an outright heretic and others have laughed him off as a lunatic. On the other hand, many of Campbell’s followers are no doubt certain that they will comprise the bulk of the saved taken at Rapture. If a Christian doesn’t believe in the Rapture, how can he really be a Christian?

In other words, it’s business as usual for Christians in America. There is an infectious paranoia that seems to run through mainstream Christianity on both sides of the liberal divide. Conservative Christians threaten to rob us of our civil liberties, liberal Christians threaten the survival of the faith.

Conservative Christians tend to be slightly more vocal with their concerns (the wave of “culture war” books started from their side), convinced that if they don’t cry wolf on broadcast television and radio, they will lose the culture war and be driven to extinction. This runs counter to the whole theme of Rapture since it doesn’t matter how the secular world treats us, Jesus is taking us away from the real catastrophe. But that’s how paranoia works.

It doesn’t matter that no one in America can be forced to pray to a God they don’t worship in public meetings and schools. Christians are being persecuted because they can’t force other people and their kids to pray to Jesus. This seems odd, because I grew up with stories lamenting the fact that Hebrews and Christians were forced by foreign empires to pray to Babylonian and pagan Gods.

The lesson was that the faithful should be willing to prove their faith rather than bow to persecution to conform to secular agendas, not that they should impose their faith agendas on others.

The faithful should never bow to pressure to pray to other gods. But the beauty of America is that public schools and institutions can’t force Christians to pray to Allah, or Rama Krishna or God sans Christ. Protestants don’t have to observe Catholic ritual, and Catholics don’t have to observe Protestant ritual.2

No one can legally force Christians to practice safe, premarital sex, oral sex or even watch sexual acts in performance. No one can force Christians to take drugs, profess communism or vote for Democrats. No one can force Christians to swear allegiance to America (although Christians are the first to frown should someone else decline), as believers were forced to do by empires in the Bible.

Personally, I thank God whenever I think about it that I live in a country where Baptists don’t have to behave like Episcopalians and vice-versa. How many other countries do that? Can you imagine being Shia in a Sunni country, or a Palestinian in Israel? Remember what it was like for Moslems under the Taliban in Afghanistan?

How great do we have it? We can carry Bibles in public, and testify to our faith in college classes. This is where the paranoia creeps in, however, because that’s not good enough. As long as another classmate can say being Christian is stupid, we’re being persecuted.

Christians will only truly be free when the debate and culture are one-sided. America won’t be truly Christian until Christians can tell their classmates they’re going to hell and force everybody to pray in class, but their classmates can’t say Christianity is stupid or that they don’t want to pray. I’m not going to mention the Golden Rule here, but….

Oh, I just did.

Too many Christians have declared their righteous indignation. They are appalled that the America that treated them so well treats atheists, agnostics, Moslems and liberals just as well.

Jesus told a parable about laborers who were hired to work his vineyard for the same amount of money even though some started work later (Matthew 20). The employees who worked the longest felt they’d been treated unfairly. The employer had to remind them that he paid them what they agreed to work for. It wasn’t unfair for him to reward others as he saw fit.

It seems to me that what Christians are really suffering is righteous indigestion. God has graced us with more blessings than believers in any other country, but we don’t want to benefit from the fruits of our faith if people who believe differently benefit as well. We forget that many of the revolutionaries and soldiers who fought to earn and maintain those rights weren’t Christians. They deserve those rights as much as we do.

The weird thing is, I get it. I get it because I grew up as a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK). In a Baptist Preacher’s Family (BPF) you have to make sure everyone is behaving just like you because you don’t want your parents, siblings or children to go to hell. So you don’t even give your BPF the choice. You remind them daily that they’re going to hell if they don’t behave and believe just like you.

Atheists, agnostics, liberals, leftists and even Moslems fought and fight today to secure our rights, but we can’t let them enjoy those rights because it isn’t in their best interest. They need to find the grace of God as we did. We can’t just thank them for our freedom to worship and express our faith, we have to deny them those rights and force them to find salvation.

There’s also the verse to consider, “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel.” If you let a few things slide, let a few people slack off from praying in public, then you’re opening the door for everybody to backslide. Of course, it isn’t a verse, at least not in the Bible, but there are one or two verses that can be made to sound like it.

And that’s where the paranoia returns. These agnostics and atheists may have fought to secure our freedoms, but the freedom they enjoy to not worship God could tempt us to follow suit. If we allow them the right to disbelieve, or watch porn, or vote for Obama, we could be seduced into the same lifestyle. And if not us, our children.

We can’t have that.

It shouldn’t surprise us to realize that belief in the Rapture spread as the the fear of Communism rose. It might have been okay for Christians to believe in a millennium of peace before Christ’s return before the French Revolution and the rise of labor and communism, but not after. Violent public action left people with fears of apocalypse, and suddenly Jesus needed to get here first.

After all, he had already shed his blood. Why should we shed ours?

Christians couldn’t be expected to survive a world where atheist secular powers could rob them of their religious freedoms (freedoms they never had in the time of Christ and the apostles). Once they had a taste of Christian empire, they could not be expected to go back to persecution. And as long as Christians remained in the world they faced the threat of extermination, or worse, co-option.

What better deus ex machina than The Rapture? Before it gets really bad, we opt out.

It’s time for another illustration, whether we need one or not. This is a vision of Jesus rescuing souls from hell on earth.

(courtesy of wikimedia/public domain)

Sooner or later Christians need to realize that we will always face difficulties, even when we have it as good as we do in America. Christians are supposed to suffer. Suffering encourages us to refocus on our faith, and through the practice of our faith we learn to escape suffering. How do we practice our faith? By serving others rather than demanding they cater to us—even if those others don’t believe as we do, and think we are fools to do so.

In short, we don’t need to be Raptured to be at peace with the Lord or in the world. No matter how bad it gets.

And members of the religious right who are so desperate to be Raptured should remember that they will survive eight years of Obama the way they survived eight years of Clinton. The way my friends and fellow believers survived twelve years of Reagan/Bush and another eight, under another Bush, that were even worse.

Maranatha


1Mainly in my reviews of the Crossway ESV Bibleback and Just 1 Wordonline Bibles for iPad Envy. If it strikes you that this footnote is little more than a shameless attempt at self promotion, you might be right. But I also didn’t want to simply copy and paste the jokes into this post without giving credit to whom credit is due. Even if it’s me.

2Many Americans don’t even know that Christians were killed on both sides in wars between Catholic and Protestant political powers prior to the enlightenment and in Ireland as late as the last century. Even during the nineteenth century Protestant missionaries were killed in Mexico, including (my Baptist grandparents never failed to remind me) members of my own family.back


Thank you, Bill Maher,

For making a case Christians couldn’t make

Ever since the death of Osama Bin Laden, Christians who haven’t felt comfortable with the celebration have had to duck and cover. We have been made to feel that reservations about celebrating the summary execution of a man without trial or due process was not only unAmerican, it was unChristian.

Poor Katy Perry tried and only got ridiculed for being an airhead. Which, without a doubt she is. Her career isn’t built on rocket science, or even a grasp of elementary science. It’s about puff and fluff and increasingly outrageous costumes. Let’s face it, her career hasn’t prepared her to be a theologian either. And criticism from her mother about how bad a Christian she is probably isn’t helping.

But the truth is, whether or not Bin Laden deserved his fate, rejoicing in his death isn’t Christian and it took Bill Maher to say it. (And Katy Perry, but who really listens to her beside Russell?) Maher did so in his New Rules on Friday night’s broadcast. Hopefully it will show up on YouTube so Christians can actually hear it.

I find it ironic that a man who is so totally intolerant of faith understands Christianity better than most Christians do. And I have to admit, when he describes what Christians are supposed to believe, he’s usually right.

I’ve long believed that God speaks through unbelievers when Christians refuse to listen. There is Biblical precedent. When the prophet Balaam refused to listen to God, God had to speak through an ass. And Bill Maher is definitely an ass when it comes to religion. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen for the times he has something correct to say.

Judgment belongs to God, not to us. John of Patmos stresses this in the book of Revelation. Celebrating the downfall of our enemies is Old Testament thinking.

Back in the Bush administration I wanted to put out a bumper sticker that said “Jesus love George and Osama.” But with the little heart instead of the word “love.” Carol talked me out of it, and she was probably right to do so. It would have inspired more hatred than it would have encouraged clearer thinking. But the principle is, I believe, fundamentally Christian.

This is what bothers me about advocates of the Rapture. They seem to take too much joy in the prospect of God kicking the asses of everybody who they think slighted them and sending them to burn in hell.

This is my last preview before Righteous Indigestion officially launches on May 21, the official day of the Rapture. And this is the thought I want to leave you with. If you can’t wait for God to crush and destroy people who seek a path of righteousness that isn’t the same as yours—be it the righteousness of charity or the righteousness of enlightenment or the righteousness of social justice—how sure can you be that you want be left behind?

T-10 and counting

It’s ten days until the Rapture, at least according to a number of evangelicals and fundamentalists. The billboards announcing the beginning of the end of days even caught the attention of the hosts of the View, who discussed it on two different days.

The date of the Rapture has been predicted at least twice previously in my lifetime, and if it came, Jesus was awfully quiet about it. But even if it happens this May, I’m prepared to volunteer to stay behind.

You see, the notion of evacuating the good guys and leaving the bad guys to suffer seems totally contrary to the Jesus of the Gospels. He repeatedly insisted that the main occupation of Christians is to serve others, and not just the good guys either. This was one of the key points behind the Good Samaritan parable.

Who stopped to help the victim? None of the religious or pious. It was the Samaritan (think secular humanist or Moslem in modern parlance). The most reviled is the most honored because he took time from his life to render assistance at his own expense.

So there seem to be two messages in this parable that could shine light on the Rapture. Jesus intends to Rapture out the pious so that they won’t be around to interfere with the heathens who will render assistance to those suffering from the end-time tribulations, or to distract them with messages like, “Don’t help these people. They don’t deserve it. Go to church and be like us.”

Or, and I think this is more likely, the faithful will be needed during the end of days to minister to the needs of those most afflicted. It is the example of faith that will inspire those desperate for hope and redemption.

So if Christians do get the offer of a free pass, they might consider being grateful but declining graciously. Let the ones who want to relish the destruction of others get the royal treatment during the end of times. They probably won’t be much use anyway.

Byron said he would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven. I’m not saying I would rather serve in hell than rule in heaven, but I have to think Jesus and those he loves would be better served if I volunteer to wait a few more years. I could be really missing the point, but I also suspect that the call to service doesn’t end with the end of times.