Sunday, October 12, 2008


I'm guessing that more than a few of you are making extra efforts to laugh these days. I find myself making the effort to stay up for The Daily Show, to find something to laugh about at the end of the day, and at least for the first ten minutes of SNL.

So, last night, we set out to find a funny movie. We had seen "Burn After Reading", and so we went to see Bill Maher's "Religulous."

And, it did have more than a few LOL moments. If you've watched Maher at all, you know that he has no personal use for organized religion, and in these interviews, he finds ample people who are willing to make "religulous comments." He surely brings out what a friend at the movie theater called the "shadow side" of organized religion.

But, ultimately, by the end of the movie I was angry. Maher seems totally ignorant of historical exegetical criticism of the Bible or that people can value the Bible without being a literalist. His lack of knowledge about Scripture is writ large throughout the movie.

But, much more dismaying is that he is either completely ignorant of, or just chose not to show, either the existence of a progressive religious voice or any of the positive work organized religion does in the world. No reference to religious leadership in social movements, like ending slavery or the civil rights movement -- or anti-poverty efforts today -- or a single interview with any of the wonderful diverse religious leaders I am privileged to know and work with for social justice.

The end result is the viewer is left with the idea that Religious = Fundamentalism and that the only other possible response is secular. The movie plays into the idea held by far too many on the right that the religious right is the only legitimate religious voice in the public square -- and by far too many on the left that there is no value in organized religion or faith.

Several years ago, I coined the term "religiophobia" to characterize progressive people with an irrational fear of organized religion (like homophobia is an irrational fear of gay people or gynephobia is an irrational fear of women.) This movie is full of it.


Robin Edgar said...

Thanks for posting this Rev. Haffner. I have been dealing with religophobia *within* the U*U World for some time now. There is virtually no difference in Atheist Supremacist bad attitude between Bill Maher and some of the more fundamentalist atheist "Humanist" U*Us I have the misfortune to know. I will be back to comment in more detail when I am more alert and awake than I am right now.

Steve Caldwell said...


The religious trends in the US really bother me as a religious liberal living in a "Bible Belt" red state.

The sad fact here in the US is the "fundamentalist" or "literalist" religious views that Bill Maher mocks aren't "fringe" religious views.

In many cases, they are a mainstream view shared by a majority.

Here's one example from a 2006 poll surveying US attitudes on creationism and evolution:

55% -- Creationism (God created humans in [their] present form.)

27%-- Theistic Evolution (Humans evolved, [but] God guided the process.")

13% -- Naturalistic Evolution (Humans evolved [but] God did not guide [the] process.)

Source --

A majority supports creationism (55%) in spite of the overwhelming evidence in biology, biochemistry, geology, etc that support naturalistic evolution. There is no evidence in favor of creationism.

There are some liberal and progressive religious voices but they appear to be ignored by both religious and secular political leaders.

I suspect this is because they are not the majority faith voice in the US.

It's not like Maher is unaware of religious liberals -- he's interviewed Bishop Spong on his old "Politically Incorrect" talk show back in the 1990s.

Often when one sees a religious traditionalist leader taking a progressive stand, one sees a loss of support for this religious leader within his or her religious community.

For example, look what happened in Tulsa with Bishop Pearson, the Pentacostal minister who embraced Christian Universalism and BGLT inclusion.

For most of his congregants, Universalism wasn't a "saving message" that they wanted -- his church membership shrunk in response to his embracing of Universalism. Likewise, most of his congregants didn't want BGLT inclusion either.

On a slightly related note, it's worth checking out Penn and Teller's episode of "Bullshit" where they look at abstinence-only sex education.

The video clips for this series can be found online here:

Penn & Teller - Abstinence Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

At 3:09 in part 3 of this video clip, they interview a religious liberal (Rita Nakashima Brock, theology professor). It's worth checking out if you haven't seen it.