Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Religulous; the atheist equivalent of expelled

Most of those reading this blog have heard of the movie Religulous which came out on October 3. I haven't actually seen the movie so this won't be a comprehensive review. If I do review it, the review will be on my other blog Apologia Physis. This is just a passing comment on Elles's review. Her review was the first positive review I've seen; other reviews I read were from Christian sources so I will admit I am a little biased. But from what I have heard of the video (even from the one positive review) it doesn't seem to anything of substance.

He goes to people who are not equipped to defend their faith in the first place and butchers them on spot. And to prove faith is not reasonable, rather then going to noted religious scholars such as Alister McGrath or religious apologists such as Lee Strobel, Normon Geisler, Josh McDowell or J.P. Holding who deal with these kind of problems with the faith as a profession (although I do disagree with them on certain scientific and theological issues) Maher goes to people who not onlu are unable to answer challenges to the faith but also have misconceptions about it. It is a tragedy how many Christians are unprepared to give a reasonable defense of their faith (I doubt some of my fellow Christians would be able to answer Maher's questions). He also seems to go out of his way to find the nuttiest religious believers possible to make religion look insane.

Also I don't see what his problem is with believing the world is going to end; even most atheists agree that eventually sun will consume the earth and the solar system will be destroyed one day. And that the universe will reach an ultimate fate in the distant future; why isn't Bill Maher laughing at Alan Guth or Carl Sagan? It seems very unfair that he would single out religious believers who believe in an eschatology for ridicule

Also I obviously think that the "grow upor die" theme is just a little harsh.

In summary I think its obvious Maher meant it to be a parody, but in doing so didn't make himself look good.


splendidelles said...

"[I]t doesn't seem to anything of substance."

I said that while humorous it did raise some good questions that were intertwined with humour. Just because there's humour doesn't mean that there are no serious points that it raises. I was merely remarking on some of the similarities in movie making style.

"He goes to people who are not equipped to defend their faith in the first place and butchers them on spot."

If you're going to have a belief with as strong a conviction as faith gives you, you ought to be prepared to defend that. If you have a belief that you are prepared to promote you should know why you believe that. If I'm going to go around telling people that I have strong support for the teaching of evolution I ought to be able to tell them why I believe we shouldn't be going around telling kids that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

Hopefully you're not suggesting that people should be able to keep their faith because there are people with greater authority (like theologians) who are the only ones who can defend it and they can just make appeals to authority when they are questioned about their faith.

And wouldn't it be a rather elitist notion that only some people are smart enough to make intellectual arguments in favour of their faith.

"Also I don't see what his problem is with believing the world is going to end..."

The problem with believing the world is going to end is that some people can create self-fulfilling prophecies. People have used the Apocalypse to justify forcing their faith upon others in order to "save" them. People have used the Apocalypse to justify not caring for our natural resources or biodiversity because it's all going to end soon, after all.

Created Rationalist said...

I know that it was a parody, and that it wasn't supposed to have substance. What I meant was that he didn't make as many good points as you might hope (of course we should remember that he's a commedian not a theologian).

"Hopefully you're not suggesting that people should be able to keep their faith because there are people with greater authority (like theologians) who are the only ones who can defend it and they can just make appeals to authority when they are questioned about their faith."

No that is not what I am saying, what I am saying is that Maher was doing an documentary on religion, he should have gone to the experts who knew a lot more about it so he could get the most accurate portrayel of the mainstream religious position, rather then asking some guy at trucker's chapel. What would you think of someone who tried to disprove evolution by asking a few random college students unprepared to defend it instead someone of Richard Dawkins?

"And wouldn't it be a rather elitist notion that only some people are smart enough to make intellectual arguments in favour of their faith."

What I meant by going to the intellectuals was that it would have been better of him to ask mainstream religious scholars about things such as the rapture or the Christian views on evolution, not simly because only they are allowed answer the questions but because they are informed on the mainstream religious position, which is what atheists should be addressing not some fringe thinking. But also because the people who know more about a position would give the most reasonable defense. I'm definately not saying that only respected religious scholars should be able to defend their faith. Everyone should have a good rational reason to believe in something. And neither am I saying that Christians should choose a schoalr to defend them and then turn off their brains and not think. "How to defend your faith reasonably 101" is a badly needed class for many Christians, and hopefully over the next few decades it will change.

Logic Lad said...


I have yet to see the movie, and it will not come as a great surprise that the non theist reviews that i have read have mostly been favourable, i agree that he makes no earth shaking conclusions, but then that was never really the point.

On the topic of his choice of interviewee, well he probably didn't go for the authorities you suggested becuase he wanted to see what the grass roots think. The well practiced arguments of notable theologians are not going to be

a) informative to people who actually care, I guess most of us have heard them before

b) make a very interesting movie.

It does not really bother me what some ivory tower theologians think, they are intitled to their beliefs, however the effect that the beliefs they defend in the face of reason and critical thought have very different effects on the rank and file of the church. It is not the mainstream that most athiests are concerned about, people who want to gather and sing and kneel together are fine, it's the ones who use that building block to suggest that laws should be changed or that certain chunks of the population should have their rights removed are the ones i want brought into the light and ridiculed. I agree with splendid, if you are going to push a belief, or theory, you should be able to defend it in the face of criticism. repeating 'because the bible says so', or 'god did it' will only wash with people who are already converted and if it makes you look like a chump and sound like a chump then there is a high degree of chance that you are, indeed, a chump

As to the end of the world, yup it is going to happen at some point but again to repeat splendid, accepting it will happen and activly wanting to happen right now are radically different. If you have never had the joy, go read the Rapture Ready site, it is full of the most looney and broken people all having a massive love in about how wonderful Heaven will be and how evil the world is, and most importantly why can't Jesus come and take them now, mostly so they can sit and laugh at all those deemed unworthy and cast into never ending pain.

Slight whimsical thought, do you think that the main reason that suicide is a major sin is to stop all those people who want to make a beline for heaven? i accept that is a very cynical point of view but it does make a certain amount of sense.

Created Rationalist said...

Logic Lad,

It is true that I and many in the religious community were expecting more then just a comedy out of Religulous.

I am not saying that when asking questions about religion you should always go to top intellectuals. lay religious believers should have enough knowledge of their faith to give a both a reasonable representation and defense of their faith, but more on that later. I agree that a theological debate would npot make an interesting or entertaining movie, and I agree that we shouldn't just go to respected theologians and scholars for apologetics. What I am saying is that it is best to go to people who are informed whether they are theologians or not. And I see why it is difficult to weed out the uninformed plebians from informed spectators so such a demand would be unreasonable.

My point about asking informed people is that they are the ones who are going to be able to tell you the most accurate description of a religion.

It is true that the intelligentzia doesn't make up the majority of religious believers but it is better to listen to them sometimes; For one thing there are many misconceptions about their religion which make the whole religion look less credible then it might be. For example some people say that the bible teaches the mark of cain was put on black people, which there is no support of this bizarre idea in the biblical text.

I agree that there are some movements in certain religions (such as Islam and Christianity) which are distastefull and I agree that they should be stopped. And it is also true that many Christians are unable to defend their faith. Religulous has highlighted one of the churche's biggest flaws. Which is not telling their congregations to be able to rationally defend their faith. And of course all religious believers should be prepared to defend their faith with the same credibility and rationality as a trained theologian.

I agree that we shouldn't be hoping that the world will end soon. Christianity in particular teaches that we should plan like the world will never end but be ready for the end. This view seems as healthy as the non-eschatological equivalent, "plan like the world will never end but be prepared for an disaster."
We should be prepared for a disaster but not to the point of obsession. This is the same way I look at things such as the tribulation. We should be ready for it but there is no reason be obsessed with it, or just sit around and wait for it to happen.

Yes Rapture Ready does have a lot of nuts but I think very few of them are sad, depressed or suicidal. most of the people around me believe in a pre-tribulation rapture (I will assume you know what it means but if by some chance you don't I will explain it) are some of the happiest most content people I've known. They don't seem to want their lives to end, instead they arequite satisfied with their lives and couldn't want anything more. So I think your supposition that they made suicide a sin to stop people from making a short cut to heaven is misguided.

Created Rationalist

Logic Lad said...


When you have an objective subject like religion, without wanting to sound too new agey, what is truth? Given subjective truth is the one that currently holds sway then by definition the majority dictate what is 'true'. The point to my rather wordy statement is that if the majority of the faithful believe one thing and the scholars believe something else who is right? not so long ago a scholar who disagreed with the masses was a heretic.

Not to mention the main point of the film was to highlight the illogical and baseless assertions made by the faithful, assertions they then use to dictate how they treat other people and what laws they lobby for.

In the end that really is the point, Faith, in and of it's self is harmless, as long as you keep it to your self, as soon you start using it a basis for creating laws then you have a problem, more importnantly as soon as you use it as the yardstick for what is acceptable then you curb advnacement, as an example we all know that during the dark ages the arabs where scientific giants to the people of europe, however once their countries fell under the sway of religious fundemetalsits they fell in to a darkage that they are still arguably in.

Don't get me wrong, i fully accept that not all people have time to study there religion in detail, but i really wish that at the point they start shouting and wanting to deny the rights of others they can defend that part. The larger problem is the contradictory nature of much of the content of various religious texts, i choose my words carefully i am not just christiain bashing, means that most followers find the one part they like and trot it out as the reason they believe, convientantly ignoring anything, in the same book, that disagrees with them. This is what really gets scientists mad, either your whole evidence stands or you have nothing.

Fair enough, i accept the hope for the best, prepare for the worst argument, but surely when the worst is being granted eternal bliss then you are going to be wanting, wishing for it on a daily basis. This is going to colour your approach to your whole life, it's one thing to put money aside incase your boiler brakes, or even going so far as to build a bomb shelter in case is all goes wrong, but how do you prepare for bliss? from what i can see it stops people being so bothered about the material so they stop providing for the future. To miss quote, money will get me through times of little faith better than faith will get me thorugh times of little money.

Given that my exposure to Rapture believers tends to be the more extreme kind then I will bow to your superior knowledge of the contentment of most rapture believers, however on the subject of the sin of suicide, please note what happens as soon as you marry belief in an after life to a lack of belief that killing your self for ever bars you from it, indeed dieing in the furtherance of you religion will place you in high standing in the next world. though the concept of there being a better form of bliss is right up there with there being another eternity

Created Rationalist said...

Logic Lad,(Wow, you responded fast)

Your objection is fair but of course we must remember that truth is not determined by the majority. In Christianity what determines truth is not what the majority of is believers think but what its source book (the bible) says. Because that is really the foundation of Christianity. If you remove the bible all that is left is a warm fuzzy postmodern belief that makes you feel good.

It is true that you should give a rational reason to believe in something before you build your life around it. Although it is true that the bible does have social, political and even a few scientific ramifications which Christians should follow. I am afraid you are a little misguided about the dark ages. The Dark Ages was caused by the economic and societal collapse of ancient Rome and the replacement of Roman civilization with a less advanced tribal and largely illiterate culture. This culture became Christian, since most Christians of the time were members of that culture most lay Christians were illiterate and did not even own a bible. Meanwhile the clergy were the most literate educated people in Europe. They were early scientists, philosophers, theologians, and moral thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockam, Nicole Oresme etc. it was in fact Christian monks who preserved Greek and Roman learning for the western world. So the Dark Ages was definitely not caused by Christian fundamentalists; now of course I am not saying that Christians (whom I believer were quite misguided)have never held back progress but they definitely are not the prime perpetrators of holding back human advancement.

You are correct in saying that many Christians do choose to follow some parts of the bible and ignore the rest. But most evangelical churches (or atleast my church) tend to look down on such things. It is true that there are apparent contradictions in certain religious texts (I am speaking of the bible in particular although other religious works do have apparent contradictions as well). However I believe most of these apparent contradictions can be reconciled so there is no reason to pick and choose as to which biblical text to follow.

I understand the theological ramifications of a nearby end of the world. And it does seem logical that this would mean that there is no reason to worry about the environment or the worlds problems. However it is not that simply. In conservative Christianity (the streak of Christianity in which rapture beliefs are widespread) there is also the creation mandate (Genesis 1:28) which essentially says to care for creation and use it for our benefit. Also the bible is quite clear that Christians should be concerned about the world's problems such as crime, poverty, starvation, and sickness.

It is not just bliss a Christian must prepare for in the afterlife. In Christianity there is also judgement day where everyone will be tried for what they have done. If they have been forgiven they shall go into Heaven and those who have not been forgiven will be punished for their sins. Thereason you have to prepare for the end is because if a Christian's heart is not right with God then he or she will not enter Heaven. So what it means to be ready is to first of all ask forgiveness of ones sin (you could say saved), and second to always be walking in righteousness and living a life pleasing to God. And many Christians will tell you living a life pleasing to God is incredibly rewarding, not because they never experience hardship (Christians suffer just as much as anyone else) but because they have something to live for. It does make sense that people would try to kill themselves to reach Heaven but for the majority of believers in the rapture or any Christian eschatology for that matter just isn't there. Now it is more complicated then that but for now that explantion works.

I do not believe that suicide is an unpardonable sin however it is definitely an honorable act. It is essentially the ultimate act of selfishness, and personally I can't imagine a just and righteous God would react well to someone whose last act in this life was the ultimate act of selfishness. Being martyred on the other hand is giving up your life for your God who gave you life in the first place is on the other hand an honorable act, however if it is done purposely in a vain attempt to gain extra favor from God, God would probably not honor it. It is true in Islam that martyrs are honored more then those who die a natural death but it is not the same for martyrs in Christianity. While it is true that in revelation the blood of martyrs will be avenged and are given whit robes (Revelation 6:9-12) I don't think this means they will gain any extra priveleges because they were martyred, it appears it is more God telling them to rest and not them gaining higher privileges.

I agree that some religious believers that the end of the world to far, but that does not mean that all of them do.

Created Rationalist